Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Seeking Their Guidance

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Seeking Their Guidance

Article excerpt

High School Counseling at a Crossroads

The national dialogue about why students succeed or fail in their studies often centers around teacher competency. If not teacher competency, the parents' role is examined or the part funding plays in the dropout rate or ability of the student to succeed in college or trade school. According to 2011 National Survey of School Counselors: Counseling at a Crossroads, authored by John Bridgeland and Mary Bruce for the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center, guidance counselors, one of the most important assets a school system has, feel they have been underutilized and undervalued.

According to the survey, counselors see a broken school system in need of reform. More than eight in 10 counselors report that a top mission of schools should be to ensure that all students complete 12th grade ready to succeed in college and careers, yet only 30 percent of all school counselors and 19 percent of those in high-poverty schools with sizable Hispanic and other minority populations see this as their school's mission in reality. And it's not just the stated mission of the school that demoralizes counselors. It's the basic structure of what they do and how they do it. Nearly half of the counselors in school are former teachers themselves, making them ideal candidates to direct the future of students in their charge, but many (as low as 43 percent) complain they do not have the support or resources to execute a strategic plan that promotes college and career readiness by 12th grade. Instead, these same counselors say they are overburdened with paperwork and an unrealistic ratio of students-to-counselor.

The report explains the opinion of the counselors surveyed this way: "While nearly one in four public high school students does not graduate from high school on time, the rate is as high as one in two in our nation's most struggling schools. Our survey showed that, on average, counselors in schools with higher rates of students on free or reduced-price lunches, or higher rates of minority students, also face larger caseloads. This finding mirrors the limited research that shows the work of counselors is often more complex in lower-resourced areas. In addition, because of resource constraints, the quality, consistency, accessibility and perception of counseling services vary among student subgroups, with more favorable services often provided to students of higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Because counselors have unique training and can offer specialized academic and nonacademic supports, it is possible that their work may have the highest impact on the students with the greatest need."

But perhaps the most important influence that counselors exert on their students is the guidance they bring to course selection and college/career prep. In an Education Trust report in December 2011, Poised to Lead: How School Counselors Can Drive College and Career Readiness, school counselors are said to be crucial to academic preparation for higher education and career training. It states, "The caliber of course selection strongly shapes the choices students have after they leave high school. Yet, few students are equipped to determine which combination of courses will best prepare them for success after graduation. School counselors can help. These educators know how to create course schedules that will prepare students for the twin options of college and career." But often counselors, especially in impoverished neighborhood schools, cannot spend enough time with individual students to make sure they are prepared. According to the Education Trust report, the current counselorstudent ratio across America is now a whopping l-to-459. The American School Counselor Association recommends the ratio not exceed one counselor for every 250 students. Additionally, the report cautions that at-risk students and students who have little other support in the area of course planning or college preparation can easily consume more of the counselor's time. …

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