Recently I was asked about my experience navigating my way into college. I graduated from high school in 1981 which was a very long time ago but I distinctly remember my guidance counselor as being the catalytic force in getting me into college.
I was not a first generation college student and my family had some resources to assist me, but the guidance counselor walked beside me through the process of preparing for, applying to and getting in college. She met with me on a regular basis throughout high school and more intentionally and frequently in my Junior and Senior years. She made sure I had registered for the SATs, filled out applications and followed up on letters of recommendation. Additionally she counseled me on degrees that matched my interests and aptitude.
I actually learned from her rather than a letter in the mail that I had been accepted early admission into my dream school. We celebrated in her office and I felt as if I was the only student she had assisted when in reality she was repeating this same process with a full case load. She was also there to pick up the pieces over the summer when my father broke the news that I couldn’t actually go because the family couldn’t afford it and helped me get quickly accepted to a college nearby.
I hear similar stories from friends and colleagues from my generation. But times have changed and so has the role of the high school guidance counselor.
Through the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s involvement in providing scholarships and work in increasing college degree attainment in our region, I have learned that in the world of high school counseling our country and our region has a math problem and possibly a moral problem.
The national average of the ratio of guidance counselors to high school students is 1 counselor to every 417 students. In California the ration is 1:1,000 and in some local schools the ratio is 1:600.
With those numbers there is no possible way the students of today are having the same experience I did back in the class of ‘81.
Last week at a state wide conference on college access I heard from caring professional guidance counselors who entered the field to impact students’ lives. The desire is there but the ratios are crippling. Many counselors are called to bus duty, lunch duty and other administrative tasks which further reduces their ability to spend critical one on one time with students.
Each year when the Foundation is reviewing our scholarship program, our volunteer readers ask if guidance counselors can point more students our direction- they were also in high school in the 1980s.
There are efforts underway at the national, state and local levels to address this math problem but in the meantime the community has a great opportunity to help close the gap. Mentoring a middle school or high school student can make a big difference, particularly as it relates to guiding them to their next steps after high school.
Over the next few weeks you will see quite a bit of coverage of joyous seniors graduating high school, and heading out into the world. Take a moment to consider where they might be going next and who helped guide them there.
Also consider the students coming right behind them that could use the same support the class of ‘81 received. It could a great way to pay it forward and honor the guidance counselors that made it possible for us. I am committing to mentoring a high school senior next year. Anyone want to join me? Contact me at [email protected] and we can do it together!
Note: Please check out our website or Facebook page and watch Nahisha’s story on how mentoring in middle school with a promise of a scholarship got her to graduation day with her sights on Cornell.
As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants.