President Obama, the Time to Improve College Access is Now

A Penn State University student walks across campus in front of Old Main on main campus in State College, Pa., Thursday, July
A Penn State University student walks across campus in front of Old Main on main campus in State College, Pa., Thursday, July 12, 2012. Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno and other senior Penn State officials "concealed critical facts" about Jerry Sandusky's child abuse because they were worried about bad publicity, according to an internal investigation into the scandal released Thursday. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington DC

Dear Mr. President:

I'm writing on behalf of thousands of school counselors who desperately need your help, so that we can help millions of American families make sound college choices.

America is graduating one of the largest high school classes in history this year, and the college plans of these students are being guided by school counselors who have had little or no graduate school training working with students and families in the college selection process.

This means an overwhelming majority of school counselors begin their career with caseloads of over 400 students, but only a handful of hours of incidental training in the essential skills that are vital to their work in schools, including counseling in college readiness, college awareness, the application and selection process, financial aid, and the family dynamics of the transition to college.

Despite the best intentions of counselors and families, this lack of training can lead too easily to a college choice based on incomplete information and limited understanding of college options, leading to lost opportunities, poor use of hard earned family resources, and the dashed hopes of students once rich with promise.

Mr. President, I reach out to you at this point because everyone else I have talked to-- graduate school leaders, college presidents, the state legislature, our governor, our state school superintendent and board of education--realizes this is a travesty, but is waiting for someone else to do something about it. This is the largest, most devastating case of catch 22 I have ever seen in my 31 years as an educator--no one wants to fix this problem, so millions of students pay the price, even though the solution is simple.

The need for improved training in counseling in the college selection process is vast, the step initiating a solution is clear, at hand, and easy to complete, and the benefits are beyond measure. An Executive Order can be issued, calling on all federally funded universities with programs in school counselor training to create a 45 hour course in the college selection process; to begin offering this course by Fall semester 2013, and to require the course as a part of the program by Fall 2014. This same Executive Order would require all K-12 schools receiving Federal funding to hire only school counselors who have completed this class, effective with the Fall of 2015.

I know this class can make a difference, Mr. President, because I teach the only face-to-face college counseling class offered in Michigan. My students are mostly experienced school counselors, who give up part of their summers to learn what they need to know to help their students. They leave the class energized, and put the ideas into place right away; thousands of students are getting better advice thanks to this training, but every school counselor knows the time for this training is in graduate school, not after, for every school counselor, and not just a few.

Presidents rarely have the opportunity to change the landscape of college access, and none have had the opportunity to inspire families by making a liberating change of this magnitude for free--yet all of this can occur here and now, in these most demanding economic times. Along with others who have taught the course, I can provide sample course syllabi, textbooks, and testimonials from counselors who have completed the course. Please let me know how I can assist you in any way in supporting the college plans of America's deserving students and families, and thank you for your consideration.