Too Few Guidance Counselors, Too Little Information:

Aug 6, 2019 by

Why Community College Might Be the Best Path for High School Graduates — but They’ll Never Know It

Despite a stellar high school record with great grades, Advanced Placement classes and leadership positions on the debate team and in marching band, Jennifer Hernandez was completely unprepared during her senior year to choose a college or even comprehend the jargon that surrounds the application process.

“I did not know where to start,” she said. As a first-generation student living in the Chicago suburb of Rolling Meadows, Illinois, she didn’t have family who could decipher the terminology or take her to visit college campuses. Nor did she get that help from an adviser. Like many high schools around the country, hers did not have enough guidance counselors, she said. And the counselors the school did have were too busy to support students who needed extra help, like her.

With no one to guide her, Hernandez applied to a number of four-year colleges — some local, some chosen at random — not realizing until she received her acceptance letters that she could not afford them. She then scrambled, on her own, to apply to a community college later in the spring of her senior year. Her school counselors, she said, again didn’t help with her application, nor did they provide much-needed information about how she could eventually transfer to a four-year school. With the stigma associated with community college, Hernandez said, she felt demoralized. “It was pretty rough,” she said.

Hernandez’s experiences are not unusual.

With an average of nearly 500 students per guidance counselor nationwide, experts say, college advisers bear too many responsibilities and have caseloads too large to give students the support they need. Another factor: National rankings of high schools are based in part on how many graduates go on to four-year colleges or universities, exerting pressure on guidance counselors that can create an anti-community-college culture.

It’s the neediest students who suffer most from this lack of advisement. They may miss out on low-cost opportunities at their local community colleges, which educate nearly 6 million students nationwide. And even if they do enroll, many are ill-prepared to make decisions about majors or craft long-term educational and career goals, especially when it comes to the notoriously complicated matter of transferring credits to a four-year school.

Recognizing this problem, some community colleges have created new programs and positions to fill the information gap and give students like Hernandez, now 22 and newly graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago, what she said they need: more straight talk about higher education.

So much work, so little information

High school guidance counselors typically don’t receive formal training around college and career counseling, said Melissa Clinedinst, associate director of research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. What they do learn about post-high-school options for students, they pick up on the job in between arranging kids’ schedules, proctoring exams and supporting teenagers with social and emotional issues.

In a recent survey of 2,259 high school counselors conducted by the association, most reported feeling at least “moderately prepared” to advise students about the application process at community colleges. But most said they weren’t ready to discuss important issues such as transfer policies, for-profit college comparisons and certificate programs or vocational licenses.

“We did find that on certain topics, counselors weren’t as prepared as we would like them to be,” Clinedinst said. She was particularly surprised that respondents were unable to guide students about transfer policies even at their local institutions, and said counselors should be able to explain the difference between community colleges and for-profit schools that work on commission, can be much more expensive and have a reputation for being forced to close for breaking regulations.

Source: Too Few Guidance Counselors, Too Little Information: Why Community College Might Be the Best Path for High School Graduates — but They’ll Never Know It | The 74

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