Guidance Counselors, College Fail

High school guidance counselors don’t really know much about college admissions. According to an article by Caralee Adams in Education Week:

High school counselors, particularly those in poorer urban and rural districts, often don’t have the training needed to help students navigate the college admission system. And this can hinder access to higher education for first-generation, minority students, says Patrick O’Connor, past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in an recent op-ed essay that appeared in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

While 466 colleges offer training for school counselors, fewer than 45 of these programs offer a course showing future counselors how to help students and families select, apply, and pay for college, writes O’Connor.

This is probably not information that would come as much of a surprise to anyone who has had any recent interaction with a high school guidance counselor. They’re overworked and no one really knows what they’re supposed to do. Americans often see guidance counselors as the gatekeepers to a better world, the people who can help our students understand where and why to go to college, how to pay for it, and what other options are available. They’re actually not very good at that part of their job.

Despite Patrick O’Connor’s suggestion, however, it’s unlikely that more classes “showing future counselors how to help students and families select, apply, and pay for college” would help much. Part of this has to do with the fact that the process of selecting, applying, and paying for college will likely change dramatically in the next decade, much as it changed in the last one.

The greater problem, however, is that high school counselors aren’t bad at helping students with college admissions because of lack of training. It’s lack of time that prevents them from being effective. The average counselor is now in charge of almost 500 students.

That counselor now spends 25 percent of his time on scheduling logistics and some 15 percent on standardized testing. Currently the average counselor can’t spend more than 23 percent of his time on post-secondary counseling. No wonder he doesn’t do it very well.

That’s a huge problem. But it’s not a problem likely to be solved by just adding another class for guidance counselors to take.

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