Nov 7, 2011

High School Counselors Still Spend Too Little Time on College Counseling

Judging by the volume of complaints locally from both students and counselors, it’s no surprise that the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) finds that the average public school guidance counselor spends less than a quarter of his or her time on college counseling.

And sadder still, counselors at high-income and private schools appear to have the luxury of spending more time on postsecondary counseling than those in schools serving low-income communities.

In the 2011 State of College Admissions, an annual report from NACAC based on surveys of college admissions offices and high school guidance counselors, the wealth gap in the availability of in-school college admissions counseling could not be clearer.

While counselors in public high schools spend about 23 percent of their time on college counseling, private school counselors report spending more than double or 54 percent of their time on postsecondary admissions counseling. And counselors at higher-income schools spend more time on postsecondary counseling compared to their counterparts at lower-income schools.

According to the US Department of Education, in 2009-10 public secondary school counselors had average caseloads of 459 students (up from 434:1 the previous year). Results of NACAC’s 2010 Counseling Trends survey, which includes private schools indicated a high school student-to-counselor ratio (including part time staff) of 272:1, on average.

Probing the availability of college counseling resources in both private and public schools, NACAC found that 73 percent of private schools had at least one counselor (full or part time) dedicated to provide college counseling for students, compared to only 26 percent of public schools.

Student-to-counselor ratios also vary widely from state to state, with California (810:1), Minnesota (771:1), Arizona (815:1), and Utah (711:1) posting the highest, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Locally, Maryland (352:1), Virginia (318:1), and DC (205:1) come in lower than the national average.

NACAC surveys also found an interesting variation in counseling priorities between public and private schools. Public schools ranked “helping students with their academic achievement in high school” as the number one priority for counseling department goals, while private schools ranked “helping students plan and prepare for postsecondary education” as most important.
The differences between public and private school emphases on college counseling are even more evident in the availability and support for specialized professional development and compensation.

In 2010, only 25 percent (down from 31 percent last year) of high schools reported that counselors responsible for college counseling were required to participate in professional development related to postsecondary counseling, with private schools much more likely than publics to make this kind of specialized training a requirement (44 percent vs. 20 percent).

Is it any wonder that independent college consulting is a growth industry among middleclass families with students in the public schools?

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