Readers of this space are more than familiar with my favorite topic--but in case you're brand new, here's the summary:
• Most school counselors receive little, if any, training in college advising.
• Students and families look to counselors for help in selecting a college, and are disappointed with the help they do--or don't--get.
• Counselors want to be better trained, so they can truly help students.
My proposed answer to this problem is--more training. It's sometimes suggested counselor training programs do this voluntarily; sometimes I ask President Obama to require the training, and one of my last requests, to Michelle Obama, made ripples in the Washington Post.
Of course, you can't write on the same topic this often without someone asking questions--and that's good. In reviewing the e-mails and comments I've received, concerns about my solution fall into two major categories:
Counselors are responsible for too many students--that's the real problem. There is absolutely no question counselor caseloads are out of control. In 2010-11, there was one school counselor for every 471 students in the United States. Since the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 to 1, counselors aren't working with ideal numbers; and given California's ratio of 1016 to 1, it's clear many students are graduating from high school without ever having a school counselor in twelve years of education.
Counselors are given too much busywork, so they don't have time for college advising. This is the third leg of the Stymied Counselor Stool. When counselors are asked to serve as last-minute substitute teachers, plan the school-wide testing program, or take a double shift of lunch duty, what little time they have for students is gone, and that includes time for college planning.
Better training in college advising might not solve these problems, but they have had a positive impact. School counselors who took a college advising class in the summer (full disclosure--with me) returned to the same schools in the fall, with the same ratios and duties they'd had the year before (400-480 students). Did the class make a difference? Counselors say:
• The training gave counselors better knowledge and resources, allowing them to present group programs with more confidence and less prep time.
• Combined with other resources from the class, the extra time gave counselors the opportunity to answer individual questions with student-centered, specific answers, making students more focused and competitive in the college application process.
• The course gave counselors greater confidence, and a network of colleagues to talk to when challenges come up.
• One counselor's extra duties were reduced when the principal saw the impact the training had on the counselor's ability to work with students.
In other words, once the counselor was seen to be more effective, they were given more resources to become even more effective.
Improved training in college advising may not be the magic wand that cures every challenge counselors face, but improved success leads to improved support--and every educator knows what can happen when students, parents, and administrators believe in you.
A related topic I don't often write on is the availability of the class. A few colleges offer a course in counseling in the college selection process, as well as continuing education centers and counseling organizations--and some classes are offered online. The resources exist for more classes to start immediately, and anyone that can guarantee 15 committed school counselors can have a face-to-face course brought to their doorstep.
The need may be great, but the tools--and desire-- to meet the need are greater, and well within everyone's grasp.