Wednesday, May 22, 2013

College Access and Your Principal-- It's Time to Talk

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

If you’ve been looking for evidence to support a request to provide more college programming, look no more.  A new report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling offers these nuggets on college counseling in general:
  • Schools with higher four-year college-going rates were more likely than those whose rates were lower to spend a greater proportion of their time on college counseling.
  • “Schools with higher four-year college-going rates and schools spending a larger proportion of their time on college counseling were more likely to report college preparation as their primary goal.
  • “Schools with higher four-year college-going rates were more likely to require a parent's signature on career and education plans.”
And then, they drop this bomb:
·         “Only 18 percent of ninth-grade students had spoken with a counselor about college.

Combined with reports from formidable groups like Public Agenda and College Board, the NACAC study offers an avalanche of material supporting an increase in early college readiness and college advising. Counselors have intuitively understood it’s a bad idea to begin college conversations in the 11th grade; these studies confirm those intuitions, and urge us to do more…

…but we can’t do this alone.  It would be easy enough to create a college awareness lesson to slide into the Health curriculum.  But these studies are talking about much more than that; they’re pointing to an attitude about college access that has to permeate the counselor’s day, the counselor’s office, and the counselor’s colleagues.  There is no doubt the school counselor needs to be the school’s chief college advocate, but the counselor shouldn’t (and can’t) be the only college advocate.  You have to build a community of supporters.

That’s where the studies come in handy.  When it comes to assembling the team, your first draft choice is your building administrator, and if you want to win them over, you have to speak their native language—data. This is especially true in schools where resources are scarce and where parents may question the value of college.  If you want your principal to really understand what college can do for the college aspirations of students whose parents didn’t go to college, show them these highlights from the report:
  • “The percentage of time that counselors spent on college readiness activities was positively related to first-generation college students believing college was affordable. 
  • “A family member talking to a counselor (or teacher) about post-secondary admission requirements was positively related to first generation college students' plans to enroll in a bachelor's degree program. 
  • “First-generation students' speaking to a counselor about college was positively related to their intentions to enroll in a bachelor's degree program and taking or planning to take the SAT or ACT.”
In other words, the gateway to a brighter future for first generation students is their school counseling office.
It’s going to take more than a couple of studies to win your principal over, so you may want to look at the college advising curricula that are offered by College Board and NACAC—both are comprehensive, and both are free.  With ample lesson plans and programs dedicated to improving college readiness, and with data to show the impact these programs can make on the college plans of ninth graders, it’s time to talk college access with your principal, and time to say goodbye to lunch duty.

College Board’s College and Career Readiness Program can be found at
NACAC’s Step By Step College Awareness and Planning program can be found at

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