Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Report—The State of College Counseling in the US Isn’t Good

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

A new report on the state of college attainment offers some important points for school counselors to consider.  Presented by The National Consortium for School Counseling and Postsecondary Success, the report outlines the progress made in raising awareness of the important role counselors play in helping students make plans for life after college, including the many contributions of First Lady Michelle Obama in raising the importance of college attainment for all students.

After reviewing the important role White House convenings played in establishing a strong national need for improved college access and opportunity, the report offers a sobering conclusion:

“We must acknowledge that despite the hard work of many well-intentioned professionals working in the college advising space across institutions, we have failed to accelerate the degree attainment process, particularly with underserved populations across the nation who are in greatest need of assistance.”

From there, the report outlines several steps that can be made to improve national efforts in degree attainment, liberally defined as completion of any degree or certificate.  The first recommendation calls for greater collaboration between school personnel and community partners, an important reminder that, while school counselors play a unique role in the college advising process, it is impossible for any significant change to be made in the metrics without a broader array of participation:

In general, college access efforts focus on postsecondary completion strategies within schools during grades 11 and 12; however, this work often exists in silos, rather than through coordinated efforts to reach every student, and is seldom integrated with a broader college and career strategy that spans a child’s Pre-K to postsecondary educational journey. Progress is often impeded because internal school staff, who have existing relationships with students and families, and external partners, who have resources and information, do not function as a collaborative team.

The second recommendation calls for renewed efforts to create more research specific to the training counselors receive in college advising, and in their role in working with students and families in schools.   A survey measured the attitudes and perceptions of both school counselors and the counselor educators who train them, and the results yielded at least one important finding:

Interestingly, the survey discovered a strong discrepancy between school counselors and school counselor educators on the content covered in counselor education programs, with counselor educators reporting much more effective coverage of topics than practitioners. This gap in perceptions suggests that counselor educators may need to pay closer attention to the demands of those in the field as well as emerging responsibilities such as a greater need to support career and college readiness.

In other words, while counselor educators felt their programs fully addressed the essential skills of college advising, practicing counselors didn’t agree at all.

The report concludes with six recommendations that focus primarily on these two findings, with heavy emphasis on the need for more research, and for greater standardization of counselor educator programs, including a thorough review of the content of instruction in college and career advising.  This is welcome news to a profession that has long been short in empirical data; the larger question remains, what can school counselors do now to improve the quality of college and career advising, in the years it will take to build a sturdier foundation of research?

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