College Placement Counseling
America's more than 14 million high school students are entering the most diverse and technologically advanced workplace in our country's history. As schools seek to prepare students for the next leg of their educational journey with appropriate career and college placement counseling, they face many challenges. Some of these challenges include a nationwide shortage of counselors, an increasingly diverse student population, the college-for-all movement, the need for earlier counseling, and the need for parent education. The American School Counseling Association is working to develop standards and model frameworks to provide guidance for schools. Educators can also turn to other schools to find models for providing effective career and college placement counseling services.
Keywords Advanced Placement; Career Academies; Career Counseling; Career Exploration; Career Guidance; Career Planning; College Bound Students; College Entrance Examinations; College-for-All Movement; College Placement Counseling; College Preparation; Dual Enrollment; High School Counseling; Job Shadowing; Parent Education; Postsecondary Education
Today's youth are growing up in a time of rapid change when our country continues to become increasingly more diverse and technologically advanced (American School Counselor Association, Why Secondary, n.d.). Postsecondary education is considered a requirement for both the success of individual students and of our country’s economic stability (Hughey & Hughey, 1999; Lehman, 1996; Valadez, 1998; Wahl & Blackhurst, 2000). Schools of the 21st century are challenged to prepare students "for the next leg of their educational journey" (National Commission on the High School Senior Year, 2001, p. 29; Gibbons, 2006, ¶ 2). They also attempt to “help students make future plans that are both realistic in nature and clearly related to their career goals” (Feller, 2003; Gibbons, 2006, ¶ 2). These ventures are especially important for students who are underrepresented in postsecondary education, along with non-white students and first-generation students whose parents did not attend college (Fallon, 1997; Horn & Nunez, 2000; Valadez).
The more than 14 million high school students in the United States who are in the final phases of their transition to adulthood need support and guidance that will enable them to understand themselves, their interests, and their abilities as they seek to make informed decisions about postsecondary education options and their future careers. In the school environment, this assistance is the primary responsibility of counseling programs.
School Counseling Programs
School counseling in the United States began with a narrow focus on vocational counseling nearly a century ago (Hatch & Bowers, 2002). As the scope of counseling programs evolved from this limited beginning to a more comprehensive approach that discusses the academic, career and personal/social development of every child, they differed significantly from state to state, district to district, and even school to school in both theoretical and philosophical perspectives. Consequently, school counseling programs across the country developed with little consistency. They were typically viewed as supplemental services instead of as an important piece of the academic surroundings and educational counselors were not regarded as integral partners in student performance (American School Counselor Association, The ASCA National Model, n.d.). Counselor roles varied dramatically, including quasi-administrative and clerical duties that often had little to do with counseling. “Many school counselors spent 80% of their time meeting the needs of 20% of their students, who were typically either the high achieving or high risk students” (Hatch & Bowers, 2002, p. 15).
In an effort to improve the quality and consistency of school advice program nationwide, The ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs was advanced by the American School Counselor Association in 2003 to provide a framework for school counseling teams to create, arrange, actualize, control, and assess programs with a focus on student success. The national model reflects trends in “current education reform, including the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which mandates that all federally funded programs are accountable for and directly related to student learning” (Hatch & Bowers, 2002, p. 15). The model reverses the former 80-20% trend, recommending that 80% of a counselor's workday be spent in direct service to meeting the needs of all students. “By implementing a program based on the model, schools and school districts can:
• Establish the school counseling program as an integral component of the academic mission of the school;
• Ensure every student has equitable access to the school counseling program;
• Identify and deliver the knowledge and skills all students should acquire;
• Ensure that the school counseling program is comprehensive in design and is delivered systematically to all students (American School Counselor Association, Why Secondary School Counselors, n.d., p. 37).
Career Development Programs
In the area of career development, ASCA national standards include “three competencies students should obtain by participating in a school counseling program, including:
• Students will acquire the skills to investigate the world of work in relation to knowledge of self and to make informed career decisions;
• Students will employ strategies to achieve future career goals with success and satisfaction; and
• Students will understand the relationship between personal qualities, education, training, and the world of work” (American School Counselor Association, Why Secondary School Counselors, n.d., p. 41).
School counselors help students achieve these competencies utilizing a variety of strategies, including activities such as:
• Helping students develop realistic career goals by evaluating their abilities, interests, talents, and personality traits;
• Advising students and parents on academic programs that will prepare students for college application and admission;
• Arranging dual/concurrent enrollment and Advanced Placement credits for college-bound students;
• Helping to prepare students for college admissions tests;
• Educating students on college entrance requirements, as well as the requirements needed to succeed in various college programs;
• Educating students on requirements needed for entry into and success within specific careers;
• Informing students and parents about postsecondary education financing options;
• Helping students develop career portfolios, which may include test and grades results, student work samples, and resumes and cover letters to prospective employers;
• Arranging job shadowing, work placements, and community-based learning programs that give students direct work experience;
• Coordinating workshops, classes, focus groups, and presentations that focus on career planning;
• Coordinating career information centers, career education programs, and career fairs; and
• Providing specialized counseling and intervention services for individual students. (U. S. Department of Education, 2005; High School Guidance Counseling, 2006; Rosenbaum & Person, 2003)
Providing quality counseling services for all students presents a significant challenge for schools, compounded by factors that include school counselor shortages, meeting the needs of diverse students, the college-for-all movement, the need for earlier counseling, and the need for parent education. But research indicates that counseling is a key ingredient to raising student achievement and insuring postsecondary success for high school students (Bradby & Dykman, 2003). In the High Schools That Work: Whole School Reform study of 1100 high schools, graduates who attended 424 career-oriented high schools had higher achievement than those attending typical high schools from 1996 to 1998. The career-oriented high schools in this study, often called career academies, featured challenging “coursework, good working relationships between academic and career/technical teachers, and better communication among students and guidance counselors” (Bradby & Dykman, 2003, p. 1). The research noted a "strong" correlation between performance and counseling. "Schools in which students talked more often with their teachers and counselors about their high school program increased their average scores. The reverse was also true - schools with students spending less time talking with their teachers and counselors showed decreases in test scores" (Bradby & Dykman, 2003, p. 3).
Subsequent studies conducted by the Southern Region Education Board as a part of its school reform initiative, High Schools That Work, have verified that effective school counseling programs contribute to greater student achievement (What really works, 2006; Bottoms, Han, & Presson, 2007; Bottoms, Han, & Presson, 2006). Guidance is one of the ten High Schools That Work- identified "key practices" of effective schools and is defined as a strategy that "involves students and their parents in a guidance and advisement system that develops positive relationships and ensures completion of an accelerated program of study with an academic or a career/technical concentration" (Bottoms, Han, & Presson, p. 11).
Meeting the counseling needs of all students is a significant challenge for today's schools that are additionally charged with the responsibility of meeting the educational needs of all students. Issues that contribute to this challenge are discussed here.
School Counselor Shortage
In many school districts a shortage of support personnel, including social workers, school psychologists, and guidance counselors, exists (American School Counselor Association, Effectiveness of School Counseling, n.d.). Student caseloads are too high for counselors to effectively provide services to all students. Although the American School Counselor Association advises a 250 to 1 ratio of students to counselors, the national average for the 2004-2005 was 479 to 1 (American School Counselor Association, Careers/Roles, n.d.). Counselors are expected to play multiple roles and meet varied student...
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