Three Ways Parents Can Help Colleges Help Their Kids' School Counselors

It's rare that a sweeping movement in the world of college admissions can fly under the radar screen of public consciousness, but that seems to be what's happening with the two-week old High School Counselor Challenge. For all the buzz among admission deans and school counselors, the challenge really hasn't caught the attention of many outside the profession. Not yet, at least.

The brainchild of David Quinn, an educator at Edmonds-Woodway High School in Washington state, the challenge is designed to encourage colleges to sponsor and fund public school counselors to attend the 2015 conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). A leader in programming and advocacy, NACAC is a membership association of school counselors, college admission officers, and other individuals and organizations who guide students in the transition from high school to college. Their annual conference is their largest professional development event of the year, a gathering of 6000 champions for college access and inclusion. The conference is collegial and inspirational and energizing -- but for many public school counselors strapped by budget constraints, it's also out of reach.

Enter the High School Counselor Challenge (#hscc2015). The concept is simple. A college announces its commitment to fund a public school counselor to attend the conference and then challenges another institution to do the same. Since the challenge was launched late last month, social media has exploded with pictures and videos of beaming admission staffs posing in front of their school banners, announcing their support for a local counselor and tossing the baton to their neighbors across town or across the country.

The acceleration of the initiative has been astounding, and the collective generosity of colleges and other education groups will have a profound impact not just on the sponsored counselors but also on the dynamics of the NACAC conference itself. Public school counselors -- particularly those who serve low-income, first-generation students -- can contribute insight and experience that is often lacking in a professional and national conversation dominated by alarmist admission trends that don't reflect the reality of most students or colleges to which they are applying.

At the outset, colleges were the main players in the High School Counselor Challenge, and they have recently been joined by educational organizations, independent secondary schools, and even some individuals who have committed to sponsoring a counselor. That enthusiasm is terrific, but we can do even better for our school counselors--and you can help. Here are three steps parents of high school students can take to advance the success of this campaign:

1. Make sure your superintendent and school principal know about the challenge. Funding is critically important, but it's only half the battle. The other half is securing release time to attend professional development activities, and for that counselors need the support of their schools. In 2012, The College Board's National Survey of School Counselors found that a bare majority of respondents - 51 percent -- felt they had sufficient training to guide students through the college admission process. At the same time, 83 percent of school counselors and 77 percent of administrators viewed college counseling as part of the counselor's job. Put another way, school counselors themselves do not feel prepared enough to perform a critical role that everyone agrees they should be able to do. The High School Counselor Challenge alone won't solve this problem, but it's an important step that principals and superintendents should support.

2. Challenge your alma mater to participate. The challenges that have come through so far have followed a path from college to college, but that doesn't mean you can't get into the mix. Email the alumni association or the admission office at your alma mater and invite them to get into the game. Better yet, tweet your challenge so others can join in: "Make your alums proud -- sponsor a counselor to attend @NACAC 2015! #hscc2015"

3. Nominate your counselor. This is about as grass-roots as it gets. The colleges that have responded to the challenge are seeking to help counselors within their own communities. You can move this effort forward by reaching out to a local college and letting them know how critically important it is that your school counselors have access to top-notch training and professional development in college counseling. You might even consider enlisting the support of your Parent-Teacher Association or the Student Government Association.

Good luck with your efforts. I look forward to meeting your child's counselor at next year's NACAC conference.