Better Career and College Advice Is a Phone Call Away

It looks like things are starting to turn around for Michigan's school counselors. Saddled with the fifth largest caseload in the country (with 704 students per school counselor), the counselors in our state are used to being overworked and under appreciated, but they've been hoping things might change that would make their work easier.

That change is on its way, and you can help deliver it for the holidays.

Last week, an impressive group of business leaders, policy makers, and educators released a report that outlined Michigan's educational and economic needs for the next 10 years. More than the typical "send more kids to four years of college" report, the Postsecondary Credential Attainment Workgroup's report outlines the kinds of jobs and training Michigan residents will need at all educational levels, including the training needs of Michigan adult students. From skilled trades to certificates to PhDs, the report outlines the needs and the plan to help the state become a Top 10 state in education and economy -- and that includes well-trained school counselors to help students and families make the training decision that's right for them.

The group's recommendations took a big leap when the Michigan Board of Education adopted seven educational goals, based largely on the report's data. Efforts to make sure school counselors play the vital role they must play (and already often do play) in helping students make plans for life after graduation also made great progress when House Bill 4552 passed out of the Michigan House's Workforce and Talent Development Committee.

School counselors have always had to complete 150 hours of professional development every five years in order to keep their license or certificate, but those hours can be in almost anything. Many school districts decide counselors can earn those hours participating in school-based professional development that's built for teachers, not counselors. Other counselors have such a hard time getting to counselor-based events, they take what they can get. One counselor I know ended up getting re-licensed only after she took an introductory class on spreadsheets, even though she knew spreadsheets inside and out.

That isn't great for counselors, but it's even worse for kids -- and Bill 4552 fixes that. By requiring that 25 of those 150 hours focus on career advising education, and another 25 talk about college advising, counselors will finally get the updated information they need on Michigan's workforce, programs designed to fill essential jobs in our state, and the ever-changing college options our colleges are designing.

School administrators will either have to design training events that really meet counselor's needs, or allow counselors to travel to the many existing programs that do. School counselor advocacy groups that already offer free training have committed to offering more, and the group that oversees licensing -- the Michigan Department of Education -- thinks this is a great idea. More important, this training will calm the fears of Michigan parents and students, who recently rated the quality of postsecondary assistance counselors offer as "terrible", even though they recognize it isn't the counselor's fault.

Better advising for Michigan youth is just a few steps away, and you can help the legislature take the important next step. The entire House has to vote on the bill to keep this promise to Michigan's students, and a vote before the holidays is just the present school counselors need and deserve. Contact the speaker's office to urge a vote on House Bill 4552, then urge your legislator to vote for it. This isn't the only change counselors need to better meet the needs of their students, but it's an important start, for all of us.