Report: Secondary School Counselors Underutilized in College Completion Push

Though overburdened with heavy caseloads and administrative tasks, guidance counselors are often overlooked and underutilized when it comes to getting students ready for college.

Those are some of the major points made in a new report that seeks to reposition high school guidance counselors as more effective facilitators in the nation’s pursuit of greater postsecondary attainment.

The report — the “2011 National Survey of School Counselors: Counseling at a Crossroads” — was released Tuesday in the historic Senate Caucus Room at the U.S. Capitol.  

John Bridgeland, CEO  and president of Civic Enterprises and a co-author of the report, said it was fitting for the report to be released in the same room where, in 1960, then-U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. The reason, he said, is because that era represents the last time the United States — through the National Defense Education Act of 1958 — made guidance counseling a priority.

“The problem has been there’s a lack of clarity of what their mission is,” Bridgeland said in an interview with Diverse. “In schools, they’re all over the map.”

Beyond lack of clarity of purpose, the report — based on a survey of 5,308 middle and high school counselors — exposes various “gaps” that many of the counselors think exist between their mission and the day-to-day realities at their schools when it comes to their ability to play a meaningful role in helping students get ready for college and careers.

       

Consider some of the following findings from the survey:

       

n  While nearly all counselors — 93 percent — say they support a strategic approach to promote college and career readiness by the 12th grade, 35 percent of all counselors and 43 percent of counselors in lower-income schools do not think they have the support and resources to be successful at promoting this mission.

n  Only 42 percent of counselors say their schools take advantage of counselors in their unique role as student advocates who create pathways and support to ensure all students have opportunities to achieve postsecondary goals.

n  While 84 percent of counselors say their mission should be to ensure that all students earn a high school diploma and graduate ready to succeed, there is a 38 percentage-point gap between the ideal and reality of accomplishing this goal.

“It shows that while counselors want to focus on college and career readiness and want to build a college-going culture as early in the system as they can, they don’t see that reality in their schools,” Bridgeland said. “They think that a lot of schools are in need of reform.”

The report also reveals that many counselors feel ill-prepared for their work.

For instance, while 73 percent of counselors have a master’s degree and 58 percent once served as administrators or teachers, only 16 percent rate their training as a nine or 10 on a 10-point scale. Further, 28 percent think their training did not prepare them well for their job and 56 percent feel only somewhat trained.

The report also calls for smaller caseloads for counselors. It notes that as of 2009, only five states meet the American School Counselor Association recommended ratio of 250 students per counselor, and that most states were “well above this average.”

“I think 250 is still a big number,” said Lisa Sohmer, director of college counseling

at the Garden School of Jackson Heights, N.Y., and a nominee for president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“It’s a better number, but try to know 250 kids over the course of a year well enough to help them decide anything is still a lot of students,” Sohmer said. “I think if counselors could change anything, that would be the first thing they would change, the caseload, because it would trickle down into everything.”