Enhancing School Counseling to Support Student Success


December 11, 2014


Portrait of Michelle Hodara
Senior Researcher Michelle Hodara

What can school counselors do to help all students be prepared for college? To address that question, the White House recently convened a meeting of school counselors and college/career readiness experts, including a representative from Education Northwest.

The November 17–18 meeting at San Diego State University focused on increasing college access for all students through improved college and career advising and better training for school counselors. The White House’s College Opportunity Agenda and the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative partnered to sponsor the invitation-only gathering that included a team of 25 “thought leaders” from Oregon among its more than 300 participants.

Education Northwest’s Michelle Hodara, who leads the Oregon College and Career Readiness Research Alliance at REL Northwest, was part of the Oregon contingent. Other members included representatives from the state’s education agencies, school districts, high schools, higher education institutions, local governments, and nonprofits supporting college readiness.

Hodara, a researcher, said it was significant to hear the White House prioritize counselors’ work and to emphasize the role of data collection/analysis and research in school counseling. The event showcased one example of data being used to improve counseling services, with a panel on the work of Harvard’s Strategic Data Project in the Howard County (Maryland) Public School System. “I shared with the Oregon group that our REL Northwest research alliances support this kind of work and we have the capacity to provide assistance on data use and analysis,” Hodara said.

Participants in a session on gaps in research related to school counseling and advising identified three primary areas to consider. For one, many schools have high student-to-counselor ratios—or no full-time counselors on staff—and research is lacking on the impact of the unavailability of school counselors on student outcomes. Also, while most states have college- and career-planning graduation requirements, there is little research on how the substance and timing of planning activities relate to college and career success. Lastly, since it’s often hard to measure counselors’ influence on aspects of a school such as college- and career-readiness culture and student mindsets on college and career, research is needed to investigate ways to measure and quantify items like these in order to tie practices to improving culture and mindsets.

“What research in these areas will do is identify the benefits to students and schools of investing in school counseling and advising,” says Hodara.

To help take the meeting’s message to the next level, the Oregon team developed a set of goals and action steps supporting school counselors. These include creating more professional learning opportunities for school counselors, focusing on pre-service counselor training, and advocating for the hiring of more school counselors. Hodara tied the Oregon team’s commitments to one of Oregon’s major education goals: “The commitments articulate what we need to do to improve school counseling and college advising to help Oregon reach its 40-40-20 goal.” That goal aims to have 40 percent of Oregonians earning a baccalaureate degree or higher, 40 percent receiving an associate’s degree or certificate in a skilled occupation, and the remaining 20 percent obtaining a high school diploma or its equivalent by the year 2025.

“I know if we truly want to help young people reach their college dreams, we need to support our school counselors,” First Lady Michelle Obama said in a video played to attendees during the event, as quoted in the U-T San Diego. “Our young people have so much potential, and they need someone in their lives who believes in them and can show them the steps they need to take to get to college.”