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High School Guidance Counselors Unable to Prep Kids for College

An opinion piece by Jill Flury in the September issue of Edutopia calls for a redefinition of college prep tracks to include “emotional, social, and self-care abilities needed for a major life transition.” Her premise is that the college drop-out rate is related, at least in part, to the fact that students are ill-prepared for independent living: “college demands a skillful shuffling of academic expectations with the excitement, pressures, and demands of living independently–often for the first time.”edutopia_mast.jpg

I don’t disagree. Moving away to college can be stressful. The experience and independence can overwhelm some students, and some can respond by making poor choices: falling in with the wrong crowd, experimenting with controlled substances, flouting responsibility, failing out of school.

I do disagree, however, with her blanket statement that the college completion rate is so low largely because students are emotionally stunted. More blame should be placed at the feet of our K-12 educational system, which churns out students who are academically ill-prepared: some state university systems have to put over 30% of college freshmen into remedial courses simply to get them ready for college level work. Another heap of blame can also be attributed to the poor retention practices at some university campuses, especially for at-risk and first-generation students. These institutions work hard to get students to matriculate, but do little to ensure they are successful once they enter.

But the biggest share of the problem, I believe, relates to poor high school counseling. Counseling is poor not because the counseling professionals are poor. It’s just that there are too few of them. Nationally, each high school counselor serves, on average, 315 students, according to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors. In larger high schools, the ratio goes up to 654 students per counselor. In Colorado, the average is 553 to one counselor. Each counselor is expected to look after students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental well-being. Plus they are expected to provide individual guidance to students as they make their postsecondary plans.

So while we mull over the question of who is to teach the curriculum Flury prescribes, what would this new, college-prep curriculum look like?

An ideal college-prep curriculum would be based in experiential practice and would emphasize self-reflection. High school students would explore various ways to prevent, manage, and respond to stress, and they would have the opportunity to discover what works for them before they succumb to the chaos of college life.

Whatever one thinks of this curriculum, it will not be implemented anywhere but in the most high-toned private high schools. With ACT, Inc., calling for increased rigor in the core high school curriculum because our students are academically ill-prepared, and with school district budgets increasingly strapped, there will be no one to teach this curriculum in our public schools–no matter how well-conceived.

So what to do? Well, for parents, the solution is to try to be aware of the social and emotional transition for their college-bound kids, and to do their best to “homeschool” their kids on this particular set of issues.

Further, it is crucial that students and their families choose the college or university that is the best fit for that student. Students who may be less independent probably ought not be sent to a huge state school with 30,000 students and left to fend for herself. And they ought to scrutinize smaller schools to ensure they have mechanisms to intervene with students who are struggling academically, socially, and emotionally.

And sometimes, in order to find that best match, it is important to get some expert advice. That’s where we come in.

Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting
College Matchmaker

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