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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Who is Guiding Our Students?

Who is Guiding Our Students?

By Jill Robinson Kramer
Associate Vice President Planning & Research
Ivy Tech Community College
Indiana State University Doctoral Student
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

As parents of young children, we talk to them about where they want to go to college, not if they want to go to college.  College is a foregone conclusion.
Unfortunately, this isn’t true for all families.
Some children start their lives with a certain degree of privilege, even at times with College Savings Plans.  Many of the fortunate, of financial means or not, have their parents’ visions of and experiences in college passed down to them.
Other students, whom we may refer to as potential first-generation college students, may wonder how to get to college and if by chance they get there, yearn from semester to semester for belonging, purpose, and the means to pay for tuition, books, and basic expenses. These challenges confront students each day.
The Indiana Commission for Higher Education’s College Readiness Report annually documents student academic enrollment and course-level placement in the state’s public colleges and universities based on secondary school factors such as diploma type, high school of record, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and academic performance.
Did you know that Indiana ranks 14th among states as to the percent of its high school graduates who go directly to college (66 percent) (National Center, 2011) yet is 34th among states in the percent of adults who hold a postsecondary degree, at 36.1 percent (U.S. Department, 2012)? 
Educators, community groups, and policy-makers have pushed for equitable college access during the past two decades, yet supports for college completion have lagged. What happens prior to college is a strong predictor of completion in college.
Diploma type is one factor that can affect students’ chances for college success.
For example, of the 2,553 students who earned a general diploma, 78 percent needed remediation, as they did not place into college-level courses, while 38 percent of the 17,119 students earning a Core 40 diploma needed remediation.  Only 7 percent of students earning an Honors diploma were placed into remedial courses (Indiana Commission, 2013b).
Remedial courses might not sound such a bad place to be enrolled, if one needs the help, yet in many cases, students enrolled are required to pay full tuition, without these courses counting toward a college degree.
That’s a lot of investment for a lesser tangible dividend.
We’re surprised, actually, given the intended rigor of an Honors diploma, to see any of these students, 946 in total, testing into courses that are not at college-level (Indiana Commission, 2013b).  Ivy Tech, for example, recently changed its placement policies so students who earn certain grade point averages place directly into college-level courses. Did college advisors suggest placement testing as the first alternative?  Did students and families fail to provide high school transcripts that would have allowed for direct placement?
The need for remediation and sporadic under-preparation of students coming from K-12 education to higher education causes tension. All too often K-12 gets blamed, a victim it seems of another’s persecutor in an unhealthy relationship.  Regier and King (2013) speak of accountability in healthy relationships, where we are to a certain degree responsible to others, yet first to ourselves, through our behavior.  It is with this in mind that we wish to remain “open” as to what is happening in terms of children’s under-preparedness.  Let’s not let drama carry the conversation.
Business and industry blame “Education.”  Within our profession, higher education blames K-12, and oftentimes, K-12 blames parents and “poverty.”  Blaming poverty is very fashionable, it seems. Instead, might we identify a simple fact that seems ever-present – That some students simply do not know what they need to do to prepare for success in college?
Clearly, the alignment of K-12 and higher education curricula would seem an avenue for increased preparation. Additionally, high school counselors might be benefit from knowing the (ever-changing) postsecondary admission and placement policies. Finally, students and parents might be encouraged to become more active consumers of the education for which they are paying.
Let us ask ourselves within the current structures of secondary schools, “Who is advising these students along every step of their journeys?”   Ideally it would start in the home.
Yet, with only one-third of Hoosier adults having a bachelor’s degree or higher, many of our secondary students miss-out on effective parental guidance to allow for the best decisions regarding college access and success.  So that leaves again, an “all other duties as assigned” job bullet, for someone in any community’s high school.
That someone is typically the high school counselor.
Yet, does that profession itself even have clarity of what is expected of it?
This spring, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation revisited the history and impact of school counseling in Indiana with its report Twenty Years After High Hopes Long Odds: Indiana School Counseling in 2014. “For the last 50 years, that tension between whether school counseling is designed to help students prepare for work, to enter college or overcome social/emotional challenges has remained” (Fleck, 2014, p. 8).
Indiana is one of 26 states that mandates school counselors in K-12 schools.  However, the student-to-counselor ration is one of the highest in the nation, even among states that don’t mandate counselors at 620:1 (Fleck, 2014).  Low college attainment rates among Indiana’s adult populations and high counselor-to-student ratios in professional positions that split their daily duties among administration, behavioral intervention, and college/career planning, give rise to the reality that many of our students lack a college-and-career road map.
We would further suggest that it is not the parents’ or the counselors’ fault. 
It’s a systems-design flaw in a society that is wanting for intervention.
Might others share with students that if they do not earn an Honors diploma in high school that their chances of graduating college decrease? Do students know that going part-time decreases their chances of graduating college?  Who might talk to them about it?  It is an important topic, considering that of the 2012 graduates who attended college, 80 percent attended full-time, while just five years ago, 90 percent of college-going students in Indiana attended full-time (Indiana Commission, Key Takeaways, 2013a).   We’re losing ground.
Who’s talking to the students, when counselors are chasing standardized testing windows, disaggregated data reports, and “other administrative duties as assigned”?  Leaving no stone unturned in finding a creative solution is imperative; communities may have our answer.
Commission data provided us some enlightening news:  Thirty-five percent of 21st Century Scholar Students needed remediation compared to 42 percent of students with similar financial backgrounds (Indiana Commission, State Report, 1). Thus, it seems that a financial promise, coupled with intentional college preparation services, may have an academic impact on students, evidenced by the fact that more of the 21st Century Scholars are college-ready.
            As educators, how do we increase expectations of all students who come through our buildings while empowering guidance counselors with the time and permissions to focus on the college and career readiness portions of their jobs? A clear disconnect currently exists between student aspirations of going to college and college completion once there.
Would a viable answer be to suggest relief for some of the political pressures placed upon schools that seem to rest upon the shoulders of the guidance counselors, so that they can reclaim an equal emphasis on course scheduling, emotional intervention, and college and career planning?


Fleck, M. (2014). Twenty Years After High Hopes Long Odds: Indiana School Counseling in 2014. Indianapolis: Indiana Chamber Foundation.
Indiana Commission for Higher Education. (2013a.). College Readiness Report: Key Takeaways. Indianapolis. Retrieved from
Indiana Commission for Higher Education. (2013b.). College Readiness Report: State Level Report. Indianapolis. Retrieved from
National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (2011). College-Going Rates of High School Graduates. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from
Regier, N. & King, J. (2013). Beyond Drama: Transcending Energy Vampires. Newton, KS: Next Element Publishing. Retrieved from Kindle.
U.S. Department of Education. (2012). New State-by-State College Attainment Numbers Show Progress Toward 2020 Goal. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from


Jill Robinson Kramer and Ryan Donlan are stanch champions about the power of college completion in providing high-quality life experiences for students that are economically productive and socially responsible.  If you have ideas for how they can better encourage ALL with a vested interest in student success to counsel “just a little bit,” please consider contacting them at or 

1 comment:

  1. A well presented argument about the barriers to college success, but I think it may miss the true root of the issue.. Proper academic and career advisement is severely lacking in our K-12 landscape. Students stumble through our educational system as a student testing number without any real plan for life success based upon their strengths and its career reality. Our goal possibly should not be to get all students to college but to put all students, through proper guidance, on the pathway to a satisfying career. Colleges serve as the vehicle for many to their fulfilled dreams. If we properly advise students onto a pathway for career success, they will see college for what it can be... the best way to accomplish their dream and the positive results will follow.