As a college advisor at City-As-School High School, one of the largest and oldest schools designed to re-engage students who choose to transfer high schools, this month’s college admission scandal came as no surprise.
It’s not breaking news to me that the college admission process tends to favor those already privileged in society. I watch it play out every day, as my colleagues and I fight to get our students into college — and to convince our students that they deserve that opportunity.
As we look for ways to improve the college admission process in the wake of the recent scandals, an important place to start is in our high schools. In my professional career of 26 years, I have served as a high school guidance counselor, a college admission representative, and an independent educational consultant. Having seen the process from all angles, I believe we must do a better job equipping students and their families with the knowledge and perspective to embark on a successful college admission journey.
The school counselor can and should play such a pivotal role in any student’s college search and application activities. But due to oversized caseloads and often inadequate professional training, even the best school counselors are unable to provide the support most kids need in identifying and applying to the colleges that are best suited to their interests and needs.
Michelle Obama’s Becoming proved to be the perfect launching off point for a robust discussion of college access and completion, ways to support first-generation and marginalized students, and a counselor’s role in these goals.
In a #NACACreads Twitter chat Tuesday night, Eric Waldo, the executive director of Reach Higher, shared his insights on these subjects and more. Reach Higher was founded by Mrs. Obama and Waldo has traveled with the former first lady during her recent Becoming book tour.
Using the most recent federal data, the ACLU compared the number of police in schools to the number of counselors, nurses, psychologists, and social workers on campus.
Their analysis found that 1.7 million students are in schools with a police presence but no counselors. Another 14 million students are in schools with police but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker.
Our #nacacreads chat with Reach Higher on Michelle Obama’s Becoming is coming up in just under a month.
But in case you can’t wait that long, you can hear from the former first lady in her own words.
Obama recently talked with a group of young women convened by her publisher about “imposter syndrome,” the importance of education, and many other topics highlighted in her book.
“I had to contend with ‘how do I get my education when I’m surrounded by people who may have different expectations of me?’ And those weren’t just the kids in the neighborhood. There were teachers I had to confront, teachers who underestimated me… When I sat down with my high school counselor — somebody who didn’t know me but was assigned to work with students to help them apply to college — and I told them my intention was to apply to Princeton. That counselor told me, ‘I don’t think you’re Princeton material,’” Obama said in the interview.
“The person whose job it was to help young people reach their dreams when it came to college saw me and whatever she saw in me told her that my dreams were too high…Even though I continued on, I applied, and you know obviously I got in, but I still remember that story. I remember that feeling of doubt. Just another adult placing a barrier on me that I didn’t even have for myself. So then, to enter into an elite school when your high school counselor has told you you’re not good enough, when all of society looks at kids of color or kids from poor communities or rural communities as not belonging, I, like many others, walked into that school with a stigma in my own head.”
Watch the full video and make plans to join us next month for this important conversation. We will be discussing the former first lady’s own journey to college, her experience as a first-generation student, the importance of diversity on campus, and the role college counselors play.
The #nacacreads Twitter chat will kick off promptly at 9 p.m. ET on March 19.
Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NACAC believes school counselors have an important and often under-acknowledged role to play in moving toward the goal of equity in education.
One of NACAC’s core values is that our institutional and individual members strive to eliminate from the education system bias based on race, ethnicity, creed, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, political affiliation, national origin, or disability. We view this as fundamental to our responsibility as educators.
However, the stark reality is that inequities do exist, and are often strongly associated with race and ethnicity.
High student-to-counselor ratios School counselors in schools serving large numbers of racial and ethnic minority students face ratios well above the current national ratio of 464:1. According to the Education Trust, a high school counselor who serves predominantly students of color has to serve 34 more students every year than a school counselor who serves fewer students of color, and 27 states are shortchanging either their students of color, students from low-income families, or both. And since black students are more likely than their white peers to cite a school counselor’s involvement in changing their college-going perceptions, such shortages present steep barriers to students of color.
Inequitable access to education resources and college preparatory coursework Evidence of racial gaps in access to school resources is plentiful. Persistent racial and ethnic gaps exist in dual enrollment and college preparatory coursework (AP and IB), which is the foundation for NACAC’s policy priority in support of equitable funding for schools to ensure that all students have access to coursework that will prepare them for education beyond high school.
Implicit bias and cultural fluency There is a substantial and growing body of research documenting individual implicit bias across all industries and facets of American life. College admission counseling professionals, including school counselors, have identified implicit bias and other, more overt, forms of bias as a critical obstacle to serving all students well. As such, NACAC recently created a resource for practitioners wishing to learn more about cultural fluency and bias, and urges school leaders and policymakers to consider the effects of bias on the educational system.
Interaction with a school counselor has statistically significant, positive effects on college-going behavior and ensuring equitable access to school counseling and other critical resources—particularly for racial/ethnic minority students—is an immediate concern to be addressed by policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels.
David Hawkins is NACAC’s executive director for educational content and policy. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Daily updates on NACAC and the world of college admission counseling. For more information about NACAC, visit nacacnet.org.