This letter is a response to the Chicago Tribune article, “Ivy League proves elusive for Illinois students” published December 4th, 2012 and is co-authored by the current Presidents of the Illinois College Admission Counselors and the Illinois School Counselor Association.
When asking a high school counselor or a college admission counselor about the most rewarding part of the job, at the top of the list is witnessing a student who achieves the dream of attending the postsecondary institution that he or she deems the best fit for his or her academic and personal goals. Counseling students, and their families, with regard to the college admission process can also be extremely challenging. While some high school counseling programs have the luxury of assigning specific individuals to work solely on providing college counseling, in many Illinois high schools counselors work with students on the college application and admission process in addition to providing school-wide comprehensive services addressing academic, career and personal/social needs for all students.
One important component of college counseling is the school counselor’s role in assisting students with finding the best college “fit” or “match.” The aspects of “fit” or “match” are fluid, multidimensional and a complex intersection between each individual student’s preferences, aptitudes and schools’ offerings. “Fit” or “match” involve considering aspects such as the school’s culture, climate, demographics, program availability, competitiveness, athletics and other opportunities in light of the students’ academic record, race, gender, financial status, sexual orientation, skills, and interests in location, size, program availability, athletics, extracurriculars, arts programs, etc. The vast majority of studies on college choice indicate three approaches to selection are key: economical, psychological or sociological (Hossler & Palmer, 2008). Personal factors matter greatly in college fit and choice.
The Dec. 4th article by Rado presupposed high admission rates to Ivy League schools as “the” measurement of success for student and schools. Why? The 8 Ivy League schools represent a very small percentage of college options. There are hundreds of other colleges that provide students wonderful opportunities for top tier educations. For some of our top tier students these institutions allow opportunities for an excellent education experience at far less cost. The best college for a student is not necessarily the most competitive college he or she can get in to. Research by Hutz, Martin & Beitel (2007) finds college fit is a significant factor in college adjustment. School counselors know that for each student personal variables do matter. Carole Uhlaner, Associate Professor at UC Irvine states: “what matters most is that a student go to a school that is a good ‘fit,’ and most of the things that make a college a good fit for a particular student are hard to quantify and are not captured in the rankings” (Liu, 2012). While some Illinois students are accepted to Ivies and other prestigious schools, not all who are accepted attend, as many choose other universities based on the notion of fit. No university, not even the Ivies can guarantee any student graduation, employment, and future career success or life satisfaction. College admission is not a prize to be won, but a match to be made.
As state leaders we are keenly aware of room for improvement in both the preparation programs for school counselors and in the role and function of practicing school counselors in Illinois schools. In Poised to Lead: How School Counselors Can Drive College and Career Readiness, Hines & Lemons recommend revising university training programs for school counselors to focus on educational access, opportunity and equity in college and career readiness. They also recommend aligning state credentialing requirements to include college- and career-readiness counseling, providing ongoing professional development for practicing school counselors in equity mindedness in college and career planning; and aligning school counselor evaluations to appropriate measures of college and career readiness (2011, p.7).
Nationally, the responsibility of school counselors to take the lead in supporting each student’s college and career readiness has never been more prominent. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for school counselors to take a leadership role in “helping students plan for college, assisting them with creating a path to graduation and by serving as the bridge for students into college” (College Board, 2011). The National Office of School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA) has produced multiple publications describing the school counselor’s role in the eight components of college and career readiness. Additionally, True North: Charting the Course for College and Career Readiness summarizes survey data from 2,890 middle and high school counselors in all 50 states and makes timely recommendations for improving school counseling programs and services for students.
School counselors serve an important role as influential advisors in the college admission process and in a student’s college or university choice. One major challenge for professional school counselors, however, is adequate accessibility to all students. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA, 2012) charges school counselors, to serve all students in three domains: academic, career and personal/social development. While it is commendable to see Illinois students receiving opportunities to attend Ivy League and other prestigious institutions, we also recognize these top tier students represent a small percentage of the entire student population in Illinois. With more than 2.1 million K-12 students in Illinois and only 3,155 counselors, the state student-to-school counselor ratio of 667:1 (American School Counselor Association) makes for a most challenging situation. Illinois has the 5th worst student-to-school counselor ratio in the nation. The national average ratio of students to school counselor is 457:1, well above ASCA’s recommended ratio of 250:1.
With limited time and large ratios, school counselors must make choices every day, and as equity, opportunity and access advocates for all students, sometimes those choices mean prioritizing all students graduating college and career ready over how many enroll in Ivy league schools. Improving student-to-school counselor ratios, school counselor training programs and revising the school counselor roles in schools would contribute greatly to ensuring all students are provided opportunities for college and career readiness as well as guidance in the college selection and admission process. Additionally, many other barriers to student achievement and success could be addressed and resolved. Improvements in the school counseling program will justly benefit all students in pursuing postsecondary education, whether at an Ivy League institution, or one of the many great institutions in Illinois.
The Illinois Association of College Admission Counselors (IACAC) and the Illinois School Counselor Association (ISCA) are comprised of members from the public and private schools. We work closely to provide programs for professional development enhancing our mutual efforts to reach out to college bound students and their families. One advantage of our collaborative relationship is providing our members opportunities to build relationships that benefit all students. Our members make valuable school counselor to college admission counselor connections; which enhances their ability to counsel students and families in the admission process. Co-authoring this response is evidence of our collaborative partnership and our commitment to this important work.
On behalf of the memberships from Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling and the Illinois School Counselor Association we invite you and all Tribune readers to explore our websites. We encourage you to reach out to our members and ask them about their programs and services. Encourage them to share their many stories of success with students. You may be surprised to learn of the many efforts and countless hours counselors are providing to ensure all students and their families are supported in the college admission process despite large caseloads. Imagine what might be accomplished if we all worked together to improve ratios, programs and services for all of our students.
|Dr. Erin Mason
Assistant Professor, DePaul University
American School Counselor Association (2012). The ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs, Third Edition. Alexandria, VA: Author.
The College Board (2012). True North: Charting a Course for College and Career Readiness. National Office for School Counselor Advocacy. http://media.collegeboard.com/digitalServices/pdf/nosca/true-north.pdf
The College Board (2011, November 14). Own the turf: A message from Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pIkbo7pjTg
Hines, P. & Lemons, R. (2011). Poised to lead: How school counselors can drive college and career readiness (pp. 7). Retrieved from: http://www.edtrust.org/sites/edtrust.org/files/publications/files/Poised_To_Lead_0.pdf
Hossler, D. & Palmer, M. (2008). Why Understand Research on College Choice? In National Association of College Admissions Counseling, Fundamentals of College Admission Counseling. Kendall Hunt Publishers, Dubuque, IA.
Hutz, A., Martin, W. E., Jr., & Beitel, M. (2007). Ethnocultural person-environment fit and college adjustment: Some implications for college counselors. Journal of College Counseling, 10, 130-141.
Liu, Jiang (2012). More to picking a college than ranking. The Orange County Register, July 20, 2012. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/rankings-364736-college-colleges.html