High School Counselors and Their College Knowledge: A Sad State of Affairs for HBCUs

Part 3 of a 4 Part Blog Series

A key aspect of college enrollment begins by asking this seemingly innocuous question: how do most low-income, first-generation students find out about colleges that will be a good fit for them? These students can look on the web, including at College Scorecard or at popular college guides like those examined in the first blog post of this series. They can also confer with friends and mentors and teachers. Or they—as many students do—can gain a plethora of information and assistance from school counselors.

Sadly, despite the fact that high school counselors often have “college counseling” in their job description, here are four data points/observations that highlight the shakiness of the assumption that high school students receive quality individualized college counseling.

  • Approximately 85% of high-needs students do not receive the services necessary to progress successfully to college.

In addition to these data points, as Harvard Education Professor Mandy Savitz-Romer points out, many high school counselors do not get adequate preparation in college counseling in their graduate education; many do not have quality post-employment professional development opportunities; and school counselors lack the basic requisite knowledge to advise students on college admission and financial aid. In short, high school counselors are not as well trained as they could or should be in college counseling, even if many do their jobs well otherwise.

Given the paucity of counselors and their lack of training, we need ways that change how we educate school counselors to ensure that they are truly “up to speed” with the most recent information about both colleges and financial aid. We also need more counselors to provide individualized advising, a key component of success as supported in the literature. And finally, we need to increase the knowledge and information flow about options like HBCUs, with specific attention focused on high schools in diverse and low-income neighborhoods.

For HBCUs in particular, increasing their exposure to high school students is a tricky proposition. One avenue to achieve this end would be to have HBCUs themselves undertake outreach to college counselors, but this is hard to do when institutions are fiscally stretched. Alternatively, the College Advising Corps could provide some assistance, though it would be difficult to gauge their capacity and interest level.

We propose two possible solutions, neither grandiose in approach but both of which are fiscally doable over the short term:

First, HBCUs should, as a collective, create a top-ten list for why low-income, minority students would be well served by attending HBCUs. This list could then be disseminated in a variety of formats to school counselors, teachers, parents, students, and organizations engaged in providing assistance and support to students seeking to enroll in college. With one employee and cost sharing among the HBCUs, this information could be disseminated to a wider audience through something inexpensive such as a social media campaign.

Second, HBCUs should, as a collective, create a free online educational module that would be available to school counselors for professional development credit focused on HBCUs and their strengths. Imagine if 100 or 1000 school counselors enrolled in such a free course. Imagine if HCBU personnel could provide online open chat sessions while the course is running. Imagine if graduate credits could be extended too. This would create incentive for college counselors to learn about and promote HBCUs.

Improving college counseling for first-generation, low-income students is important but, standing alone, it is not enough to raise the profile of HBCUs. The latter effort needs a more concerted effort, one that can have wide reach and broad appeal. To that end, we need a coordinated social media campaign. Stay tuned for the final blog of this series where we’ll address this very topic!

Tyler Carrillo- Waggoner is a sophomore at Bennington College. She is an abstract artist that works with markers/colored pencils/pencils.

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Pierce Huff recently graduated from Bennington College.

Aria Killough-Miller is one of four students from Bennington College’s spring 2016 course Understanding HBCU’s. A junior at the time of the time of this article, she is studying different means of conveying information, particularly Spanish, writing, and music. She is interested in social justice and hopes that this article contributes to making the world a little bit better.

Jessica Zeng is an undergraduate in Bennington College. There, she’s interested in studying how social action can be made through literature and art. Back at home in Brooklyn, New York, she has an adorable cat called Bokchoy.

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