Report: Poor High School Counseling Could Lead to Diminished Opportunities

Sitting in your high school guidance counselor’s office is not an experience many would want to relive, but a new report says that the counseling experience is pivotal for many clueless college-age youth trying to map their academic careers.

A national survey of more than 600 young adults found that nearly half, or 48 percent, would rate their counselors as either “poor” or “fair.” At the same time, the report by the nonprofit, nonpartisan public opinion research organization Public Agenda said students who receive poor counseling are more likely to delay entering a college program, making them more susceptible to dropping out in the long run.

“We’ve set up a system that is simply not giving most students the help and attention they deserve. The counselors are often over-worked, and many are under-prepared when it comes to helping students think through the wide variety of college and career choices open to them,” said Jean Johnson, executive director of the Education Insights project at Public Agenda.

A student’s ability to navigate the financial aid labyrinth and making sound college decisions hinges on the family’s knowledge of the system, the report said. A majority of U.S. public high school students have parents that did not attend college, increasing the need for informed guidance.

Those same families expect their children to complete college degrees in order to get good jobs, but instead students sometimes make poor choices that factor into their leaving a college altogether.

The report’s authors found a correlation between students who felt poorly counseled and those who are less likely to receive scholarships or financial aid—particularly among Hispanics and African-Americans.

But it can’t all be blamed on counselors, according to the report. The other half of respondents were satisfied with their advising experiences, considering the bewildering tasks levied upon overwhelmed and ill-equipped high school employees. Ideally, schools will have 100 students for each counselor, but nationally the ratio fluctuates, and the average is 256:1.

With thousands of postsecondary options for students, the report said counselors are more critical than ever before and play a role in President Barack Obama’s goal of increasing degree completion by 2020.

“If the United States is to meet its higher education goals and reduce its unacceptably high college dropout rates, we need to look candidly at the various factors contributing to the problem,” the report stated. “But based on the responses here, the high school guidance system is another factor that educators and policymakers need to look at. When it comes to facilitating students’ transition from high school to college or work, the current system is seriously under-serving those it is intended to help.