Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Bill Helps Counselors Stay on Top of College, Career Change

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Many college admissions decision come out this week, and most school counselors agree, the end can’t come soon enough.  We are certainly excited for the students who are receiving good news, and more than sympathetic to the students who receive other news. But this year, along with being there for our students, there is a feeling that something happened in the world of college admissions that can best be described as, as…


It’s been a year where nothing stayed the same.  SAT test scores were sent, often missing crucial college deadlines for early applications.  A general response was “Boy, thank goodness everything is OK at ACT”, but they then experiences the same problem, and ran into some irregularities in the new rubric used to score the Writing test. 

Add in the occasional public college that admitted every student who applied (and some students who didn’t), and other colleges that decided to defer students simply because the college didn’t have enough time to read all the applications, and it’s clear the admissions world has changed dramatically.  And all of that happened even before the highly selective colleges reported another “record year” of applications, leading to an even smaller percentage of admitted students.

Education blogs are replete with calls for reforming college admissions to take the stress out of the process, all in the name of protecting students.  The intent is noble, but the proof is in the tweaking, and right now, there’s something else that can easily be tweaked first.

Part of the reason school counselors feel out of touch with the college selection process is the torrid pace of the changes, but another part is the lack of access to resources that help them understand the changes.  Professional development opportunities exist that try to keep counselors in the loop, like annual updates from College Board and ACT, but too many counselors are being told they can’t leave the building, and must suffer through full days of professional development focused on classroom teachers. 

That may help build camaraderie in the building, but when your best senior comes asking for information on the latest colleges that no longer require any testing at all, a counselor’s answer can’t afford to be a year old, since dozens of colleges have dropped the ACT and SAT this year alone.

Michigan is trying to meet counselors’ needs for updated college and career information with a bill that’s currently in front of the Michigan Senate Education Committee.  Right now, counselors must complete 150 hours in professional development work to keep their license or certificate—and those hours could be in anything.  House Bill 4552 would set aside a few of those hours, and make sure counselors have access to updated training in college and career advising.

This modest tweak turns an ineffective state mandate into one with more focus, and more purpose.  Best of all, it relies on local school districts, counselor organizations, and business and industry to develop professional development that meets the needs of counselors, tailoring the training to meet the college and career needs of the students they serve. College tours, financial aid updates, tours of skilled trades facilities, and more, would become a bigger part of a counselor’s ongoing learning, making their insights into postsecondary options more relevant to students, families, and the state’s economy.

There’s no question this year will be remembered as one of huge change, and more change is slated to come in the fall.  In Michigan, House Bill 4552 can help counselors not only embrace the change; it will help them shape it, all for the better.

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