Wednesday, May 30, 2012

College Counseling Trends to Watch for Fall

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The next order of business for most high school counselors is graduation, but signals sent from Kalamazoo to Washington DC suggest the college counseling scene greeting us this fall will be remarkably different from the one this year brought.  Counselors will want to pack their computers along with their beach reading to track these hot topics in college advising this summer:

Affirmative Action takes an unexpected turn  Many counselors are already focused on the University of Texas case the Supreme Court will hear this fall.  Like many cases before it, this case focuses on the use of race in the undergraduate admissions policies of a public university. Court watchers feel the circumstances in this case may lead a more conservative Court to rule differently on this case than they did in the Bollinger case, limiting the use of race in admissions.

That speculation received a jolt this week when four Asian American groups urged the Supreme Court to ban the use of race in college admissions decisions.  This is the first time this many underrepresented groups voiced their opposition to raced-based affirmative action, and their argument is pretty straight forward—they feel Asians are losing out on opportunities when race is a factor.

The case may not be impact the 2012-13 school year, but an early ruling could throw the entire system into chaos; if the Court rules against the use of race by, say, December 2012, some early applications may have been evaluated using race, while later ones could be exempt. This case clearly has implications for future classes, but it may mean something to school counselors in 7 months as well—stay tuned.

An increase in pay to play  This year’s increase in the number of college applications could very well lead to more colleges using ability to pay as a factor in admissions.  Record numbers of students also means a record number needing financial aid; since random selection could tilt admissions decisions over the amount of aid a college can offer, more colleges are likely to create a more even fiscal playing field by considering ability to pay for at least part of their class.

Colleges that are “need conscious” are supposed to let students know this, but they don’t exactly take out billboards and send out texts announcing these changes.  Counselors will want to instruct students to ask college representatives about the role of ability to pay in admissions decisions; this is the best way to get the most current information.

March Mayhem Becomes May Madness  The increase in applicants is due in part to more people applying to college, but it’s also due to individual students applying to more colleges.  That means more students with multiple admits are telling more colleges “no” on May 1st, leaving some colleges to rely on waitlists, and others to rely on—well, nothing!

Not every college puts students on a waitlist, and many that do keep their list short, since they don’t want to raise the hopes of too many students.  A number of great, small liberal arts colleges found their waitlists tapped out this spring, so they had to re-open admission in early May.  That’s right—if a student was looking for a college this May, they had some great options never before seen around Mother’s Day.

The numbers will increase next year, so look for an increase in the number and quality of May options next year.  This isn’t a good sign, but it’s likely to be a trend that can benefit students at least for next year—and serving students is what we do.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An Update on Training for College Counseling

By Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D

This column has talked more than once about the need for improved counselor training in college advising, and I wanted to pass along some encouraging news from Stuart Chen-Hayes and Melissa Ockerman, co-chairs of the ACES School Counseling Interest Network.

Their letter is in response to an op-ed I posted in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the same subject, and includes some promising growth in this vital area. Their letter never appeared in the Chronicle, and I am grateful to Drs. Chen-Hayes and Ockerman for allowing me to print it here and share the progress:

By Stuart Chen-Hayes and Melissa Ockerman, co-chairs of the ACES School Counseling Interest Network
As co-chairs of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES) School Counseling Interest Network, we want to thank Mr. Patrick O'Connor for his feedback in his January 30, 2012 post. We appreciate Mr. O'Connor's support and commitment to infusing college access/readiness/success counseling throughout School Counselor Education programs and in K-12 settings. As new co-chairs of the network, our goal is to help facilitate this change in Counselor Education/School Counseling programs. Mr. O'Connor emailed ACES Executive Council members two years ago expressing similar concerns and a need to move the profession faster in pre-service college admission counseling skills for school counselors and school counselor educators. The leading advocacy organizations for this work include The Education Trust's National Center for Transforming School Counseling (NCTSC), the College Board's National Office for School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA), and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).
While the 2009 Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) Standards mentioned college admission for the first time, that alone is not sufficient. Currently, feedback is being gathered by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) toward the 2016 National Standards for Counselor Preparation programs. All members of the public and professional school counselors and counselor educators are encouraged to strengthen the school counseling specialty standards at both the master's and doctoral levels, regarding content in college access/readiness/admission counseling in school counseling programs by providing specific suggestions. We have a committee in our network coordinating similar feedback.
Since 1995, The Education Trust has supported the work of transforming the school counseling profession to a new vision focused on closing achievement and opportunity gaps. Currently, 24 School Counselor Education programs are partners with the Education Trust's NCTSC to infuse this work throughout our curricula and programs. Moreover, multiple publications and research continue to be generated to move more programs toward this status. Dr. Peggy Hines, the Director of the NCTSC, has just announced additional funding to create a National School Counselor Educator Coalition to support 20 fellows and five mentors in transformed school counselor education to spread the work in all 50 U.S. states at a faster rate.
Since 2006, the National Office for School Counselor Advocacy at the College Board (NOSCA) has supported the needs of school counselors to be effective in college access and readiness counseling with the eight components of career and college counseling and their "Own The Turf" campaign. NOSCA, in addition to co-sponsoring the largest study of school counselors ever in 2011 with 5,300 respondents, has created multiple new tools, such as a principal-school counselor kit and specific elementary, middle, and high school guides to implement the eight core components of career and college counseling nationwide under the leadership of College Board Senior Vice President Pat Martin and NOSCA Senior Director Dr. Vivian Lee.
Since the 1930s, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has spearheaded efforts in college admission counseling. In 2011, NACAC sought to increase school counselor educator involvement and feedback to revise the 3rd edition of its Fundamentals of College Admissions text. The new focus of this manuscript is on equity and use of data to help increase the skills of college admissions counselors, most of whom are school counselors.
These initiatives, in combination with teaching of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National Standards (academic, career, and personal-social competences for all K-12 students) developed by Drs. Cheri Campbell and Dr. Carol Dahir, and the ASCA Model School Counseling Program Framework, developed by Drs. Trish Hatch and Judy Bowers, also complement the work of delivering career and college competencies to all students K-12 by school counselors in professional school counseling programs.
But change cannot wait for only Counselor Educators and CACREP to change programs. Every community and every school building leadership team must ensure that school counselors are not overburdened with inappropriate tasks; too many school counselors spend their days performing discipline tasks, test coordination, paperwork, bus and lunch duties and a host of non-counseling functions that deter their ability to help all students reach their career and college dreams. It takes a nation to prioritize the work of K-12 school counselors as providers of academic, career, college access and personal/social competencies for every K-12 student annually, so that school counselors can be professional dream-makers for every student.
On behalf of the ACES School Counseling Interest Network; Dr. Stuart Chen-Hayes, Associate Professor, Lehman College of the City University of New York, Bronx, NY; Dr. Melissa Ockerman, Assistant Professor, DePaul University, Chicago

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Free College Isn’t Free Anymore (Sort Of)—Why That Matters to All Students

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

For those of you who like to read tea leaves about applying to college, I'm here to tell you the Boston Tea Party happened about two weeks ago in Manhattan.
That was when Cooper Union announced its plans to start charging tuition for some of its graduate students, starting in September 2013. Highly regarded as a leader in the fields of art, architecture and engineering, Cooper Union has been tuition free since 1902, and plans to remain tuition free for undergraduates at least through the 2013-14 school year. But at least some of the graduate students -- total population of about 100 -- will be paying some tuition.

Is this really a big deal in the college world? No and yes. No, because the number of students impacted by the decision is small; because all Cooper students have always had to pay room and board (a cost that can be reduced or eliminated based on financial need) -- so some people don't see this as a truly free college; because this impacts graduate students, a group high school seniors and their parents rarely take pity on, since -- well, they aren't among them.
On the other hand, this is an issue to pay attention to for two reasons. First, Cooper Union's tuition-free model has been a remarkable way to inspire students, parents, and even school counselors. Counselors perk right up when they hear a college with an international reputation is tuition free -- and the same is true when parents and students hear about Cooper Union.
This leads to a bigger discussion about other colleges that have similar offers – Curtis Institute of Music and Berea College (in Kentucky)-- and soon, it doesn't even matter if the student ever applies to any of these schools. The simple fact that a handful of colleges in the U.S. somehow figured out how to make college tuition free leads students to think about the entire application process in a new way:
"Are there other colleges that offer significant aid I don't know about?"
"Are there other colleges I could attend that I don't know about?"
"What else is there about college I don't know about?"
Unwittingly, the Cooper Union discussion has led to bigger college searches and more grounded college planning -- and while the undergraduate program is still free, many will now wonder if it's simply a matter of time until that changes. That can take the air out of the "think bigger" movement Cooper Union inspires, narrowing the college aspirations of students who are trying desperately to see the college selections process as something more than a set of data, a way to keep Mommy and Daddy happy, or worse, some kind of game played with them, not for them.
The second reason this announcement could be a game changer has to do with the tuition policies at other schools. Parents of college-bound students pay a great deal of attention to two things -- colleges and money. Whenever a story comes out about college tuition --especially free college tuition -- these parents' neurons are firing faster than Jeremy Lin being guarded by a 10-year-old, a process that, sooner or later, will produce this question:
"So, if Cooper Union has to change the way they think about money, won't other colleges have to do that, too -- and won't some start using a student's ability to pay as a consideration for admission?"
The answer to this question is no -- some colleges won't start using ability to pay as a factor in admissions decisions. Some colleges already do -- so more are on the way.
So tell us, dear tea readers -- is that one lump, or two?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Effective College Counseling is More Than a List

By Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D

The end of the school year brings many wonderful rites of passage and traditions that make being a counselor so worthwhile.  These customs create an opportunity for us to take a step back and reflect on the growth of our students.  All of these activities have special meaning, from honors awards assemblies to graduation to prom…

…to the principal calling us into the office and saying “So, how’d we do?”

Every high school counselor knows the code.  Administration cares about all of the counseling services offered in the building, but once the lilacs are in bloom and the seniors are painting “Class of 12 Rules” on their cars, the only service everyone wants to know about is college selection—specifically, the list of who got in where.

At first blush, this seems to make sense.  Community support is a key component of any effective college counseling curriculum, and a wise counselor builds a strong communication plan to keep that support vibrant.  When it comes to raising strong college-bound students, the village and the advocate must have a clear, common vision.

At the same time, too much emphasis on The List can perpetuate the belief that our students (and our college counseling program) are only as good as the name recognition of the colleges they attend—and that is simply wrong-headed. To be sure, the college counseling curriculum is successful when helping a happy senior get admitted to a college with an admission rate that is lower than the odds of being struck by lightning.  At the same time, the counseling program is just as successful when supporting a jubilant student with Ivy-worthy credentials who matriculates to a college close to home to keep an eye on an ailing parent—or just because Local U has the right mix of challenge, support, and opportunity.

In both cases, students have individual needs and goals that are discerned by the counselor and supported by the counselor’s actions, empathy, and skills.  Since both outcomes support those individual needs, who can say the first student is more of a counseling success than the other—especially since the counselor probably had to work more with the second student, and prepare them to deal with the community’s amazement when the town hears the student is heading to Local U?

The List certainly can be part of the evaluation of a college counseling program—if a high school sends a dozen worthy applicants to a selective college every year and all are annually rejected, the counselor is more that wise to consider how the school can better support these candidates.  Still, overreliance on The List can discourage students from exploring little-known niche colleges that would be great for them; cause them to lose focus on their individual needs in order to follow what they believe to be a path that will make the school and town more proud of them, or prevent them from coming to the proper conclusion (for them) that if they think school is stupid, it might be better to retool next year herding sheep in Ireland than spend the year feeling like another brick in the wall.

School administrators are keenly interested in how counselors help students grow, and rightly so.  Given the individualized nature of the college counseling curriculum, school counselors would be wise to use the roster of college acceptances as only part of the answer to the question “How did we do?”, and see the asking of the question as an opportunity to give a fuller, more legitimate view of the construct of student success in the college counseling curriculum. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Mr. President, Here’s the Best way to End Financial Aid Misuse

By Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Dear Mr. President:

High school counselors and college admissions officers stood a little taller last week when you took your case public for federal financial aid.  Your slow jam asking Congress to chill on interest rates for student loans might be cool enough to get even Jimmy Fallon’s usual sidekick  to want more cash in his piggy bank, and your Executive Order protecting the rights of veterans to spend their college benefits wisely was the right call at the right time. 

Since financial aid is on everyone’s mind, and your Executive Order pen is still warm, I hope you’re willing to use it one more time—because the truth is, a lot of it is being wasted for no reason at all.

High school seniors have just completed the college application process, where they had to negotiate a daunting maze of tests, applications, essays, and financial aid forms.  It’s tougher for a teen to get through the paperwork needed for college than it is to get through a pick at the White House basketball games.

Many students rely on their high school counselor to guide them through the ample choices that exist in the richest land of postsecondary choices in the world.  Unfortunately, studies show students don’t find counselors all that helpful with college choice, and counselors themselves don’t feel all that well trained to be of much help with college options.   

Combine that with the country’s 459 student-to-counselor ratio  , and it’s easy to see why students can make uninformed college decisions that don’t work out. Since many of these broken dreams are paid for by federal funds, our country realizes no return on investment, and our students realize they’re starting out with lots of college debt, but no college degree.

Mr. President, if you could turn that trend around for free, would you?

Then please sign an Executive Order directing every school counselor training program to require a course in college selection and counseling.

If you’re surprised such a course isn’t already required, you aren’t alone—but only about 50  counselor training programs offer such a course, and only a handful require it.  Counselors themselves have been begging for this course for a long time, including award-winning counselor Bob Bardwell , but counselor educators don’t see the need to fix the problem, in part because they created the problem.

So we know how you feel when it comes to working with Congress.

Those who teach this class (including me) would gladly share course descriptions and teaching techniques—and since the course would replace an elective counselors are already paying for, there are no new expenses involved.

Only new learning.

It would be ideal to have more counselors in each school and to make sure they are actually talking to students, not doing lunch duty.  But counselors would still need to know how to create personalized roads to college success for all students—especially counselors in rural and urban areas .  They can’t do that without the training they want; it’s just that no one will give it to them.

Mr. President, school counselors are working hard to provide sound college advice to students, but they can’t do that without their own sound training in college selection.  For their sake; for the sake of our students; and for the sake of our government’s investment in education, please let them know that you’re Barack Obama, and you approve this message.  Give us the chance to get this training, and we’ll create transitions to college that will break students out of this slow jam, something that would be mighty cool indeed.