Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Mr. Obama, We'd Like To Reach Even Higher

By  Patrick O'Connor   Ph.D

Mr. Obama, I’ve written you from this space on more than one occasion to thank, beg, and plead for your support
for school counselors when you were President Obama, and the profession of college counseling received more support from The White House than ever before. Since I just received a letter from you to thank me for writing, it’s an honor to know you listened. More important, it’s a privilege to be part of a profession that has grown in depth and breadth of service in ways that simply wouldn’t have been possible without your and Mrs. Obama’s support. I am grateful; much more important, the families I serve have greater hopes and lives, thanks to all you’ve done.

I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve now started a foundation, and you’re asking for answers on where the foundation should devote its energies, by having individuals answer the question, what makes a good citizen? At the risk of running afoul of a request of the former leader of the free world, I answered the question by urging the foundation to continue the work started in The White House through the ReachHigher Initiative.

I know much of this work is being taken up by BetterMakeRoom, there’s more than enough work to be done in college access to keep dozens of foundations and non-profits busy for quite some time—and, to be honest, the profession would be greatly enhanced with the active presence of the very caring couple who brought school counselors to The White House for the First. Time. Ever.

As it turns out, there’s a college access project that would be a great first step back into the field of college access. The state of Colorado has developed a pilot project to add more counselors to schools in need, and given the high number of students most counselors serve, that need is fairly big.

These four year grants allowed schools to train these new counselors and get them familiar with the building. After four years, the dropout rate fell from 5.5 percent to 3.7 percent; college access increased at a double-digit rate, and participation in career and technical education programs more than doubled, according to one report.

The change in the dropout rate meant that each school received more money in their budgets, so the counseling positions more than paid for themselves. In addition, since these students are completing high school, Colorado saved more than $300 million in social costs—far more than the $20 million they invested in the program.

Several other states are looking at this model, to see if it would work for their schools, including Michigan. We certainly get the attention of legislators when we tell them we have a program that makes the state money, but something tells me they might pay even more attention if this information was being provided by, say, a more familiar face.

I can’t guarantee that every state will realize the success Colorado has, Mr. Obama, but I can tell you that having more counselors is the issue in our profession. Now that we’ve found a way for those positions to pay for themselves, all we need is help spreading the word.

Can we count on you, sir?

Oh, one more thing. After I sort of hijacked the question on your foundation’s Website to advocate for college advising, I urged a few colleagues to do the same thing. Some told me they did, and others have said once they hear you’re on board, they’re game to offer support.

Right now, the count is up to a couple of hundred.

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