May 2010 Newsletter
“Most young adults who go on to college believe that the advice they got from their high school guidance counselors was poor or fair at best, according to a recent survey by Public Agenda for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Asked about their experiences with their counselors in high school, nearly half (48%) say that they felt like ‘just another face in the crowd.’ ” [*]
The report, “Can I Get A Little Advice Here?”, based on a national survey conducted by a grant from the Gates Foundation presents disconcerting evidence that according to the students themselves, the system is failing.
The report surveyed 614 young Americans who graduated from high school in the past 4 to 12 years, all of whom had some post secondary school experience, including 200 who had never graduated. When asked about how much help they received from their high school counselors in terms of selecting colleges, applying to colleges, and finding out about financial aid, 6 in 10 of those polled said that they got little or no help.
Contrarily, when respondents were asked about their teachers or mentors, the answers were quite favorable. When asked if they had a teacher or coach in high school who had inspired and motivated them to do their best, 75 % answered “yes”. In response to the question if they had a teacher who took an interest in them personally and encouraged them to go to college, 67% answered affirmatively.
Below are the responses to the question: “Which of these comes closer to describing your own experiences with the counselors in your high school?”
|I usually felt like I was just another face in the crowd||48%|
|The counselors usually made an effort to really get to know me and to treat me as an individual||47%|
|I never had any experiences with counselors in high school||2%|
Below are the responses to the question: “How would you rate your high school guidance counselors in the following areas?” (The report does not indicate the “excellent” and “good” responses.)
|Helping you decide what school was right for you||32%||35%|
|Helping you find ways to pay for college, like financial aid or scholarship programs||26%||33%|
|Helping you think about different kinds of careers you might want to pursue||33%||29%|
|Explaining and helping you with the application process||25%||29%|
The findings included:
- Most students give their high school guidance counselors fair or poor ratings.
- Students who get perfunctory counseling are more likely to delay college and make more questionable higher education choices.
- High school counselors are viewed as less helpful than teachers.
- Advisors at higher education institutions get better ratings, but there’s room for improvement. [*]
Having worked as a high school guidance counselor for twelve years, I have always been amazed at how few guidance counselors actually take the time to attend seminars and workshops on the college admissions process, visit college campuses, read college literature, or simply keep current with topical and timely news articles. While it’s always easy to place blame, I also know that because of budget cuts, professional development and college visits are among the first things to be eliminated. In addition, in most public high schools across the country there is one guidance counselor for approximately 250 to 1000 students in grades nine through twelve. But besides these huge, unmanageable caseloads, the responsibilities of counselors extend way beyond what most people would expect to be a counselor’s job description. These duties may include administrative tasks such as, proctoring midterms, finals and AP exams, sharpening pencils for those exams, collecting money for PSAT and AP’s (something that the College Board can do, but doesn’t), filing massive stacks of papers, inputting data, pasting SAT, ACT and AP scores onto student files, filing those files, crises intervention, advising clubs, lunch duty, submitting materials for SSD (Services for Students with Disabilities), completing state reports, arranging for home instruction, and often teaching classes. In addition, guidance counselors are also expected to attend workshops that have nothing whatsoever to do with college counseling. To make matters worse, in approximately two-thirds of all high schools in the country there is no one designated as a “college” counselor.
So although I’m not surprised about the findings of this report, I also understand why high school guidance counselors are getting these poor grades. This has been an issue for decades, and nothing in this survey has told us anything that we don’t already know. Perhaps instead of the Gates Foundation supporting this survey, these dollars could have been better utilized in training and hiring more high school guidance counselors, and encouraging administrators to eliminate the inappropriate work assignments that detract from the primary function of high school guidance counselors. Having counselors focus on the college admissions process would surely raise the quality of professionalism, and thus achieve greater client satisfaction and success.[*] Public Agenda, prepared for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “Can I Get A Little Advice Here?”, 2010, Retreived March 3, 2010