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Training Ramps Up to Better Equip School Counselors for College Advising

As states and districts try to prepare more students for postsecondary education, efforts are building to better position high school guidance counselors to provide more of the outreach and support to disadvantaged teenagers. 

One key challenge, experts say, is that counselors themselves need training to better advise students from diverse backgrounds on college options. In a new Education Week story, Counselors Work to Get More Students on College Path, I include examples of professional development programs and pre-service curriculum that are doing just that.

Trish Hatch, the director of the school counseling program at San Diego State University, which has been at the forefront of this effort, believes all counseling programs should agree on fundamental standards for graduates in this area.

"If we don't have a pipeline or continuum approach to training, then we have random acts of college and career advising," she said.

The Southern Regional Education Board has developed training, now used in 13 states, for students studying counseling and for counselors already on the job. It focuses on building a college-going culture in high schools, providing more assistance to students in completing college applications and understanding financial aid, and increasing outreach to first-generation college students.

The Boston-based organization uAspire has recently expanded its customized training for school on college financing and affordability.

In the Houston area this year, uAspire is providing the Spring Branch Independent District's counselors and academic advisers with workshops and information on how to better help students find an affordable path to college.

Two years ago, Spring Branch set a goal of doubling the percentage of students who go on to some form of higher education (two- or four-year college, technical training) 36 percent o 72 percent, said Linda Buchman, community relations officer for the majority-Latino district, in which about 60 percent of students come from low-income families.

"We think counselors and academic advisers are the first line of direction, support, and encouragement to help kids think about the right pathway for them," she said.

Part of the uAspire training is designed to help the district better analyze which colleges are providing the best financial aid to low-income students, so counselors can steer students to those campuses and encourage colleges not offering as much to increase their support.

"Higher education is continually evolving," she said. "There is so much more for our counselors to know. Now we will be much better equipped to help kids make a better choice."

In New York City, the Goddard Riverside Options Institute has been providing training on college access for nearly a decade. In 2012, it partnered with the New York City Department of Education offer a six-day, in-service program that provides the basics of the college-application process, with an emphasis on helping low-income and immigrant students.

"There is a huge need," said Judith Lorimer, the institute's deputy director. "People wish they had this training in graduate school and they express shock that these issues were never talked about." By the end of its three-year commitment with New York City, it will have trained about 1,500 high school staff.  Eventually, it hopes to offer the program elsewhere in the state and develop an online version, she said.

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