Is more support needed for college advising?

As their caseloads expand and high school counselors meet the increasingly complex needs of today’s students, some experts say one part of their critical work is suffering: the effort to help kids get into college.

College exploration, finance and admissions today is more complex and involves more students with a wider variety of backgrounds – an increasing number from families unfamiliar with the process. Perhaps more importantly not much training is offered to counselors related to colleges.

But help may be on the way.

Developing structures to get counselors more support for this important part of their job is the subject of several studies and a new group of key stakeholders is working on solutions.

The problem has been identified by groups like Public Agenda, the think tank that in 2010 released the report “Can I Get a Little Advice Here”, which surveyed 600 high school students to find they were not happy with the support that they received.

“The existing high school guidance system is a perilously weak part of the nation’s efforts to increase college attendance and ramp up degree completion”, the report noted, blaming the system more than counselors. It notes that the problem arises from our unwillingness to lend counselors a hand as they struggle with increasingly complex socio-emotional problems and a growing pile of other demands.

Studies show beyond their traditional responsibilities that more of a counselor’s efforts are devoted to discipline issues, course scheduling and other administrative roles within a high school. In some districts, counselors supervise standardized testing programs or serve as substitute teachers or fill with other staffing gaps.

The College Board more recently worked with the American School Counselor’s Association on a study regarding the role of high school counselors and reached similar conclusions. It makes a bigger point, however, that is now getting attention from a consortium of the organizations whose members are interested in this issue.

The Council of National School Counseling and College Access Organizations has released a new report that reviews the problems related to counselor training in college exploration. The council, which grew from former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” initiative in 2014, includes representatives of nine organizations, including the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, the American School Counselor’s Association, The College Board, ACT and other related organizations.

The council’s report provides background about the issue, but also lists all college programs that are available through online and traditional programs.

In addition, the group plans to move ahead by increasing awareness about the issue, identifying options that are available and beginning to develop “core competencies”.

“To achieve broad goals related to postsecondary access and success, the professionals who support students and families in transition are a much-needed presence in and around our schools, and must be adequately supported to fully support students and families,” the report says. “While we continue to develop underlying principles for training, the members of the council will continue to advocate for increased funding to help hire, train, and equip school counselors and college advising professionals to support our students.”