Michigan Could Become a Model for Counselor Training

A Decade of Lobbying Efforts Pay Off for former NACAC President and Michigan State Admissions Exec

Michigan could become a national model for counselor training when a new law requiring high school counselors to complete college and career guidance training to renew their state licenses goes into effect in 2020.

It will be the first state in the U.S. mandating that counselors add specific training to their professional development licensing requirements.

The law follows a decade of lobbying efforts by two well-known college admissions industry advocates, Patrick O’Connor, the associate dean of college counseling for the Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, MI, and Sarah Summerhill, the assistant director of admissions at Michigan State University and former chair of the NACAC Government Relations Committee. The duo had support from many organizations, including  MACAC, MCAN, the Michigan Home Building Association and the College Board.

Sarah Summerhill, Assistant Dean of College Admissions, Michigan State University

Patrick O’Connor, Associate Dean of College Counseling, Cranbrook Schools

“It was worth the effort,” O’Connor told Link for Counselors. “This will keep counselors current.”

O’Connor took a few minutes to chat about the new law with Kim Lifton, president, Wow Writing Workshop, and a regular contributor to Link for Counselors. O’Connor said he is hopeful this is just the beginning of a trend in college admissions. Counselors, he said, need to stay up-to-date in this rapidly changing world, as well as understand alternative options to four-year degrees, such as skilled trades and technical training programs.

Kim Lifton: What types of courses will count toward professional development credit?

Patrick O’Connor: We don’t know just yet. The Michigan Department of Education will convene a group of interested parties (I will be on the committee) to discuss what will count for the credit. The rules will be up and posted by July 1. The Michigan Department of Education will develop rules and guidelines to enforce these new requirements.

KL: How will mandatory training that is specifically focused on counselor training improve the current training that is available?

PO: Currently, counselors are required to take 150 hours of professional development every five years to maintain their licenses. Nearly all that development is geared toward teachers, not counselors. When the new law kicks in, 25 of those 150 professional development hours must be completed in activities focused on college counseling, and another 25 must be completed in activities focused on career counseling. Of the 25 career counseling hours, 5 of those must be focused on career options in the military. I believe that once counselors see what’s out there, they will be more inclined to participate in more college-ready and career-ready courses and will spend less time in teacher development programs.

KL: Are college-ready and career-ready the same thing? 

PO: No. Different life experiences require different preparations, and we do all students a disservice when we develop a school counseling curriculum that assumes the skills needed to become a machinist are the same skills needed to make it through graduate school.  Once we accept the idea that difference is valued, we can get on with the business of meeting individual needs with something other than a one-size-fits-all approach to life after high school—and we’ll get more students interested in what we have to say. ​
KL: How will this new requirement help students?

PO: Students and families need the latest information in college and career trends to make strong, personalized decisions about life after high school.  Counselors can only give them this information if they have it themselves.  This training will achieve that goal.

KL: Will the Michigan Department of Education consider granting professional development credits for college visits?

PO: If this is done right, counselors will have the opportunity to see what’s out there. We want to see if we can get that included.

KL: Will counselors be able to tour technical training schools and manufacturing plants for credit?

PO: That is the hope. Counselors should know what’s out there for students beyond college after graduation. Counselors toured a plant that was directly across from a high school; they had never before gone to the plant. While there, the owner told them he needed skilled workers. He told them if they had kids who wanted to go to college, and they came to work for him, he would pay for college.


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Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication and writing services company. Wow was founded by professional writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been used by students to write application essays and resumes; by business owners to create blogs, websites and other communication materials; and by English teachers to improve student writing skills.