Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Outreach by College Counselors: Increasing Student Attendance at Presentations

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Outreach by College Counselors: Increasing Student Attendance at Presentations

Article excerpt

Psychoeducational outreach programming by college counselors can be an effective service to meet students' needs; however, getting students to attend outreach programs on a college campus can be challenging. The authors describe a model of an outreach series and the strategies implemented to increase student attendance at the presentations. Information collected from students through focus groups, a survey, and presentation evaluation forms revealed factors that seem to be important to increasing attendance.

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Outreach programming is an increasingly important activity for college counseling centers (Archer & Cooper, 1998; Guince & Ness, 2000; Stone & Archer, 1990). In fact, providing outreach interventions is an accreditation standard for college and university counseling centers set by the International Association of Counseling Services (Boyd et al., 2003). Stone and Archer defined outreach as "any organized program, workshop, media effort, class, or systematic attempt to provide psychological education--includes systematic attempts to modify the campus environment" (p. 557). Outreach can occur in many formats: presenting to specific groups, such as academic classes, residence hall groups, and fraternities/sororities, or being present at campus wellness fairs or student services expos. Counseling centers may also develop programs proactively to address identified student needs through altering workshops or providing self-help information on their Web sites (Kern, 2000).

Through the development of psychoeducational programs for the campus community, college counseling centers can fulfill the preventive and educative roles that they have on campus. Encouraging positive health behaviors and preventing common problems through outreach presentations fit with most college counseling center mission statements. Moreover, the opportunity to learn and discuss developmental issues relevant to college students is often a critical component of a college or university's mission. Thus, services provided by college counselors, including outreach presentations, are an integral part of a student's comprehensive education (Hurst & Jacobson, 1985).

Outreach is also a useful way to serve the needs of students who may be reluctant to visit a counseling center to seek individual counseling. For example, men who adhere to traditional gender roles tend to prefer a more psychoeducational approach to addressing mental health issues than they do personal counseling (Robertson & Fitzgerald, 1992). Members of some ethnic minority groups may be less likely to visit a counseling center but be more amenable to attending an outreach presentation given by a mental health professional (Brinson & Kottler, 1993; Constantine, Chen, & Ceesay, 1997). Exposure to a psychoeducational presentation may encourage students to take another step and seek personal counseling, even though students may be at varying stages of change with the issue being presented (Prochaska, DiClemente, & Norcross, 1992).

Several challenges accompany the worthy endeavor of providing outreach programs (Bishop, 1990; Huff, 1999; Stone & Archer, 1990). Given increasing demands for individual counseling and other direct clinical services, it may be difficult for staff to put time toward developing and carrying out successful outreach presentations. Another problem that many counselors have experienced is that once a program is scheduled, it can be difficult to predict the number of students who will attend, and attendance can be minimal (Schreier & Bialk, 1997; Trice, Desio, & Haire, 1989). On many campuses, efforts are needed to improve student attendance at outreach presentations.

Few empirical studies have been conducted about the factors that might increase student attendance at outreach presentations given by counseling center stale Schreier and Bialk (1997) described a workshop series and a thorough marketing approach that they reported was successful in increasing attendance. …

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