Pandemic exacerbates longstanding counseling crisis


In the 2020-2021 school year, more than 90% of U.S. households with school-aged children said their children were participating in some form of “distance learning” at home, with mixed results.

Learning disruptions have left many children behind academically, socially and in other ways, including the all-important planning for adult careers. Disparities in access to technology at home, childcare challenges, and stress related to COVID 19 have all contributed to differences in learning outcomes between groups of students.

Among other duties, school counselors are the primary resource for helping students develop career and educational plans. School counselors also help many students complete the College Application and Student Aid Forms (FAFSA) that provide students with the financial aid that many depend on to afford higher education.

Unfortunately, the pandemic shift to distance learning has reduced students’ access to school counsellors. This has resulted in negative impacts for many students, but especially for low-income students who rely heavily on school counselors for assistance with career planning and education.

For example, Angel Perez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, recognize that the pandemic has only heightened awareness that the increasingly complex college application process continues to perpetuate social inequalities. These harsh realities discourage school counselors, whose job it is to prepare students for post-secondary education and careers.

The deeper truth is that school counselors have long been undervalued despite their key role in preparing young Americans for life after high school. According to a 2009 U.S. Department of Education survey, students in public schools received on average 38 minutes college admissions advice from their school counselors. The situation has hardly improved over the past decade.

In an article from 2015, 125-year-old Penn Foster correspondence school, has discovered the sad news that the average US school has only one school counselor for 500 students, half of the one recommended for 250 students. In California and some other states, that number was down to one counselor for every thousand students, numbers that make it nearly impossible to provide effective career counseling.

Although a more recent article from 2019 in The board today pointed to small improvements in school counsellor-to-student ratios (at one school counselor for every 455 students, nationally), this “improvement” was too small to improve student access to school counsellors.

Beth Zasloff and Joshua Steckel in 2014 wrote in Atlantic that effective guidance for low-income students involves a myriad of tasks – from helping students find colleges with strong support structures and adequate funding, to working with students on their personal essays, arranging on-campus tours, or providing personalized counseling to students and their families. navigate the financial aid process.

Young Americans of all backgrounds need better information, resources, and advocacy through the college application process (the same goes for those seeking technical or other careers requiring post-high school training) than, in many cases, their families do not have the knowledge or experience to provide.

Zasloff and Steckel, who both have a background in school counseling, said that without caring mentorship and counselors who take the time to help them through various personal and family challenges, far too many people will give up on their dreams. Worse still, they often never finish high school, entering the job market with minimal skills and dashed hopes.

The Penn Foster team assessed the huge shortage of qualified counselors as leaving students, and in the longer term, society as a whole, in a bind. Without proper guidance, they argued, “students cannot learn the path to becoming the next generation of productive workers, leaders, and citizens.” Even students with strong support at home struggle to make good choices after high school. The challenges faced by low-income and minority students are even greater.

Zasloff, Steckel and the Penn Foster team agree that a one-size-fits-all, “process-oriented” guidance counseling ignores each student’s personal stress; it’s a flawed model that leaves far too many people without the skills and confidence they need to reach their potential. The mental wellness organization Here and Now Counseling, notes Penn Foster, found that 60 to 80 percent of students drift through four years of classes without any direction.

Dr. Spencer Niles, senior vice president of career planning and development at Kuder, Inc., says there is a great need for more qualified and well-trained career counselors who can guide students toward career options. successful in this increasingly complex and diverse job market. . The shortfall is particularly visible in public schools which have completely stopped providing career planning assistance to students.

Niles echoes Zasloff and Steckel’s insistence that effective counseling requires not only giving students the facts, but reinforcing their hope that they can have a prosperous future. Hope, says Niles, is a key motivator for all students, especially those who leave school early, as they fight through the obstacles and challenges that would otherwise discourage them from pursuing their careers. dreams.

Building a larger army of effective school counselors is no easy task. Licensed school counselors in most states must end a master’s degree, which includes an internship, internship, and exam often followed by months of fieldwork. Effective counselors must be both compassionate and empathetic, have sharp communication and listening skills, and an analytical mind. Through confrontation, questioning and concentration, they must empower their protégés to find their own path to success.

At this critical moment in American history, the need for effective advisors is greater than ever. Given the lack of school-based guidance, the deficit that many teenagers experience in managing their careers effectively has increased and many companies have undertaken workplace counseling to help employees struggling with work-related stress or even personal issues.

These issues, argues employment assistance firm Mazzitti & Sullivan, can affect an employee’s job performance due to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and strain with co-workers. Workplace counseling is short-term and focuses on problem solving that helps employees view their challenges with a more positive perspective. Employers benefit from increased employee respect and loyalty and avoid internal disruptions.

Overall, the integration of individualized counseling both in school and in the workplace produces positive results for both the person being counseled and society as a whole. As people learn to make better choices in education, career and life, everyone benefits.

Given the massive societal disruptions caused by both the COVID-19 pandemic and public responses, the investment in human potential provided through effective advice is likely to yield significant rewards.

Duggan Flanakin is director of policy research at the Committee for a Constructive Future (CFACT)

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