THE BLOG
07/30/2014 09:35 am ET Updated Sep 29, 2014

White House Counseling Summit Raises Hopes, Questions, and Possibilities

This week's White House Summit on College Access was an historic day of recognition and reflection for school counselors. Held less than six weeks after First Lady Michelle Obama called for its convening, the summit brought together many of the best minds in the college access field and asked them to address one key question: how can we best support school counselors to help more students and families make strong college decisions?

The Chronicle of Education's Eric Hoover summarized the impact of the day by asking three questions, each one closely related to a topic discussed at the summit. After considering Eric's responses, and reflecting on individual discussions I had at the event, I would suggest there are three additional questions to consider, if school counselors are really going to be empowered to be more effective change agents in college counseling.

Does the school counseling profession really want to change its college access approach? It is hard to describe the sense of gratitude and excitement that was in the air at the summit at Harvard. After so many years of advocating for a new approach to college advising, conference attendees were thrilled--and awed--to have the White House tell them, we hear you.

At the same time, 130 participants is not a majority of counselor educators or school counselors--and both groups have vocal advocates insisting there is no need to adjust the status quo of counselor training or college advising. Engaging these groups is essential as the initiative moves forward, since getting something different for students means getting something different from all counselors and counselor educators.

How will counselors take on more? The plight of school counselors is well known. Most have more students than they can genuinely help; all of them are required to do duties that have nothing to with counseling, and almost all of them lack meaningful training in college advising.

This may sound like a group that would embrace change in a heartbeat, but even school counselors who welcome innovation know that getting to something different means creating plans for something new while still doing something old. Since school counselors' professional plates are already overflowing, who will help them make time for planning change when school starts this fall, especially once students on those huge caseloads ask for the services they need and counselors want to provide? In business jargon, who can help counselors become intentional about change?

Do college access advocates care more about recognition or students? The long-standing lack of training in college advising, and high counselor caseloads, have led some cities to supplement school counselors with community organizations for college counseling, or use less expensive college access advisers as the main suppliers of college information. This splintered approach to college advice too easily leads to misunderstanding and mistrust among different organizations, especially if each feels the need to claim the primary responsibility for helping a student achieve college success.

The benefits of a collaborative college-going culture are clear, but it requires all parties involved in creating that culture to create partnerships based on trust, humility, and often a new way of justifying their existence to their principals or financial backers. Like the two questions before it, this question will take time, energy, and serious deliberation to answer. Then again, given the momentum that is being generated from this Summer of the School Counselor, there is more reason than ever before to believe that the ability to create change in college access will match the desire to make change as never before.

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