Applying to college was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. My parents never went to college or university, leaving me on my own to decipher all the acronyms and archaic processes. I was hoping to maximize my financial aid options, too, so my list of potential schools grew confusingly large.
I applied to a lot of other schools besides the University of Minnesota, but I am here now in large part to the long conversations I would have with my college counselor at my high school. I would find a time to meet in her crowded schedule, then come in to ask her a mountain of questions and requests. She would, with utmost patience and grace, answer and diffuse all questions and anxieties I had about the college application process. She kept me serious when I started slacking on deadlines and pointed me towards scholarships that would help knock off some tuition costs.
When the denials came rolling in, she helped me stay positive and looking forward to the coming fall, when I would be walking across some college quad, underneath some leafy tree besides a brick building. The University wasn’t my number one school at first, but with her advice and scholarship assistance, I made it my home.
Not everyone in Minnesota has the same easy access to a counselor like I did, though. Data shows that our state has the fourth worst counselor-to-student ratio in the country; there are 723 K-12 students for every public school counselor in the state, compared to a national average of 482-to-1 and a recommended 250-to-1 ratio, according to a 2017 report by the American School Counselor Association.
Counselors are some of the most versatile and useful school employees. They assist students with college admissions, help them through mental health issues and give career advice. They do the jobs of many people, by themselves. Counselors are an extra layer of support for students.
They even make a difference in the academic outcomes of their students. A study by the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare of Minnesotan eighth graders found that students who had access to a school counselor performed significantly better than kids who did not. Sadly, the study also found that nearly one in five eighth graders had no access to a counselor at their school. They were left unable to benefit from the academic gains that their neighbors received.
Additionally, guidance counselors play a key role in ensuring that students find a place in post-secondary education. Although there are no specific Minnesota numbers, the ACT found that 90,000 students from the class of 2015 were college ready in all four benchmarks, yet did not enroll in college. They were academically prepared for college, but perhaps did not have the guidance they needed to get them there. More counselors, unencumbered by a massive roster of students to take care of, would prevent these students from slipping through the cracks.
Yet, our state has neglected to do anything about it. The current school safety bill in the Minnesota House, drafted after the Florida shootings, includes very minimal funding for school counselors — just $30,000 for some districts. Legislators have the opportunity to enact real and significant school counselor legislation. There is momentum, so Minnesota should improve its awful student-to-counselor ratio by mandating a minimum requirement. There is an opportunity and public support. Our legislators just need to step up and take it.