I’m on a planning committee for an annual college update program for school counselors in the Metro Detroit area. As I was waiting to check participants in the day of the event, I looked at a page from the registration list, just to see if I knew anyone who was going to be there. The list included the names of 25 registrants, along with their job titles.
4 were school counselors. 21 were not.
Knowing schools hire counselors but often call them something else, I scanned the list for possible overlaps. Instead, I saw titles suggesting those holding the job are counselors, when they really aren’t. College Adviser. College Success Coach. Manager of Postsecondary Planning. Well-meaning professionals, yes, all engaged in some kind of college advising. But not school counselors, engaged in college counseling.
I caught up with one of my colleagues at the conference, who said the same thing is happening in her district. “My district knows we don’t have time with our other duties to help kids with college during the day, so they’re training the afterschool managers to help kids apply to college. They could have hired parapros to do scheduling and testing so we could do the college advising, but they didn’t go that route.”
I’m trying to figure out just when it was decided to concede college counseling as someone else’s job. I’m not talking about college advising, where young college graduates assist students with the nuts and bolts of the application process. I think that’s a great idea, and badly needed. But looking at a student’s high school experience to help them choose the right atmosphere where they’ll keep learning and growing? When was it decided that wasn’t our thing anymore?
Before you get out the usual torches and pitchforks of large caseloads and inappropriate duties, you may want to start a little closer to home. There isn’t a lot of research on how much training school counselors get in college counseling, but what’s out there suggests the answer is not much. A new summary of the state of counselor readiness to be effective college counselors sums up the findings nicely: “(S)chool counselors rarely receive training in college readiness counseling during their master’s program in school counseling.”
This shouldn’t surprise anyone, least of all school counselors. Look at the titles of the 15 or so classes required to earn most school counseling degrees, and you’ll see myriad courses focused on mental health counseling and developmental psychology, but typically none that include the word “college” in them. Some programs offer a course in career counseling that includes a unit—one class period—on college counseling, while many counselor educators insist college counseling is taught “throughout the curriculum”, scattered in here and there as an afterthought, like poppy seeds in a muffin recipe.
It’s certainly true students are bringing serious issues to school requiring the full weight of well-trained mental health professionals. It’s also true more than a few school counseling programs would benefit from a building administrator who sees school counselors as more than just a spare pair of hands. But somewhere in our desire to become something other than “guidance counselors”, it seems we ourselves have decided helping young people consider life after high school is too pedestrian a task to be worthy of genuine study.
That decision is killing us. Two-thirds of respondents labeled the quality of career and college counseling in Michigan schools as “lousy” or “terrible.” That’s us, and that’s what the public expects us to do.
When did we decide as a profession that didn’t matter?