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Guidance counselors can impact students' lives long after graduation

people in graduation caps and gowns
Will Folsom / Flickr CC /

Nationwide, each school guidance counselor is responsible, on average, for about 500 students. Their job includes providing students with academic skills support and helping with goal setting and academic and career plans.

And the help students receive can have a major impact on their lives even after high school graduation, according to a recent analysis by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Researchers analyzed data from a longitudinal study that follows 23,000 students who started 9th grade in 2009.

The report, "How Can High School Counseling Shape Students’ Postsecondary Attendance?" found students who meet one-on-one with a counselor to discuss college admission or financial aid triple the chance they'll attend college, double the chance they'll attend a four-year college, and increase by seven times the likelihood that they will apply for financial aid. According to Education Week:

The power of meeting individually with a counselor outstripped the power of many other factors in the study to influence students' odds of applying for financial aid and attending college. Those meetings were far better predictors of FAFSA submission than other factors, such as whether schools helped students fill out the FAFSA or sent FAFSA deadline reminders. When it comes to the likelihood of attending college, the one-on-one meetings with counselors were far more likely to boost those odds than holding a college fair or having a counselor in the building whose primary role is college planning.

The importance of postsecondary education has increased significantly in the last decade.

In 2014, American's with four-year college degrees made 98% more an hour on average than those without a degree. And that was up from 85% a decade earlier, according to The Huffington Post.

And of the 11.6 million jobs created after the Great Recession, 8.4 million went to those with at least a bachelor's degree. Another 3 million went to those with associate's degrees or some college education, according to CNN Money.

But unfortunately, not all schools have counseling programs that facilitate these individual meetings that could send a student on the path to a college education. Studies show many counselors are not equipped to serve as college advisers. And many of them just don’t have the time. According to Education Week:

They must spend large chunks of their days on duties such as monitoring standardized testing and managing students' class schedules. Fully 54% of the students in the study attended schools where counselors were able to spend 20 percent of their time or less on college planning, according to the new NACAC report. Students at schools where counselors spend more than 20% of their time on college issues were more likely to meet one-on-one with counselors.

And only four in 10 high schools have one or more counselors whose primary responsibility is college planning, according to the NACAC study.

School counselors face many demands on a daily basis. They split their time between students' academic and personal problems, course scheduling, academic testing, career planning and college preparation. Many while being overburdened by huge caseloads. Yet the significance of counseling remains under-recognized by the public. According to The Atlantic:

A recent national survey asked what, if taxes were raised to improve local public schools, the money should be spent on first. Just over a third of the respondents said teachers; supplies came next, followed by classes and extracurriculars, infrastructure, and new schools. Counselors came last, with just 6% of the sample. Counseling has been identified as the third and most-neglected component of increasing access to college, alongside financial support and equitable access to a challenging school curriculum.

But this new analysis adds to growing evidence that shows just how important guidance counselors are to the educational leadership team.

You can read the full NACAC report here.

Paulette is a blogger for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously interned as a reporter in the Michigan Radio newsroom.
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