The challenges facing high school counselors, who are tasked with discussing college and career choices with students, can be difficult. As a piece from the Hechinger Report shows, a counselor at Campbell High, in Smyrna, GA, when requesting about her students’ goals, was greeted with indifference and wisecracks like “ Become a drug seller. ”
Later, when asked to sit at computers and go through a questionnaire to assist determine what courses of studies and careers would be good fits to them, several of the same students struggle with the words on the screen, English still international to them.
In spite of each one of these warning signs, counselors’ caseloads are so huge that this may be the only time just for at least a year that many of these college students will ever see her or any some other counselor. The best she can do can be reach out each fall to Campbell’s 800 first-year students in organizations like these, to try to give them an idea of what life might be like past their early teens.
Campbell High, in Smyrna, the fast-growing city about 20 kilometers northwest of Atlanta where one particular in five children under eighteen lives in poverty, began holding the girls meetings this year. They’re among many attempts the school is making to counteract a vexing but mostly unseen problem nationwide: a critical shortage of competent counselors capable of giving advice to college-going high school students, precisely when the country needs more Us citizens to get degrees — and when getting in college is more expensive and more complicated than ever.
A single community school counselor in the United States has a caseload of 471 students, on average, according to the American School Counselor Association, or ASCA. In high schools, exactly where counselors are often the primary source of information regarding college — especially as increasing numbers of students become the first in their households to consider it — each one is accountable for an average of 239 students, the ASCA says. In California, the ratio is an even more unwieldy 1-to-500. A Georgia School Counselors Association study puts the number in that state on 1-to-512.
To make issues worse, budget cuts are forcing counselors to perform more duties not related to their traditional roles, such as checking the school cafeteria or proctoring exams, says Eric Sparks, the ASCA’s assistant director.
And if that wasn’t cause enough just for concern, what little time counselors have to advise students about college is not really as productive as it could be, since most get scant training in the subject before taking on the job, reports Alexandria Walton Radford, a consultant to the U. S. Department of Education and learning who has studied the issue.
The result is an overtaxed system in which many students fall through the cracks and either never go to university, go to institutions that are the wrong matches for them, or never learn about educational funding for which they may qualify.
The average school counselor in the United States has a caseload of 471 students.
Examples range from low-income, nonwhite, and ethnic minority valedictorians and first-generation college applicants who run away from elite schools to freshmen who rely more on friends and relatives than counselors for information about college.
Those people are among the findings of Radford’s research. She says many high school counselors have no choice but to “talk about the average student, ” leaving higher-performing classmates to fend for themselves. And if the parents or other relatives of those students occur to have little knowledge of college — as is the case with many immigrants and nonwhites — they may never learn that elite schools are likely to not only accept them, but offer them financial aid.
“Counselors need to do well, but they’re constricted simply by caseload and the other duties assigned to them, ” says Radford, author of Top Student, Top School: How Social Class Shapes Exactly where Valedictorians Go to College.
This problem arises at precisely a time when the economic downturn has made clearer than ever before the link between a college education and jobs, leading to a push at the federal and state ranges for more people to get degrees.
The complexity of information originating from colleges makes matters even worse, says Barmak Nassirian, director of plan analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. There are 4, 500 universities and colleges, Nassirian says. And when the huge variety of costs and financial-aid programs are taken into consideration, “That’s cacophony. It might as well become a random process. ”
Counseling should be a source of help in this cacophony. But , he says, “Counseling can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. It is recognized … as an administrative add-on and never funded adequately. With overcrowded sessions, we’re robbing Peter to pay John. ”
It’s uncovering that three out of four private high schools, where parents anticipate to get their children into good colleges, have counselors who specialize in advising students about their higher educations, Radford says. And counselors in private schools have a median caseload of only 106.
A new Georgia law will require colleges to factor in previously unaccounted-for student populations when assigning budgets just for counselors — students who are categorized as gifted, have learning disabilities, or are learning English as a second language. The goal would be to lower the statewide ratio of counselors to students to a still-high ratio of 1-to-450. Sparks, from the ASCA, says other states, which includes North Carolina, have passed laws to prevent counselors from being assigned to duties. But at a time of expanded resources, money to lower the caseloads “has been limited. ”
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