People who don’t go to college, or who don’t succeed there, indicate that the trouble may have something to do with the advice they received in high school. While the widespread use of guidance counselors in American high schools only dates from the 1960s, schools have become increasingly reliant on counselors’ services. But it isn’t working out so well. According to an article by Arelis Hernandez in Diverse Issues in Higher Education:

A national survey of more than 600 young adults found that nearly half, or 48 percent, would rate their counselors as either “poor” or “fair.” At the same time, the report by the nonprofit, nonpartisan public opinion research organization Public Agenda said students who receive poor counseling are more likely to delay entering a college program, making them more susceptible to dropping out in the long run.

The Public Agenda report, Can I Get A Little Advice Here?, indicates that parents and students often rely on high school guidance departments to help them navigate the college application process.

This is especially true in the case of families where parents did not attend college. Though these students arguably need help the most, they’re likely to characterize their experience with guidance departments as impersonal and perfunctory.” According to the report:“These young people were less likely to say that they had chosen their college or university based on explicit criteria such as its academic reputation [or] the availability of financial aid…” These families tend to be ill-served by guidance counselors.

All this doesn’t mean that guidance counselors are incompetent, however. A lot the trouble with the current situation has to do with the scope of the duties guidance counselors are expected to perform. In an effective system, according to the American School Counselor Association, a counselor in is charge of no more than 250 students. But most guidance counselors are responsible for almost twice as many students. The national average is more like 460-to-1.

Most of these guidance counselors spend bewilderingly large proportions of their time on scheduling, leaving little time for actual guidance.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer