AISR Speaks Out: Commentary on Urban Education
The Role of Counseling in an Era of College Readiness
Counseling – supporting and teaching students about college options, financial aid, the application process, and the proper sequence of courses to take – is critical to help students prepare for and succeed in college. A new report from Education Trust, “Poised to Lead: How School Counselors Can Drive College and Career Readiness” (Hines, Lemons & Crews), notes that school counselors are “uniquely positioned not just to spot the problem, but to lead a college- and career-ready agenda.” The report highlights that counselors play a crucial role in students’ course selection process, have access to data on all students for timely interventions, and most importantly, are “champions of equity” (p. 3) because they can identify which students need more support and which policies need to be changed to support students for college success.
Historically, the counseling profession has had numerous role definitions – from vocational guidance to supporting personal and social development to supporting students requiring special services – and even today, their role remains ambiguous and undefined. While new functions continue to be added to their constantly changing role, none has been removed, resulting in overwhelming conditions. Often trained to provide one-on-one counseling and interventions, counselors may lack the skills and capacity to support students for college and advocate for all students’ college readiness. Helping our nation’s children prepare for and succeed in college cannot fall on the shoulders of these individuals alone; the supports must be more systemic.
Systemic is a word used frequently in school reform. But what does it really mean when talking about college access? The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and the John W. Gardner Center at Stanford University are partnering with four school districts and one district intermediary organization – Dallas Independent School District, New Visions for Public Schools in New York City, the School District of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh Public Schools, and San Jose Unified School District – to develop, test, and share systemic solutions to college readiness. Called the College Readiness Indicator System network (CRIS), these sites are using the ever-increasing education data they collect to create indicator systems that identify whether students are on or off-track to being college ready, and then provide supports to students to ensure they are college ready. The CRIS network also focuses on linking indicators to implementable interventions for students who need college readiness support and to strengthen these indicator systems.
Our CRIS sites have repeatedly identified counseling and its relationship to the development and use of college readiness indicators as an area of concern for their districts and schools. While central offices have made efforts to improve data access and availability to school staff (including counselors), data accuracy and timeliness remain concerns. And the need to understand and develop student opportunities and outcomes creates demands for better communication with not only school principals and administrators but also with out-of-school partners, such as higher-education institutions, community-based organizations and business partners.
Even if counselors have access to reliable and valid college readiness indicators, by themselves they will not have the capacity to support all students for college readiness. For example, while the American School Counselor Association recommends that the student-to-school counselor ratio to be 250 to 1, most public schools cannot satisfy this standard. With the current national average ratio of 457 to 1 (2008-2009 school year), counselors will need new resources and supports to fulfill their role.
To that end, our CRIS districts and schools are also working toward building a college-going culture, and they are clear that this work needs to be the responsibility of all adults in the system – central office leaders, teachers, administrators, and counselors. Research shows that involving the whole school in creating a college-going culture as well as forming strategic partnerships with various agencies outside the schools complement the efforts of the counselors in supporting students for college readiness (Corwin, Blumberg & Tierney 2007; Knight-Diop 2010; Martinez & Klopott 2003; Carden 2007; Cooper & Liou 2007; Schneider 2007). To build this college-going culture in and out of schools, counselors have an especially important role in communicating with different partners and leading the effort to ensure that all students have equal access to services and can make an informed decision about their post-secondary education.
Please join us for our next CRIS webinar on the role of counselors in the era of college readiness for all students, April 20, 2012, at 1 p.m. EST. The webinar, led by Mandy Savitz-Romer, director of the prevention science and practice program at Harvard Graduate School of Education, will describe the state of school counseling as it relates to college readiness counseling, the challenges faced by current models, and how schools structure counseling support systems and college planning efforts to reach all students.
Carden, Allen. 2007. “Mobilizing a Region in Crisis to Build a College-Going Culture.” New Directions for Higher Education 138:27–33.
Cooper, Robert, and Daniel D. Liou. 2007. “The Structure and Culture of Information Pathways: Rethinking Opportunity to Learn in Urban High Schools during the Ninth Grade Transition.” The High School Journal 91, no. 1:43-56.
Corwin, Zoë Blumberg, and William G. Tierney. 2007. Getting There - and Beyond: Building a Culture of College-going in High Schools. Los Angeles, CA: Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis, University of Southern California.
Hines, Peggy Laturno, and Richard W. Lemons, with Karen D. Crews. 2011. Poised to Lead: How School Counselors Can Drive College and Career Readiness. Washington, DC: The Education Trust.
Knight-Diop, Michelle G. 2010. “Closing the Gap: Enacting Care and Facilitating Black Students' Educational Access in the Creation of a High School College-Going Culture.” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk 15, no 1-2:158-172.
Martinez, Monica, and Shayna Klopott. 2003. Improving College Access for Minority, Low-Income, and First-Generation Students. Washington, DC: Institute for Educational Leadership and the National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform.
 The student-to-counselor ratio by state is available at http://www.schoolcounselor.org/files/ratios%202008-2009.pdf.