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Rethinking College Advising During A Pandemic

By Laura Owen

Executive Director, Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment, San Diego State University

Billions of dollars have been spent and countless efforts employed to close college opportunity gaps and while we have witnessed encouraging trends to provide more equitable access, the pandemic is rolling back the clock, wiping out many of the gains that have been made and exposing the systemic educational failures that got us here in the first place. We can sit back and watch the process unfold or we can acknowledge our mistakes and devote our energy to create a new equity centered, antiracist advising and counseling system that more intentionally serves all students.

Current Enrollment Trends

A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center confirms startling college enrollment declines. While high school graduation rates remained stable for the class of 2020, postsecondary enrollment decreased by 21.7 percent nationally and direct high school to college attendance for students from high poverty schools fell by 32.6 percent versus 16.4 percent for low poverty schools. Students attending high minority schools saw attendance decrease by 26.4 percent, while those enrolled in low minority schools witnessed an 18 percent decline. If that news were not alarming enough, early indicators predict a continued downward enrollment trajectory with even more discernible losses ahead. Common App recently shared college application rates are down by 8 percent for first time applicants and applications from students who are first in their family to attend college and those utilizing fee waivers decreased by 16 percent.

The Challenge Before Us

The events of this past year have only added to the complexities that students face in traversing their educational path, one that has long been riddled with roadblocks and obstacles. While school leaders have worked heroically to respond to the challenges brought on by the novel Covid-19 pandemic, college advising has unsurprisingly taken a back seat due to the many urgent and pressing needs that school staff have been juggling. This has forced students to wait patiently for guidance as shifting deadlines and polices have become the actuality.

Parents have agonized over how to best help their child carve out a viable post high school plan. One friend recently shared that he didn’t want to pay college tuition for his daughter to be two doors down, sitting on her bed and taking classes on her computer all day.  Another wished her son could experience all that college has to offer, including living on campus; so, ultimately, he decided to take a gap year. Other families made decisions to move forward as planned and students enrolled and completed their first semester of college, albeit not as they had expected. 

Students and parents are frustrated and stymied by a quickly changing landscape coupled with misinformation. They are looking to school counselors and college advisors for responsive and informed postsecondary guidance that is malleable to the daily disruptions and competing demands – they need College Counseling Now.

College Counseling Now Campaign

The College Counseling Now campaign will elevate and broadcast what is working. We will identify the mechanisms that influence postsecondary opportunity and expose how each piece, no matter how seemingly big or small, impacts everything else around it. 

As the saying goes, “it takes a village”. The College Counseling Now campaign will bring together students, parents, guardians, K-12 educators, higher education partners, community-based organizations, school counselors, district school counseling directors/supervisors, graduate students, counselor educators and researchers to create a community of practice committed to strengthening postsecondary advising. Together we will respond to the clarion call for creative, decisive, and equity focused college counseling solutions. 

We will:

  • Elevate the voices of parents and students 
  • Identify counseling and advising practices that support equity, antiracism and justice
  • Share lessons learned from summer melt advising interventions
  • Work with higher ed, K-12, community partners and college access organizations to thought partner and brainstorm solutions. 
  • Develop college advising tools, resources, and training 
  • Utilize social media and virtual spaces to hold Twitter chats, conduct Facebook Live events, share Instagram infographics, publish blog posts, and host webinars 

Stay tuned for more information to get involved in the #CollegeCounselingNow campaign. We can do this together!