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School Counselor Agenda Advances With Convening in San Diego

When more about 130 experts in school counseling gathered this summer for a summit at Harvard University, there was talk about how to strengthen the role of counselors in helping more students go to college.

This week at San Diego State University more than 350 people mapped out action plans for their states to meet that goal.

Both events were sponsored by the White House and Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative. They were part of the Obama administration's broader agenda to improve college access and completion for students, particularly those from disadvantage backgrounds where no one else in their family has attended college.

"There was energy in the room to work on this together," said Trish Hatch, who organized the White House convening in San Diego, along with Laura Owen. assistant professor in the school counseling program at SDSU .

The first lady has indicated she will continue to be promote school counseling after the Obamas leave office, bolstering the commitments of participants gathered from 32 states, added Hatch, an associate professor and director of the SDSU department of school counseling.

Teams who came to the invitation-only event Nov. 17-18, discussed plans to modify school policies, provide professional development, leverage student data, change school counselor training curriculum, and other initiatives aimed at better preparing school counselors to do college advising, said Hatch, who participated in an Education Week webinar last month on positioning school counselors to be game changers in college access.

Some of the work will require funding, but much can be done by changing the language of school policies to include counselors or reforming curriculum so counselors know how to best reach out to disadvantaged students and introduce them to the possibility of college.

"The Harvard event generated interest and put ideas out there. San Diego moved from ideas to action plans," said Mandy Savitz-Romer, who led meeting at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in July.

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said the administration has highlighted the need for standards for pre-service and in-service training to improve college-readiness counseling.

"What this event did, with the first lady as the catalyst, is activated that nerve center in a way that people from disparate parts of the country saw that other people were working on the same problem," said Hawkins. 

A website created for the San Diego event includes details of the commitments made by participants to advance the school counseling agenda. Some school districts pledged to hire more counselors, expand completion of federal financial aid applications, and improve access to enrollment in college-level courses in high school. Others plan to develop certificate programs in college advising for counselors and host training conferences on college- and career-readiness.

Next, the spotlight will shift back to the Washington, when the White House hosts a meeting Dec. 4 that will focus on K-12 and higher education partnerships to improve college completion.

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