Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Three Remarkable Looks at School Counselors and College Access

By:  Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

It’s been a busy year for school counselors, and much of the work we’ve done has been shared with a larger audience, thanks to Eric Hoover. A writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Eric focuses on college admissions and issues related to college access. He’s spent a good amount of his energies this year focusing on the role the school counselor plays in the college selection process.

That work is gaining the attention of an audience beyond school counselors. Three of his pieces are part of Eric’s nomination for an award by the Education Writers Association, and all three have been hailed for depicting life as a school counselor in ways few other pieces have conveyed our world, especially when it comes to helping students select a college.

The first piece that caught the public eye, Where the Journey to College is No Fairy Taledepicts the challenges of a school counselor in Texas who works with a high caseload of students. Since most of them are low income students, the need for financial aid is keen, and the students’ awareness of all of the logistics is limited, since most will be the first in their family to go to college.

It’s one thing to talk about the importance of going to college in broad strokes, but Eric’s piece shows the nitty-gritty of filling out the forms and chasing down the students that is the reality of bringing the theory of college application to life. It’s especially interesting that Eric reflects on the down side of the school’s college signing day program, where some students feel left out, simply because their finances are incomplete, or they haven’t heard back from their colleges yet. This is a sobering reminder that May 1 isn’t the end of the college application process for many students—and most of those students are the ones we’re supposed to be celebrating.

This same irony is revealed in Eric’s second piece, The Verification Trap. The college admissions world was taken aback this year by the dramatic increase in the number of FAFSA applicants who were asked to provide detailed verification of their financial status. Eric uses a case study approach to show how detailed this verification requests can be, and the challenges students and parents face in meeting these requests.

This piece points out the longstanding challenges of redistributive social policy in general. The goal of the policy is to provide assistance to students who need it; at the same time, those in charge of the program must confirm that those asking for the assistance really do need it. In many cases, this means the student and their family has to prove that something doesn’t exist, as the government is, in essence, saying, “Show us how much money you don’t have.” Since the skill of keeping track of resources is best mastered by actually having them, this puts special challenges on those who don’t have them. Eric’s piece captures this with keen humanity.

The Long Last Miles to College drills down on the challenge of keeping students motivated to go to college in their summer after graduation, when counselors are challenged to keep in touch with their students, and keep them on track with the tasks of attending orientation, completing more financial aid forms, and enrolling at college. Here, Eric’s work gives a face to the construct of summer melt, and brings the struggle of the students—and their counselor—to life in ways few other pieces have.

Strong investigative journalism gives readers an opportunity to look past platitudes and good intentions, and understand how policies, procedures, and life in general affects people in the real world. Eric Hoover’s writing on school counselors gives us a chance to reexamine the big picture of college access by taking a micro view of it. All three pieces are well worth the time to read in this busy time of a counselor’s year.

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