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Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

Helping kids with college and careers gets tougher, survey says

Indiana’s school counselors say they aren’t able to give their students all the support they need to get ready for college or jobs because workplace barriers often impede their efforts, according to a Chamber of Commerce survey released today.

Of 426 counselors who answered the Indiana Chamber’s survey, 90 percent said they spent less than half of their time helping students prepare for college or careers. Two-thirds of them said that wasn’t enough.

And it’s getting worse: the percentage of time counselors said they spent on counseling and guidance has fallen on surveys since 2010 as new task have been added to their jobs.

Getting in the way of their primary work, counselors said, was an ever-increasing workload of duties that have little to do with helping students prepare for life and higher education. The report cites activities like managing testing, enrolling new students, supervising the lunchroom, monitoring buses and substitute teaching as taking time away from working directly with students on their future plans. One respondent even reported being put in charge of coordinating the school mascot’s costume.

“Whenever a school doesn’t know what to do with a project, it goes to the counselor,” Julie Baumgart, chairwoman of Western Boone High School, said in the report. “I don’t think [administrators or teachers] understand the role of the school counselor; they just don’t understand what they do.”

Even when it comes to doing the work they believed they should be doing, counselors said heavy caseloads make that tough. The average ratio in Indiana of 620 students for each counselor is one of the worst in the country: 44th out of 50 states.

The survey echoed the findings of the Indiana Youth Institute, which recently said school counseling was in “crisis” in the state. The institute in March issued it’s own survey showing counselors needed more information about their students’ post-high school education options and were struggling to maintain quality service to their students in the face of increasing numbers of students they are responsible for.

The Chamber also sought to compare its results to the findings of a 1994 survey, which raised alarms that counselors faced barriers to serving students better, by asking respondents to assess how counseling had changed since they entered the profession.

Many of the same frustrations and problems were cited but new challenges have also been laid on counselors’ shoulders. Some said they did not feel adequately trained to help students manage ever-changing higher education options or career technical training that could lead to jobs.

In response to the survey, the Chamber created an advisory group of counselors, principals, superintendents, community college partners, youth-serving organizations and government agencies to work on five initiatives:

  • Raise awareness of post-high school opportunities through a marketing campaign.
  • Develop metrics and find partners to recognize successful counseling programs.
  • Connect students with employers to explore careers.
  • Make longitudinal education data more publicly accessible to help identify needed policy changes.
  • Create accountability incentives for schools to improve counseling.

Read the full report here.