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School Counselors Key to College Access

By Jill Anderson AND Matt Weber on July 30, 2014 4:35 PM
HGSE Partners with the White House for College Opportunity Agenda Event.

School counselors can be the missing link in whether or not a student attends postsecondary education. How to maximize school counselors’ impact and influence on college enrollments were central to the “College Opportunity Agenda: Strengthening School Counseling and College Advising” event held this week by the Harvard Graduate School of Education in partnership with the White House’s College Opportunity Agenda.

“If we are going to reach my husband’s North Star goal and have the highest proportion of graduates in the world by 2020, then good school counseling and advising can’t just be a luxury for school systems that can afford it,” First Lady Michelle Obama said in a welcome video. “Instead we need to ensure that school counselors have what they need so that all our young people can reach their full potential.”

“We need to ensure that school counselors have what they need so that all our young people can reach their full potential.” - First Lady Michelle Obama

The impetus for the July meeting followed President Obama’s announcement earlier this year to expand college opportunity and also the First Lady’s efforts to help American students to advance their education past high school through the Reach Higher initiative.



The 140 leaders in education who attended the convening shared their passion and interest in expanding and revamping the profession of school counseling.

Senior Lecturer Mandy Savitz-Romer, a national expert in college access and school counseling who helped lead the convening with Eric Waldo, Ed.M’03 executive director of Reach Higher, began her career as a counselor in Boston schools. She admitted to feeling unprepared to do the job and noted three significant gaps: in preparation, professional development, and the general content provided for the profession.

“Within these gaps are actually opportunities,” said Savitz-Romer, the director of the Ed School’s Prevention Science and Practice master’s program. “It will take a new mindset of what it takes to do this work.”

Throughout the day, panelists working to change that mindset shared successes in professional development, research, and counseling tools being developed around the country. Some of these changes focused on innovative ways to use data to inform college access for students or the development of apps as a tool to increase student enrollment in college to ways to help streamline the process for filling out the FAFSA application – the federal application students complete to apply for financial aid.

Despite promising new developments, most panelists stressed a greater need to reimagine the profession of school counseling specifically focused toward college access/readiness beginning as young as kindergarten.

White House Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council James Kvaal highlighted perhaps one of the biggest problems – too few school counselors. He shared the recommended number of school counselors as 1 to 250 students but the reality is 1 school counselor to 471 students nationwide.

“College counselors are one of the few tools we have to address this [the college access issue],” Kvaal said, noting that information relayed to students by counselors can make the biggest difference in whether or not they attend college.

In closing, Under Secretary of the U. S. Department of Education Ted Mitchell, who shared that his father was a high school guidance counselor, spoke of the great importance of equity in education and the national movement to expand college readiness, college access, and college completion. “The administration is committed to supporting your work, highlighting its successes, and helping to reach across where there are challenges,” he said.

Mitchell noted the many of familiar faces in the room as a telltale sign of the commitment in the field.

“It isn’t a year’s work, it’s not an administrations’ work — it’s a life’s work. It’s a passion for equity, fairness, justice and opportunity that brings us to this work every day,” Mitchell said. “Look around the room at your partners in this effort…It’s a tremendous cross-cutting network of people and together I really do believe that we can and will create new, better, alternate futures, one kid at a time.”

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