Sounding an alarm on college readiness
Texas school counselors are worried about their students. We must invest and innovate to improve our educational and economic outlook.
By Laura Brennan, senior director, Texas OnCourse
Laura Brennan is the senior director of Texas OnCourse, whose programs advance college and career readiness across Texas.
In fall 2020, college enrollment in the United States dropped by over 560,000 students. This decrease spans every racial and ethnic group. While college enrollment has been declining since 2015, the pandemic has worsened the situation. Here in Texas, we’re gearing up to halt this decline.
My organization, Texas OnCourse, surveyed Texas counselors, advisers and teachers last September. Our findings were unexpected:
“College readiness was the number one concern for 42% of the nearly 500 respondents. It outranked physical and mental health as the top concern for both juniors and seniors.”
This is important for two reasons:
- Counselors are warning that the crisis in college enrollment will not end with the class of 2020 or even 2021. At most high schools, counselors are the go-to source for college and career planning. If they are this worried, what does that mean for this generation’s plans after high school? For our state and nation’s college completion goals? And for job readiness and economic prospects?
- Training for college and career advising is often scattershot, yet counselors rank it the top concern during a time of crisis. School counselors receive extensive mental health training in graduate programs — as they should. But training for college and career planning and advising is often not required. These well-intentioned counselors may lack the preparation to help students and their families navigate a process made far more complex by the pandemic.
There are some bright spots. Kaitlyn Watson is a college and career coordinator at Jarrell High School in fast-growing Williamson County. For her, the pandemic has sparked new conversations with students about their future. Some of her favorites are lessons that the pandemic has taught them, such as “I want to work in person,” “I'm going to be an essential worker,” and “I like working by myself more than I thought.”
The pandemic is also a time to focus on deep topics with students. But counselors need organized support and training to lead these crucial talks.
What are the solutions?
Some states have already begun to address counselors’ training needs. California mandates 100 hours of college and career advising training, and Michigan requires 50. Here in Texas, school counselors must pursue training in college and career advising to keep their certification.
Texas also provides an affordable, scalable model that makes it easy to deliver this training: the Texas OnCourse Academy. The Academy provides online, self-paced learning for college and career advising. Counselors and teachers, whose days are full of constant interruptions, appreciate this approach.
The Academy serves over 16,000 educators in more than 1,000 districts across the state. Texas school counselors have used it to earn over 50,000 hours of continuing professional education. These counselors have better information to help their students. In turn, these students are better equipped to understand their options after high school. They’re ready to tackle financial aid forms, college applications, and more.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board also supports other innovative projects. Ask Advi is a virtual advising platform that answers college-related questions via text message. And AdviseTX focuses on getting more first-generation, low-income, and other underrepresented students to apply for, enter and complete college.
“Access to quality training for counselors and advisers is paramount.”
Students and their families expect counselors to have the answers about college and career planning. We must ensure that they do. Students deserve access to quality, well-paying jobs, and effective planning for what comes after high school is the surest path to that opportunity. We’re proud that Texas leads the way on this effort, and we hope that this important investment continues. During this time of crisis, getting our students ready for college and career is our number one concern.