Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Effective Counseling for Racial/ethnic Minority Clients: Examining Changes Using a Practice Research Network

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Effective Counseling for Racial/ethnic Minority Clients: Examining Changes Using a Practice Research Network

Article excerpt

Studies have shown that counseling decreases students' academic distress. These findings, however, are based primarily on European American students. This study explored the impact of counseling on academic distress for treatment-seeking racial/ethnic minority college students using the Counseling Center Assessment of Psychological Symptoms-34 (Locke et al., 2012) Academic Distress subscale. Results indicated that there are significant differences in academic distress at intake based on race/ethnicity. Furthermore, findings revealed that change in academic distress over the course of treatment varies by race/ethnicity.

Keywords: academic distress, racial/ethnic minority students


Over the past several years, there has been increased pressure placed on college counseling centers to demonstrate how their services support the overall mission of the university (Nafziger, Couillard, & Smith, 1999; Varlotta, 2012). At a time when higher education is focused on accountability and cost-benefit decision making (Sharkin, 2004; Varlotta, 2012), administrators assert that counseling centers should be able to demonstrate how their services are an integral part of student academic development (Hodges, 2001) and contend that centers should be evaluated on factors that are linked to educational outcomes (Wilson, Mason, & Ewing, 1997). The primary focus of university counseling centers has been the "provision of direct counseling interventions to students whose personal problems interfere with their ability to function in the academic environment" (Sharkin, 2004, p. 99). Traditionally, counseling centers' mission statements have indicated that their services improve both personal and academic development (Choi, Buskey, & Johnson, 2010; Sharkin, 2004), highlighting their multiple roles on campus. Their mission statements often imply that addressing students' personal concerns will promote their academic functioning and success (Choi et al., 2010). Furthermore, it has been argued that counseling centers have a "ripple effect" (Nafziger et al., 1999, p. 9) on students' academic functioning, so whether or not students come to counseling for academic concerns, they should still benefit academically.

Taken together, the implicit multiple roles and the ripple effect suggest that counseling centers are well positioned to enhance students' academic development. The larger question, then, remains: Are counseling centers able to articulate the impact their services have on academic functioning? Academic functioning can be defined as making sufficient progress toward graduation. In the past, centers have not placed great emphasis on demonstrable academic outcomes (Sharkin, 2004) and more recently have struggled to accurately evaluate how their services improve student functioning at an academic level (Choi et al., 2010). Therefore, counseling centers are faced with a difficult challenge, wherein counseling centers must be responsive to the calls for accountability and cost-effectiveness, but the scarcity of research directly investigating the relationship between counseling and academic outcomes leaves such centers in a vulnerable position (Sharkin, 2004). Bishop (2006) highlighted the sense of urgency within counseling centers to demonstrate educational outcomes, stating, "In academic communities, it is more likely that the actions of decision makers will be influenced by data than by affective arguments" (p. 8). If counseling centers do not have data to provide, then they struggle to influence decisions.

Counseling centers have begun gathering data with hopes to reflect the contribution they make to students' academic success. However, the appropriateness of their assessment methodologies to demonstrate their contribution has been questioned. Previous researchers examining the relationship between counseling and academics have often used grade point average (GPA) and retention as their outcome criteria (Illovsky, 1997; Lee, Olson, Locke, Michelson, & Odes, 2009; Sharkin, 2004; Turner & Berry, 2000). …

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