BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With SAT and college application deadlines
around the corner, high school seniors have enough on their plates
to be stressed about until the holidays. But college admissions
season is providing high school counselors with their fair share of
headaches as well.
The issues advisors face in preparing high school students for
the future were recently examined by Corrie Stone-Johnson,
assistant professor of leadership and policy in the University at
Buffalo's Graduate School of Education.
In her study, "College Readiness at the Crossroads: The
Contemporary Challenges of Post-Secondary Preparation,"
Stone-Johnson surveyed and interviewed students, parents, teachers,
principals and superintendents in the Cheektowaga-Maryvale Union
Free School District over the course of a year. Surprisingly, she
found that many people misunderstood the responsibilities of
counselors, and had expectations for them that did not match up
with their actual job duties.
Her research, which is funded by a Civic Engagement Research
Fellowship through the UB 2020 Civic Engagement and Public Policy
strategic initiative (CEPP), also revealed that more than half of
the students had not met with their advisors to discuss future
educational or vocational plans, and felt they did not receive an
adequate amount of advisement for college preparation.
The obvious solution is to have counselors spend more time with
students; however, it is easier said than done. Maryvale High
School has more than 700 students serviced by only three advisors,
one of which is part-time, the study points out.
High schools across the country are facing the same problem.
School counselors, social workers and psychologists are being cut
nationwide. Because schools are pressured to raise student
achievement, "when the district has to make a choice on who they
will keep, it is usually an academic person," says
"School counselors have been seen as separate from the academic
mission of the school. But now with the pressure to make sure all
students are achieving, everybody in the school is being called
upon. Schools are struggling to find ways to integrate counselors
into the change process."
And as the number of students opting to attend college continues
to rise, advisors are struggling to keep up. Many of these students
are first-generation college students as well. For parents who have
never gone through a college admissions process, drudging through
applications and filling out the FAFSA can be a daunting task.
Counselors are often turned to for assistance with applications,
sometimes having to walk families through the entire process,
Other research, such as "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning
on College Campuses" by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, suggests
that students aren't prepared for higher education once they
arrive. Those who reach college are struggling because they lack
study skills and academic preparation, and are unsure of what
career they want to pursue, says Stone-Johnson.
A school counselor's other duties also take time away from
college and career advisement for students. Career planning is only
a small part of what advisors do; they're also responsible for
providing social services, curriculum and course planning, helping
students work toward their Regents diplomas and assisting teachers
and other staff.
Rising poverty levels throughout the nation only add fuel to the
fire. More students are classified now as "in crisis" and need
social services to help them overcome issues outside of the
classroom, such as a parent losing a job or bullying, says
Stone-Johnson. More time spent covering these issues means less
time discussing SAT scores and scholarships.
Maryvale High School counselors are aware of these pressures and
have already begun to work on solutions. Stone-Johnson is working
with the school's advisors to develop a new curriculum, philosophy
and mission that will be implemented in the high school over the
next two years.
The curriculum focuses closely on raising college and career
readiness for students by exposing a greater number of them to
college experiences, such as campus visits earlier in their high
"I think those that are really college-oriented are probably
getting the help that they need," says Stone-Johnson. "But for
those who are on the edge or don't have the family support that
might get them there, this extra time with the counselors could
make a big difference."