Raising the Standard

(Earlier this week, Patrick O’Connor offered what I thought was a compelling piece as well as an interesting offer to the readers of the NACAC listserv. I’m reproducing it here in its entirety to help get the word out.)

Colleagues, I write in the spirit of Patriots Day on a topic near and dear to my heart-the training of school counselors in the fine art of the college selection process. As a quick redux, of the 600 counselor training programs in the US, less than 40 offer a class solely dedicated to teaching counselors how to help families with college decisions-and of these 40, only 1 requires the course. For Michigan counselors, this means our counselors have an average 643 students waiting for them on their first day of work, asking for something they understandably cannot deliver-knowledge-based advice on how to go about picking their next school.

With apologies to my mates across the pond, it’s clear the Redcoat of lack of training isn’t coming – rather, it’s been here for quite a while and taken up residence in our profession. The question is, when will we get on our horse and ride to improve our profession and help the students we so revere?

The answer is, today.

Hiring policies are made by local school boards, and school boards are elected by the citizens of the district they serve – and each one of you lives in a school district. It’s easy enough to contact your school board president, share this information with them, tell them that, in your professional opinion, this puts both counselors and students at a disadvantage, and urge them to make this addendum to their hiring policy:

“The district agrees that no individual may be hired as a school counselor or for the purpose of college advising who cannot produce evidence of having completed a classroom-based course or course of study focusing exclusively on counseling in the college selection process that is at least 45 clock hours long.”

This opportunity doesn’t exist just for public school counselors – in fact, one could argue that if someone from a college admissions office, community-based organization, or private school made this plea, it would, sadly, be given more weight than the voice of the district’s own employees. That’s not right, but it’s the way things sometimes are.

Understanding this kind of step takes support and encouragement, I’m willing to offer both in a tangible way. If you need help talking to your school district, e-mail me; heck, it’s April, and my students have colleges to go to, so I have a little time…

…but wait, there’s more. If yours is the first US district to report success in passing such a policy, I’ll send enough copies of College is Yours for every sophomore in the high school of your choice. And if your district gets tricky and says “OK, but if we pass this policy, that means you’ll have to take the course,”, I’d be happy to have you take the college counseling class I teach for free – and if you want to go somewhere else, I’ll reimburse you the cost of my class to help pay your way.

If we hire 200 new counselors nationwide each year, each with a caseload of 500 students, and it takes a counselor 10 years to be relatively good at college advising, that means 250,000 students graduate with college advice that isn’t great.

I really wish that all we had to do was our jobs, but due to some astonishingly entrenched policies by graduate schools, we literally can’t just do our jobs, so we have to fix this. Now.

Riders up, and tally ho.

(Patrick O’Connor is
the Director of College Counseling
at the Roeper School
in Birmingham, MI.
This letter is reproduced with his explicit permission.
If you’re providing college counseling
in a US high school, what kind of training (if any)
did you have that supports you in that work?)
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Posted on April 24, 2010, in guest post. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I understand (and commend) the impulse of anyone in any field to improve their skills but I am hard-pressed to believe that a formal class in most American Schools of Education will solve this problem.Even more than that, I am thinking about what it would be like to have 500 kids for whom I am responsible. And here I thought 50 kept me on my toes!

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