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Davis, California

Friday, September 17, 2021

California school counseling ratio falls behind

JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE
JAY GELVEZON / AGGIE

California student to counselor ratio five times the national average; leaves high school, community college students at disadvantage seeking college admission.

In 2015, a report released by the U.S. Department of Education claimed that California ranks the lowest in terms of providing guidance counselors for students. The lack of counseling is most apparent, and often most detrimental, at the high school and community college levels, where students prepare for future college or career endeavors.

According to the American School Counselor Association, a recommended student-to-counselor ratio is 250:1. In reference to the most recent data from 2010 to 2011, the Association reported California’s estimated ratio as 1016:1. The disproportionate ratio is often described as a side-effect of Prop 13, an initiative passed in 1978 that lowered property taxes and altered schools’ reliance on state funding.

While the report does not reflect on the quality of academic or guidance counseling, it does show that an uneven ratio leaves many students unsupported. Specifically, students in underfunded schools often face the greatest consequences of this systematic failure, and must endure the college admissions process with little community support.

Jose Antonio V. Meneses, a first-year political science major, understands the depth of consequences which the scarcity of counseling may cause for many students, specifically first-generation college students.

“If you’re a first-generation college student, who are predominantly students of color, you are [most likely] attending a high school that lacks resources to aid students through the college application process,” Meneses said. “If you are ignorant of the college process and your parents only speak a foreign language and the student [to] counselor ratio at your school [is poor], then your chances of getting into college [are] probably going to be at a zero percent.”

Many students have to put in a greater effort than their counterparts at more affluent schools, who may have access to a larger pool of resources in the field of college preparedness. To make up for this disadvantage, various programs provide support to students of specific populations that may be subject to lack of resources at the high school level.

“I was a part of Occidental Upward Bound, and they primarily gave me guidance on the college application process,” Meneses said. “Upward Bound falls under TiO, which is a program that receives federal funding to aide predominantly students of color and low-income students to attend four year colleges.”

Upward Bound is just one of various programs designed to assist students of color and low-income students pursuing college. The lack of guidance counselors does not reflect on the integrity of the existing ones, who often do all that they can to help the students they support.

“I did have access to a guidance counselor in high school,” Meneses said. “For the most part, it was a positive experience. I at least know that my counselor assisted me to the best of her abilities.”

Since this ratio is not remedied after high school graduation, many students face difficulties receiving the help they need at the community college level as well. Marc Gessler, a third-year environmental policy analysis and planning major and transfer student, discussed some of the counseling difficulties he experienced at the community college level.

“The advising at my community college was inconsistent at best. It could be very difficult [to get to a counselor],” Gessler said in an email interview. “They held office hours where you could go for brief questions, but other than that it was by appointment only, and the wait could be up to two months.”

Due to the impacted appointment system, students are left without guidance during their attempt to transfer to four-year universities. In addition, information may be lost due to the irregular visiting schedule, leaving students unsure about what classes to take or which classes will transfer.

“Several courses that I have had to take here at Davis, I already took a comparable course at my community college,” Gessler said. “Another source of frustration was no one communicating to me at my community college level that I needed to get [Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum] verified separately from having my transcripts sent. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is a large inconvenience being that you have to verify it at your community college in person.”

Although students can face a variety of difficulties accessing advising at the high school and community college levels, UC Davis offers various Academic Counselors, Peer Advisers, Major Advisers and Community Counselors.

The access UC Davis students have to such a breadth of advising resources greatly contrasts the experience students have prior to admittance. Jennifer Flood, an Academic Counselor for the College of Biological Sciences (CBS), describes how the system of advising at the Biology Academic Success Center (BASC) includes various advising opportunities for students.

“[At UC Davis] we have several tiers of advising. We have peer advisers — we have eight of them here at the BASC. They are heavily trained, so they’re always here on a drop-in basis,” Flood said. “Then we have the staff advisers [and] we also have our faculty advisers. We have one to two in each of the different majors in the College of Biological Sciences, so students tend to go to them for career counseling or research counseling.”

In addition to providing CBS students academic advising, counselors also connect students to a variety of resources across the UC Davis campus.

“We as staff advisers act as support, counseling, academic advice, and we do a lot of referrals out. We also work really closely with Health Professions Advising which isn’t necessarily considered academic, it’s more career and pre-professional advising,” Flood said. “They’re right down the hall. They can help with applications, personal statements, where to apply [and] what are the requirements for applying to various different pre-health careers.”

Regardless of background, even freshmen with little guidance counseling at the high school level receive extensive resources once admitted to UC Davis. While this alone does not remedy the lack of advising they may have previously experienced, it helps to support their transition into a four-year university.

“We are heavily involved as academic advisers in Orientation, so we help [freshmen] get the guidance the need prior to coming here,” Flood said. “So they already come in with quite a bit of information, and there are very few students who don’t come to orientation.”

While freshmen have access to resources such as immersion into dorm life, transfer students coming from community colleges often have a much different experience.

“[Freshmen] get a ton of support in the dorms, they have the Academic Advising Centers there for peer-to-peer counseling as well as tutoring, and they go through the extensive freshman orientation,” Flood said. “With transfer students, if they come in with missing coursework, they’re way behind in their major — where that’s not necessarily the case with freshmen.”

Many students are excluded from admission as a result of their lack of knowledge toward the college admission process.

“It varies by school and by how affluent the school is, how affluent the student is with the family, and the support system they have,” Flood said. “If they’re first-generation college students, this could be a huge struggle for them […] The student-counselor ratio is a compounding factor, because many students are already entering academia with little support from their community.”

The difficulties of the student-to-counselor ratio do not weigh solely on the student alone, and academic counselors are often overwhelmed with responsibility. At the same time, students who face California’s dilemma have no choice but to pursue college admissions on their own time.

“I think it’s better for the actual high school counselors […] to be aware and do the best they can with the numbers they have, and the students to take note of how little time they actually have and to try and find resources elsewhere [when possible],” Flood said. “Nowadays you can be your own advocate and search online — search websites, call schools, contact undergraduate admissions.”

A mutual understanding between counselor and student of the lack of advising some may have faced prior to entry creates a collaborative environment to help each student reach their ultimate goal: graduation.

“It is helpful to be reminded of how little support students are getting in the high school setting, and in the community college setting we are made aware of that pretty regularly,” Flood said. “It’s not due to the actual counselors that are there, it’s just due to sheer numbers and lack of time. It’s a good reminder for us to be patient and remind ourselves that this might be the twenty-thousandth time we’ve given the information, but it’s the first time this student is hearing it.”

Written by Lindsay Billings — features@theaggie.org

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