One promising answer to the shortage of high school guidance counselors

Two area foundations are partnering with Furman University to place college guidance counselors in seven high schools in Lancaster and Chester counties.
Two area foundations are partnering with Furman University to place college guidance counselors in seven high schools in Lancaster and Chester counties.

We read with great interest Kay McSpadden’s recent op-ed about the need for more guidance counselors to help students and their families navigate the complex decision-making pathway from high school to post-secondary education. (“Schools can’t afford to cut guidance counselors,” April 14)

We share her belief that guidance counselors fill an essential role in helping students achieve their college dreams, and her concern that low-income students in particular suffer when there are too few counselors on hand. That’s why the J. Marion Sims Foundation and The Duke Endowment recently joined forces with Furman University to announce a $2.2 million effort that will bring the College Advising Corps program to seven high schools in South Carolina’s Chester and Lancaster counties this fall.

The College Advising Corps places recent college graduates as full-time advisers in underserved high schools. Before placement, they receive training focused on college admissions, financial aid, student services and diversity. They receive a one-year appointment and an annual stipend of $24,930 plus benefits. They are encouraged to consider completing two years of service, helping high-need students focus on college admission and success.

The program launched in 2005 with a successful pilot. This year, it will serve more than 600 high schools in 15 states – including North Carolina, where Davidson College, Duke University and other schools have chapters. Furman University will help expand the program into Lancaster and Chester counties, the first in South Carolina to benefit from the program.

It is clearly important that we help more high school students reach and succeed at post-secondary institutions. The national student-to-counselor ratio of 467-to-one means that the average student spends 20 minutes per year talking with a counselor. Many low-income and first-generation students may never receive guidance services. Moreover, while half of all people from high-income families obtain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just one in 10 people from low-income families do.

Earlier this month, during ceremonies marking the effort’s launch in South Carolina, Chester County School District Superintendent Angela Bain said that some schools have just one counselor for every 500 students. Clearly, those counselors need as much support as they can get.

Students who meet with a College Advising Corps adviser are 20 percent more likely to take three or more SAT/ACT prep courses, 26 percent more likely to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, 30 percent more likely to apply to college, and 24 percent more likely to be accepted.

The young Furman graduates heading to Chester and Lancaster this fall will become a part of each school, supplementing the counseling staff to help more students and families discover opportunities. They will supplement existing staff at the schools. They won’t serve as replacements for counseling positions, but we feel confident that their efforts will help counselors in the critical work of pointing more high school students toward college.

Susan DeVenny is president and CEO of the J. Marion Sims Foundation in Lancaster, S.C. Susan McConnell is director of The Duke Endowment’s Higher Education program area.