Don’t Blame the High School Guidance Counselors, Fix the System


A recent survey (Can I get a Little Advice Here?) conducted by Public Agenda, a corporate think tank working for the Gates Foundation, reported that when it comes to the college admissions process, high school guidance counselors are the weakest link.

The study was compiled using the responses of 614 young adults between the ages of 22 and 30 years old. When asked “How would you rate your high school guidance counselors in the following areas”, the survey group gave the following answers:

  • Helped you decide what school was right for you – 67% gave the high school guidance counselors a poor or fair rating.
  • Helped you find ways to pay for college like financial aid or scholarship programs – 59% rated their high school guidance counselors poor or fair.
  • Helped you think about different kinds of careers you might want to pursue – 62% rated the counselors as fair or poor, the survey group also stated that the high school guidance counselor only saw them as just a face in the crowd.
  • Explained and helped you with the application process – 54% said the high school guidance counselor did a fair or poor job.

Public Agenda noted four findings in the survey, they are as follows:

  • Finding 1 – Most students, even those who successfully completing college, give their high school guidance counselors fail or poor ratings.
  • Finding 2 – Students who get perfunctory counseling are more likely to delay college and make more questionable higher education choices.
  • Finding 3 – High school counselors are viewed as less helpful than teachers.
  • Finding 4 – Advisers at higher education institutions get better ratings, but there’s room for improvement.

My Thoughts

Throughout the rest of this blog post I will share my thoughts on the above survey and believe me we all share a little blame in this one.

After reading this report one thing is very clear, the high school guidance counselor has been placed in a system that is designed to fail. According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the average student to guidance counselor ration is 460 to 1.

Surveys have shown the student to guidance counselor ratio can be outrageously higher in large urban settings. For example, the ratio in the state of California could be as high as 1,000 to 1. How in the world can you effectively provide the necessary help to students in this kind of education model?

The report makes it clear that there is a problem, but to highlight only what’s wrong with the guidance counseling delivery system in our high schools is ” Outside Looking in Journalism” and is unfair.

I can only speak for myself, but it is very disheartening when the very people you have sought to help turn around and heap criticism on you. I am willing to bet that if the Public Agenda Foundation had shared the students-to-counselor ratios with the respondents prior to giving the survey they would have tempered their answers. My guess is that many of them had no idea that they were participating in a system that by its very design prevents the high school counselor from devoting to them the attention they deserved.

The Great Blame Game

It seems that it is becoming increasingly easy for each of us to blame someone else when things aren’t working out as we would like them to. We have become a society of “finger pointers” when accountability is required of us. In fact, it has become the American way. The Democrats and the Republicans blame each other for the struggling economy; the citizens of our country blame illegal aliens; Blacks blame Whites; Whites blame Blacks and on it goes.

And so it is with education, parents blame teachers, the teachers blame the student and the student blames everybody. When I was in high school I didn’t think I received the best counseling, but it never occurred to me that it was the fault of my high school guidance counselor, that I didn’t attend the school of my choice. I am of the school of thought that in the end I was the one that was in complete control of my destiny.

Let’s make one thing clear, it is my observation (and my personal opinion) that young folks, specifically those who took the survey, rarely take responsibility for their actions. I have interacted with several individuals in that age group and I am also the parent of a twenty year old and I found that it will almost always be someone else fault for why they did not obtain or achieve something.

In finding number 3, the Foundation, mentions that teachers are viewed more favorably than the high school guidance counselors, that should not have come as a surprise. The student is going to have greater access and interaction with the teacher throughout the year. However, that student will probably only meet with the counselor once a month at best and the only other contact they will have will be in an adverse situation, such as a detention hall, where the student is likely to frown upon any authoritative figure.

Who is Really to Blame?

Is it fair to blame high school guidance counselors? Shouldn’t parents and the administrators of the high schools have to shoulder some of that blame also?

Parents raise these kids and should wield the greatest amount of influence. Yet in many cases they are too busy doing their own thing, dealing with their own issues. What part did the parent play in assisting the student? If the students had been asked to rate their parents, what would have been the results? For far to long parents have been getting a free pass when it comes to the education of their children.

Also, how could these student-to-guidance counselor ratios spiral out of control like this? 1,000, 700, even 450 to 1 is just ridiculous and unacceptable. How in the world could the administrators of these high school systems miss this, were they asleep on job? Or were they just indifferent to the problem, certainly they should have to accept some blame.

What about the students? My father-in-law, who was a pastor had a saying “Everyone that dies… Dies for himself” meaning that ultimately we are all responsible for ourselves and we all will have to eventually give an account for what we have or should have done. Were they just helpless victims? What could they have done or demanded be done? No one is without blame.

How Do We Fix the Problem?

Parents and colleges need to partner with high school guidance counselors, not blame them. Don’t blame the high school guidance counselor, fix the problem, but I firmly believe that it must start at home.

When it comes to children, all fixes must start at home. As a parent, I have the greatest control over my children, not someone they meet with every once in a while. There may be other circles of influence in their lives, but if I am doing my part as an involved and concerned parent I have the greatest control.

Administrators have to do more than set policy and collect a pay check. They need to be actively involved, perhaps they themselves should serve as counselors until more can be hired or a better solution is reached.

The other day I couldn’t find my set of keys, so I blamed my wife, it was the convenient thing to do…

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