Michigan residents demand better college, career advice

Michigan high school students aren’t getting the college and career guidance they need, risking their future and potentially stunting the economic growth of the state.

And it’s time to do something about it.

That’s one of the major findings of a year-long effort collecting and analyzing public opinion in Michigan on college and career guidance, college affordability and job training.

More than 5,000 Michigan residents voiced their sentiment in more than 140 community conversations held across the state, in scientific polls and online conversations conducted by the nonprofit Center for Michigan. The resulting report, “Getting to Work: The public’s agenda for improving career navigation, college affordability, and upward mobility in Michigan.” released Monday, offers a rebuke to the quality of college and career counseling student receive in high schools today, and calls for more and better-trained counselors.

College and career guidance in Michigan high schools was rated “lousy” or “terrible” by two-thirds of community conversation participants. K-12 educators were only slightly more upbeat than the general public, with 54 percent offering ratings of “lousy” or “terrible.” Only about one in 20 Michigan residents who took part in community conversations or polling rated college and career guidance as “excellent.”

African-Americans were particularly pessimistic, with three out of four unhappy with the quality of high school guidance.

That matters because high school counselors can play a critical role in helping students achieve after high school, which in turn will boost the state’s economy. Michigan ranks in the bottom half of states in adult college attainment. Michigan would need 287,328 more adults to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher just to reach the national average.

Those with a bachelor’s degree earn, on average 64 percent more than those with a high school diploma ($1,101 per week versus $668 per week), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Just raising Michigan to the national average in college attainment, then, could add $6.8 billion to the state economy.

A Bridge Magazine analysis in March found that while children of middle- and upper-income families were enrolling in college at high rates, low-income students and the children of parents without a college degree weren’t. Raising college attainment levels for the state depends primarily on getting more poor and first-generation students onto campus.

Typically, that job falls squarely on the shoulders of overworked high school counselors.
In Michigan, there is on average one school counselor for every 706 students, one of the highest student-counselor ratios in the nation.

One high school student who participated in a community conversation said, “I had to do my own research because my high school doesn’t do a good job with … career navigation. We just have one counselor for 700 students.”

Another said, “They call them guidance counselors but they’re not; they don’t have time. They’re scheduling, they’re just putting out fires and trying to help students graduate. Rarely are they able to sit down and talk to students about what they want to do” after leaving high school.

Michigan residents overwhelmingly support more and better high school counseling.

Training counselors to give college advice

One possible fix is to require high school counselors to be certified in college and career advising. That’s not required in Michigan now. Among community conversation participants, 77 percent supported college and career advising certification of counselors; 86 percent in telephone surveys supported the idea.

One school counselor who attended a community conversation said that “It is a counselor’s job to help you find a college and what you want to do. I had no classes that addressed college choice, financial aid and career counseling as part of my education as a counselor.”

A bill introduced in the House in May would require a 45-hour course in college selection advising for all high school counselors. A similar bill died in the Legislature last year.

“By replacing an elective course in the current curriculum with this mandatory class, counselors would be better prepared to help students explore college options,” Patrick O’Connor, past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and assistant dean of college counseling at Cranbrook Kingswood School in Bloomfield Hills, wrote in a guest column in Bridge last year.

The bill requiring college advising certification may be considered this fall.

An advisor in every school

A second policy solution admired by Michigan residents is to provide a dedicated college and career advisor in every high school. Eight-in-10 community conversation participants and poll respondents support adding staff specifically for college and career guidance.

Michigan has several growing programs that do just that, which Bridge wrote about in March.

In these programs, graduates from a dozen Michigan universities can sign up to work for two years in mostly rural and low-income high schools in the state, offering college and career guidance. This school year, there will be 82 advisors in 100 schools, under programs at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and in a statewide effort called AdviseMI.

Advising corps members received four weeks training and earned $24,000 a year plus benefits in the 2014-15 school year. Most were not education majors. Think of it as a college advising version of AmeriCorps.

“There’s been a resounding response to the AdviseMI program across the state,” said Jacqueline Ruhland, co-director of Advise MI. “A lot of times we see students, particularly first-generation (students whose parents didn’t go to college), who are so overwhelmed they don’t know where to begin. Navigating the college application process and financial aid forms and make college affordable to low-income students can be extremely difficult.

“We’re going to see benefits for the economy moving forward (from placing college and career advisors in high schools),” Ruhland said. “By helping our youth figure out the correct programs, it will help them find a job and thrive and stay in the state of Michigan.”

At $24,000 a year in salary alone, putting a dedicated college advisor in every high school could cost close to $38 million per year.

College and career class

Michigan residents also overwhelmingly support a class for high schoolers that explores career choices and offers guidance on college enrollment. That would be an addition to an already-crowded mandatory curriculum, but many respondents said they felt it would be worth it.

“Even if there are counselors available to help, a lot of students may not seek them out,” said one community conversation participant. “But if you make (career navigation) part of the curriculum, people leaving high school will at least have an idea of where to go for help.”

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Thu, 09/17/2015 - 7:56am
I want to warn the Legislature to be VERY careful how they add requirements to the curriculum for school counselors, and how you define "success" for a school district getting more low income and first generation students into and through college. Enrollment in higher education is NOT enough. The goal should be that students graduate from high school knowing their next step for a career that interests them, and that they are ready academically for that next step. Students who must spend a year or more in "remedial" studies at a community college should not count as a successful transition to adult live / or as having been college or career ready. Enrolling more kids in colleges where they aren't prepared to work at a college level does NOT help them. It wastes their grant eligibility, potentially leaves them with no degree or certification, but piles of debt, and leaves these students worse off than if they had been required to take a 5th year of high school.
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 8:57am
Shouldn't parents be more involved in this process? And doing your own research is never a bad thing.
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 9:49am
I echo Anyone 's comments. I also echo Anna's comments. Let's think through a solution that's going to actually get more kids ready and enrolled in college.
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 10:03am
Too many parents don't want to make the effort or even care. Kids in that situation won't get guidance or inspiration from home to go to college, that puts more burden on the counselors who can only do so much but they can't really take over the role of parent as well.
Milissa Pierce ...
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 9:45am
As an educated "College & Career Counselor" (I have taken multiple coursework above and beyond my required courses), I do not see the training as the biggest issue. When high school counselors have case loads of 300-1000 students, very little time can be spent advising individual students. Until the powers that be create limits on our caseloads and give us time to see these students, our training can't help students we have little time to see. Hiring an "advisor" that does not have a counseling degree or training is not the solution. It might help. Dedicating curricular time to helping students with this or lowering caseloads would benefit all students.
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 10:45am
Wisconsin is a template for a good approach to transitioning kids into post high school education. The technical colleges, and there are many, offer pre-entrance interest and aptitude testing at little or no cost. The also provide a core (two year) curriculum that can be transferred into most of the four year state institutions. Curricula in these tech schools range from diesel mechanics to nursing, to medical records management, to business management, to instrumentation... and the list goes on. The schools work with local industry to create curricula (for those not planning to go on to a four year program) that meet the needs of employers. Tuition is reasonable, financial counseling is available, and it's a win-win for students and employers, not to mention the schools themselves. I'm a graduate of such a program, with an earlier BS and largely completed MS under my belt. This was the best education I've ever received.
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 9:51am
"College and career guidance in Michigan high schools was rated “lousy” or “terrible” by two-thirds of community conversation participants." What specifically was the problem? Vague statements like the above do nothing to improve a system.
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 9:59am
And where would the money come from? The legislature and administration keep 'talking education" while down funding education on a continuing basis. The local news touts stories suggesting that teachers in certain districts make to much. So do we sacrifice teachers pay to get advisors who will be the first to get the axe in another defunding cycle?
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 10:57am
I am from Wi. and carol is right. They do an excellent job with their tech. training. I was in the Mi. system for 35 years. Counselor numbers are ridiculous . Some good test instruments are available but no time or resources to administer. I have followed 18500 students after they graduate high school and many do not have direction or goals or aren't ready for the academic rigors of college. R.L.
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 11:18am
This looks like a great program, i.e., "college advising version of Americorps." However, when going to the AdviseMI website, it is disappointing that participation in the program appears limited to young adults. As stated on the website, "The AdviseMI program embeds well-trained, dedicated, near-peer college advisers in high schools ....The advisers are recent college graduates from partner colleges...." It is a shame that seasoned individuals who may bring to the table a wealth of knowledge and sincere desire to help students are locked out of such a wonderful program simply due to age discrimination.
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 12:59pm
Wow! Here we go again, blaming the current counselors for a system that restrict the counselor roles by cutting school funding for support services. Are you serious? When was this survey done? Seem like a another effort to reduce the role of licensed counselors in MI. Before graduating with.a MA in Counseling, courses in career advising, human resource, vocational development were required or were electives.Here are some meaningful suggestions that need to be increased within the schools; Connect students to Guest speakers from various careers, quarterly career fair activities, career focused nternships, career focused connections incorporated into lesson plans, etc. Here is another thought....,when was the last time someone from your organization visit a school to serve as a volunteer mentor ? Alternative options for career / college connections are already available....grest counselors are already connecting students to career, jobs, business startup activities...tell Lansing to increase the funding to increase career related activities for current/new counselors and , nonprofit mentoring services. Again, your writer has provided weak arguments for new advisory positions and credentials.. Wow, ask great counselors before you present your arguments for new laws, etc
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 1:55pm
Why does the solution to every problem that Bridge writes about have to be solved by spending other people's money. Why isn’t there every any interest in asking and listening? Why isn’t there any consideration of the knowledge and skills of the readers? Why is this article about placing blame? The theme/impression of Mr. French's article is that the 'counselors' are at fault for the lack of college success of students, especially the ones from low income families. One person quoted by Mr. French said, "...they’re just putting out fires and trying to help students graduate." And that was the only mention that was made to the whole of the role of counselors. It would seem that if students don’t graduate then college is not an issue. I wonder why Mr. French seems to place so little value in graduation, no data about the impact counselors have on graduation. As for the issue of college counseling, I wonder why there has to be an ignoring of one of the most knowledgeable resources on the topic, the people outside the education system that have earn the degrees and turned them into careers. I wonder why there isn’t any consideration of those having an engineering BS degree coaching students about what all that entails, types of engineers, what they do, what it takes to earn a degree, where to go and how to get there, even what they earn? Why not have those with other degrees do similar coaching? It would seem extremely valuable to students to hear about other degrees and how that lead others to careers that may not be so obvious. Why is the only solution to counseling the spending of other people’s money? Why not ask for those who have practical knowledge to help? Why not ask them to get necessary training for counseling? Who better to coach students on post K-12 education then those who have successfully lived it? Why does it always have to be other people’s money flowing through the K-12 educational system, why can it be a engaging people from a diverse base of proven success? How many Bridge readers would be willing to share the lesson about post high school education with the current students? how many would be willing to take a few classess so they could regularly coach students? how many would do without compensation? I know of at least one.
Charles Richards
Thu, 09/17/2015 - 4:35pm
Mr. French says, " Raising college attainment levels for the state depends primarily on getting more poor and first-generation students onto campus." What if only a small percentage of this group are adequately prepared for college? Only a minority of all high school graduates are prepared for college. Students from poor and first generation families are the least likely to be college ready; let's fix the high schools first. Even presuming that was done, we face the problem of producing our own college graduates or importing them from other states. Obviously, it would be far cheaper to import them than produce our own. As it is, a third to half of our college graduates leave the state. Mr. French has not made a wise policy recommendation.
Sun, 09/20/2015 - 7:17am
When a kid tells me he or she is going to college for a degree in art, music, philosophy, "sports management," and other non-job training degrees, I suggest they get a teaching certificate with it. Unless you are the idle rich, you can't afford to get an education without it leading directly to a job upon graduation. Guidance counselors are not giving the kids that advice.