Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The College Counseling Throwdown

By: Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

Long-time readers to this space know it is sometimes used to expound on the significant gap that exists in school counselor training.  For those needing a refresher, here are the highlights:

  • Less than ten percent of the school counselor training programs in the United States offer a course on college advising
  • A recent survey from the National Association for College Admission Counseling shows school counselors spend about 20% of their time on college advising activities
  • A Public Agenda survey found most young adults thought their counselor was of little or no help when it came to making college plans
  • Two different College Board surveys of school counselors found that counselors themselves feel undertrained in this vital area

This is usually the point where readers are asked to seize the energy behind this need and contact their state legislators and fix this.  Today, we’re taking a detour.

People with very good intentions can get sidetracked in a hurry when they run up against large institutions—so if large institutions are too intimidating, it’s time to look local. There’s a good chance you work for a school, and there’s an even better chance that school has a board, and that school board sets all kinds of policies, including the hiring policies; you might even know someone on the school board. 

Imagine the attention you would receive if you told a board member over coffee that you, a school counselor, want the board to increase the required qualifications for any newly hired counselor.  Upon taking the job, they either have to show evidence of having completed a 45 hour course in college advising, or they have to agree to complete such a course before they begin their second year of work.  If they don’t have the class, they take it in a year—and if they promise to take it but don’t follow through, they don’t get to keep the job.

The first response will probably be the same glassy-eyed look I get when telling policymakers counselors aren’t fully trained to help students make good college choices.  There’s a good chance your board members don’t know that either, so you may need to give them the facts that start this column.  Once you do that, they still might not believe you want to add more requirements to the job—after all, you’re a counselor—but your experiences and care for your students will guide you to find the right words.

It may be obvious, but you get something out of this—in fact, you get two somethings.  The next counselor you hire will either have the training they need to hit the ground running with college advice, or at least show the interest in learning that side of the job.  Imagine what that interest and energy will do to cut down training time, and improve the quality of your counseling program.

In addition to your committed colleague, your students will get some extra college advice from me.  No school district in the country has this policy right now; if you can get your district to lead the way on this essential reform, I will give you enough copies of College is Yours 2.0  to give one to every junior in your high school class.  10, 50, 800—it doesn’t matter. Make history, and you get the books.

Hard work has its rewards, and breaking this barrier is a must if our students and our profession are going to move forward.  I’ve been saying that for quite a while; now it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is.

Who’s in?

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