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Report Underscores Key Role of High School Counselors in College Transition

A new report out on Wednesday confirms that school counselors are critical to helping students transition from high school to college and career, yet often aren't allowed enough time to fulfill that role.

Researchers for the National Association for College Admission Counseling reviewed data from 2009 to 2012 to examine the practices, priorities, and effectiveness of high school counseling departments. The resulting report, A National Look at the High School Counseling Office, underscores the value of counseling services but points to a mismatch in administrator expectations and actual time granted for college counseling.

Just over half of principals surveyed (55 percent) express the top priority for school counselors is "helping students prepare for postsecondary schooling." Yet 54 percent of counselors report that their department spent less than 20 percent of their time on college readiness, selection, and applications. Less than two-fifths of schools have a counselor whose primary job is advising on college applications or college selection.

The American School Counselor Association indicates the average school counselor has a caseload of 471 students.

Although 90 percent of counselors in the NACAC report said their schools offer information on colleges, college-entrance exams, and financial aid, the percentage of students who took advantage of these types of help was far lower.

Researchers discovered 63 percent of high school juniors and 51 percent of their parents met with a school counselor to discuss options after high school. Another 13 percent of students and 15 percent of parents consulted with a private, hired counselor.

Parents remain the prime influence on students' college-going plans (42 percent), followed by a school counselor (3 percent), and hired counselor (1 percent).

When controlling for other factors, the NACAC researchers did find school counselors who met with students had a positive impact on the likelihood of them visiting a college campus, taking steps to enroll in college, and completing financial aid applications.

Once students graduate, only 58 percent of high schools made an effort to follow their progress with just 37 percent collecting information about students' college persistence beyond their freshman year. About half of schools (49 percent) rely on alumni surveys to track students, despite the availability of data through services, such as the National Student Clearinghouse, which the report finds were used by 22 percent of counseling offices.

The Obama administration and its Reach Higher Initiative have brought attention to the need to strengthen the role of school counselors, particularly to get more disadvantaged students on the path to college and careers.

NACAC previously released a related report on how the actions of high schools affected college aspiration and plans of ninth graders.

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