Access to School Counselors in High School Increases College Enrollment

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School counselors complement the work teachers do to help prepare students for a successful college career. Effective school counselors aid students with important issues ranging from  behavioral and personal problems, to academic planning, and helping students choose the right college.

“School counselors are vital members of the education team,” says Jonathan Durr, a counselor at Paducah Tilghman High School. “We work with teachers, administrators, and parents or guardians to help students in the areas of academic and career achievement, personal and social development, and more.”1

Due to the wide variety of tasks assigned to school counselors, educators say they are becoming even more necessary.2 Yet despite the necessary function school counselors provide, the student-to-counselor ratio remains much higher than the 250-1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselors Association.3

Increased access to school counselors might be the key to getting more students into college. In fact, recent studies performed by the College Board Advocacy Center suggest that by increasing students’ access to school counselors, college admittance rates begin to rise.4

Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) Schools and Staffing Survey, the College Board Advocacy Center was able to compile three sets of data encompassing the years 1999-2000, 2003-04, and 2007-08. They analyzed 12 states across the country that mandate maximum student-to-counselor ratios at the high school level.

This graph shows the relationship between high school enrollment and state mandated student-to-counselor ratios.

Graph courtesy of Collegeboard.org4

The study found that schools the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma hired counselors at a rate of 450-1. After more than 450 students were enrolled in a particular high school, a second counselor was hired to help. The study notes, however, that this mandated approach is complicated.

“The intuition behind the methodology is that, on average, high schools with 449 students are essentially identical to high schools with 451 students, except that the latter schools have twice as many school counselors (and a ratio of 451 to 2, i.e., 225.5 students per counselor rather than 449 students per counselor).”

When comparing the four-year college-going rates of high schools that fall on either side of these state mandated thresholds, the College Board Advocacy Center found that by hiring just one additional counselor, four-year college-going rates increased by approximately 10 percentage points.

Findings like this are significant, as they suggest that in a class of 100 graduating seniors, adding an additional counselor to the staff could encourage 10 more students to attend a four year institution. Beyond this, the addition of counselors to a high school staff provides counselors more ample time to work with the students they serve, as well as the ability to target students who may not have considered college in the first place.

Furthermore, having expanded access to counselors in high schools provides the opportunity for students to be paired with a counselor who can best meet their individual needs.

“Counselors wear many hats and are expected to nimbly resolve a variety of issues,” the study notes. “If the additional counselor’s skill set is different from what already exists among the counseling staff, then an increased breadth and depth of counseling skills resulting from additional staff could be at least partially responsible for a jump in positive student outcomes.”

While this study is merely a stepping-stone from which further research can expand, it affirms that counselors play an important role in the lives of their students. By allocating more time and resources to reaching potential college students, it’s entirely possible that together, teachers and school counselors can foster a strong “college-going” culture at their high schools.

In the years to come, the desire to improve the student counselor ratio will create ample opportunities for graduates interested in helping aid student success in college. Those who earn their Masters Degree in Counseling from Wake Forest University graduate with the skills necessary to make a difference in the lives of young minds in schools across the country.