12/04/2014 06:22 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

Better College Advice for Michigan Students Is a Phone Call Away

It's been an incredible month for school counselors who help students and families make good college decisions. In mid-November, leaders from 30 states convened at a White House Summit to develop and discuss plans to expand and improve college access and college counseling for all students. Many of these individual plans were highlighted yesterday at the College Opportunity Day of Action, where President Obama and the First Lady honored the colleges, nonprofit groups, schools, and others who have already announced or implemented new programs designed to help students make strong college choices. Delegations from Michigan were actively involved in both events, suggesting 2015 will be a robust year for college advocacy in our state.

But 2014 isn't quite over, and there's plenty Michigan residents can do right now to advance college opportunities for all students. A previous column this spring announced the introduction of Michigan Senate Bill 902, legislation designed to make sure all new school counselors in Michigan received the top-notch training in college advising they deserved but many were not getting. This has left an uneven record of counselor preparation in this crucial area, leaving some students with better informed college advocates than others. Senate Bill 902 is an important first step in making sure all students have access to quality college advice -- even if that advice leads them to postsecondary plans other than a four-year college.

Senate Bill 902 has received important endorsements from leading college advocacy organizations, but it has seen little legislative action -- until now. In the last month, the bill was identified as one of 10 bills to watch in the final months of the Michigan legislature's 2014 session. An in-depth review of the bill was featured this month in a prominent public policy magazine, and the bill was discussed on a political talk radio program based in the Lansing area. This publicity has led to a number of calls to the office of the chair of the Senate Education Committee, asking him to give this legislation the public hearings it deserves. So far, no hearings have been announced -- and time is running short.

This is where your active voice can be of help. With two weeks left before the Senate adjourns, there's still an opportunity for this bill to become law, and launch what promises to be a rich year of growth for college access and discussion of college opportunities for all students. Your encouragement can bring Senate Bill 902 to hearings, and that can make all the difference in the world, especially if you're a parent or student whose plans after high school can be made stronger with strong college information.

Michigan's school counselors face many challenges when it comes to offering quality college advice to students, including high caseloads and administrative duties that take them away from the work they love to do with students. Plans are underway to address both these important topics in 2015, but headway in these areas is meaningless without an expertise in college advising, and counselors who have had high quality training in college advising know it makes all the difference in the world, even when they're working with large numbers of students. Senate Bill 902 is the foundation for growth in Michigan's educational advancement and economic growth.

Contact Education Chair Phil Pavlov either by e-mail or by phone (517- 373-7708) and urge him to commit to a public discussion of this vital topic before the end of the legislative year.