Part One of the “Pathways Counseling: The New Essential Service” series presents both the function and incalculable value of a specialty college and career counselor, and makes the case for an expansion of this role across Tennessee schools. The piece’s central argument hinges upon a stark reality: not every high school student has access to guidance from adults equipped to provide education and/or career advisement (also referred to as pathways counseling) to a young person. In the transition from secondary school to college or career, too many students are flying solo.
The latest installment of this series takes a solutions-focused view of pathways counseling. Though our state lacks a comprehensive strategy for college-and-career advising – a plan that would extend these services to all Tennessee students – there do exist both state-led and community partner-organized advising programs working to fill these gaps in some communities. This piece does not seek to spotlight the totality of these programs, but will highlight several strategies for pathways counseling that should force us to wonder what could be – if even one of these models could find a home in every school in Tennessee.
State-Level Efforts to Close the Advising Gap
In 2016, under the leadership of the Haslam administration and with the recently-established Drive to 55 goal in mind, the state of Tennessee sought to address the lack of college and career counselors in our state’s public schools with the launch of Advise TN. The program, designed to “provide college advising services to up to 10,000 junior and senior students across Tennessee”, has placed pathways counselors in 33 high schools across Tennessee – including one in Davidson County. State-level work has also led to the creation of TN Achieves, a partnering organization to the TN Promise Scholarship that offers mentorship from community volunteers to local students as they prepare to enter postsecondary education. But mentorship is only offered to high school students who have already been approved for the TN Promise scholarship, and have therefore already taken steps toward attending college.
Although both the Advise TN and TN Achieves programs are capable of providing helpful guidance to those students who are selected to participate, obvious gaps remain. Who will provide intentional college-and-career advising to students not enrolled in the 33 Advise TN schools? If the guidance of a TN Achieves mentor is only provided to students who have already applied to a postsecondary institution, what happens to the student who has never believed that college could be an option for them? With the creation of these programs, the state of Tennessee has taken a noble first step; but students will inevitably fall through the cracks if college-and-career advising initiatives like these are not expanded to a wider student audience.
Locally Grown Approaches to Pathways Counseling
Across Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), pockets of high school students receive advising services from college and career counselors employed by local nonprofit organizations. Two of these organizations, Oasis College Connection and the Martha O’Bryan Center, are grantee partners of the Scarlett Family Foundation. Oasis College Connection staffs five full-time college counselors (called “Mentors”) at 11 MNPS high schools, and begins college-going conversations with students as early as the ninth grade. Oasis Mentors make it their job to meet students where they are – literally – whether in the cafeteria or the basketball court; and the program’s near-peer model allows students to form authentic relationships with well-trained advisors not much older than themselves.
The Martha O’Bryan Center takes a more embedded approach to pathways guidance through its Academic Student Unions (ASUs), dedicated spaces found in three MNPS high schools and one MNPS middle school, and offers college and career-related guidance as one option on a menu of student-centric services. Inside these Academic Student Unions, designed to be appealing, comfortable and welcoming, a student may walk in for a cooking class or homework help, but also leave with a TCAT course guide. In this advisement model, as in the Oasis College Connection model, access is key – advisors are steps away from students, and accessible to the entire student population at almost any time.
Though Oasis and Martha O’Bryan differ in their methods of operation, both have seen tremendous success on their mission to guide students to fulfilling lives post-high school. In order to serve as many students as possible with the resources available to them, both Oasis and Martha O’Bryan have adapted and innovated. As we consider how more Tennessee students could be served by college and career Counselors, both programs should be regarded as model innovators.
Other Innovators on the Pathways Counseling Landscape
There are lessons in pathways counseling innovation to be found all across the country; and one model in particular has reached new levels of importance in the COVID-19 era. Virtual college-and-career counseling, already a feature of dozens of student readiness programs nationwide, is more necessary today than ever before. College Advising Corps (CAC), established in 2005, has risen to prominence due in part to its success in bringing virtual college-specific counseling to communities – many rural – where such guidance is limited and college-going has not historically been a part of school culture. CAC’s virtual model employs eAdvisors who rely on a mix of video chat, email, phone calls and text messages to create and sustain student relationships. In a time of school closures and social distancing, leaders in Tennessee and across the nation should consider that a virtual approach to college-and-career counseling may be the solution to the challenge of offering seamless advisement through the pandemic.
To their credit, traditionally in-person counseling programs (like Oasis College Connection and Martha O’Bryan ASUs) have pivoted to a similar approach in recent months. At some point, we will be living in a post-COVID-19 world; and with virtual pathways counseling programs firmly in place, trained counselors may be equipped to reach students in numbers and from distances they could never have achieved through a traditional model.
Though an emphasis on well-trained, student-centered college and career counselors is necessary and important, it would be a mistake to imagine these counselors only as adult administrators. The 2018 documentary “Personal Statement” highlights the work of Peer College Counselors at a New York City high school – young people, themselves high school seniors, guiding their classmates on a path to post-secondary success. The students featured in “Personal Statement” are part of a CARA (College Access: Research and Action) peer-led college access and persistence program, a model that offers 70-80 hours of training and financial compensation to its Peer Leaders as they guide their fellow students through the challenges of college fit, readiness, persistence, and more. As Tennessee confronts the reality that many of our young people do not have access to any form of college and/or career counseling, it is worth considering how the power of mentorship and guidance could flow through the students themselves – another excellent example of innovation in the face of scarcity.
Yes, obstacles to increased counseling services do exist. A lack of funding, lack of classroom space, and lack of necessary time in the school day are perhaps the most oft-cited hurdles. These challenges are real and legitimate; but the state of Tennessee is already home to organizations and initiatives who, through out-of-the-box thinking, have found a way to serve where they are needed. Locally, and across the nation, solutions abound. When we are innovative, we get closer to our goal of bringing intentional, student-centric, college-and-career specific guidance to all TN students. Let’s decide, as a state, that all students are deserving of such guidance; and allow proven solutions to guide our course ahead.
Katie Hazelwood is a Program Officer at the Scarlett Family Foundation, where she champions the Foundation’s college scholarship program and “College and Career Ready” initiatives.Read More
All too often, we place the onus of a college or career pathways choice on young people themselves. Community leaders – in education, government, industry and beyond – make note of the gaps between degrees earned and degrees required, of the chasm between number of students graduating from high school and the number earning a skilled credential or entering the workforce. In Tennessee, we react to these realities – but it’s time we caught the problem upstream. How might our community look different if each of us had been provided intentional, student-centric, college-and-career specific guidance during our high school years – or even earlier?
Perhaps our own parents, guardians, or other trusted adults helped us determine which path we would take after high school. Maybe we benefitted from the service of a college and career-specific counselor. But an assumption that all students have access to this specific brand of academic support would be incorrect, and would not reflect the thinking of a truly equitable public education system. The truth is that not every high-school student has access to guidance from adults equipped to provide education and/or career guidance (also referred to as pathways counseling) to a young person.
The need for expertise in such a role is clear – this counselor should be an individual who knows the ins-and-outs of post-secondary attainment, career pathways, technical education, military opportunities, and so on. A 2018 study found that students with access to advising services are seven percent more likely to enroll in postsecondary education. As the state of Tennessee pushes forward its Drive to 55 Initiative – a goal to see 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025 – dedicated college and career counselors should be regarded as crucial assets in the mission to set young Tennesseans on a path toward economic success.
It is critical to remember that the role of college and career counselor is different from that occupied by a school counselor, who is responsible for myriad student needs including academic counseling, social and emotional health services, and crisis management. With a statewide student-to-counselor ratio of 335:1, and large caseloads proving to be the rule rather than the exception, it is not realistic to assume that Tennessee school counselors have the time, capacity, or requisite training to provide robust pathways counseling in addition to their other key duties.
School counselor education has historically emphasized the social-emotional component of student care, frequently leaving pathways counseling out of the equation. Fortunately, change is coming; in 2016, the main accreditor of American counseling programs added college and career readiness to its practice standards. But applicable programs have until 2023 to comply; and this change will only affect candidates who are in the process of completing a counseling program. Though currently-practicing school counselors may have a deep desire to offer college and career counseling to their students, a robust base of knowledge in the field of pathways counseling cannot be guaranteed. In order to appropriately counsel students through their college and career options, it is essential that college and career counselors – trained to provide exactly this form of guidance – be made available to young Tennesseans.
A pathways counselor’s first priority will often be to walk with a student, hand-in-hand, through the pros and cons of various post-high school pathways. In a perfect world, this pathways counselor will have access to information regarding each student’s individual aptitudes and interests – perhaps determined through a program like YouScience – and will use this information to guide students to their next level of education or to a career. The process of making a pathways choice can be an emotional one, often involving deep self-reflection on one’s own skills, passions, and hopes for the future – combined with consideration of subjects like cost and eligibility. Students who have a trusted hand guiding them through this whirlwind are likely to benefit in the long-term; a 2020 research study found that high-school students guided by effective counselors were more likely to graduate high school, attend college, and persist in college than peers who did not have the same access.
Through a pathways-specific guidance process, a counselor also has the opportunity to introduce students to careers they may never have discovered otherwise. Students do not always have access to such neutral forms of career exploration; research tells us that for many students, a pathways choice is highly influenced by the profession of their parents. In some instances, a student will be well-placed to follow in the footsteps of their parents. But this certainly is not the case for all. A dedicated college and career counselors can coordinate a field trip to the site of a large local employer, organize guest speakers from various walks of professional life, or coordinate internships for their high school students. In today’s socially-distanced reality, a college and career counselor may lean on virtual job-shadowing software to accomplish the same goal. By increasing the availability of college and career counselors, students will be given the opportunity to seek professional guidance from a non-familial adult who has been trained to meet that very need.
The process of pathways examination should eventually lead students to a phase of decision-making – a period of time that will often involve a flurry of forms, tests, deadlines, and fees, all of which can be more easily navigated with the guidance of someone who has experienced this process many times before. This moment in a student’s college-or-career-going journey may also require a series of pivots. Perhaps a career in medicine sounds perfect, until a student comes to understand the time commitment involved with that particular pathway. Maybe launching into a manufacturing career post-high school sounds tempting, until a student realizes that they will not have the opportunity to advance upward without a particular degree in hand. These twists and turns can come loaded with stress and a fear of the unknown – the perfect moment for a professional pathways counselor to step in and responsibly guide the student through the process of changing course.
For so many pieces of a student’s academic journey, a well-trained adult supervisor is regarded as not only beneficial, but absolutely essential. Today, Tennessee schools include teachers, paraprofessionals, speech and language therapists, special education service providers, school counselors, principals – the list goes on and on. But when it comes to the crucial cliff between secondary school and the real world – the world of college, certificates, careers and independence – too little has been done to prevent students from merely dangling off the edge. But there is hope; intentional and thorough college-and-career counseling can help our students bridge this gap. The Scarlett Family Foundation firmly believes that we must prepare our students for success after high school; as such, we designate “College and Career Readiness” as one of our four key initiatives and proudly support organizations who empower students through pathways guidance.
In the next installment of the “Pathways Counseling: The New Essential Service” series, we’ll explore the wide range of innovative counseling solutions popping up across the state of Tennessee and around the country. In the field of pathways counseling, student success stories are plentiful; it’s worth wondering how many Tennessee students could become the stars of such stories if given the right counselor-champion.
Katie Hazelwood is a Program Officer at the Scarlett Family Foundation, where she champions the Foundation’s college scholarship program and “College and Career Ready” initiatives.Read More
For too many Nashville high school students, college seems a distant possibility— or worse, an unattainable dream. But the ability to reach and complete post-secondary education opportunities can be a critical factor in exiting the cycle of poverty.
Recognizing this reality, the Oasis Center formed the Oasis College Connection (OCC) in 2008. This intensive, college-counseling program provides individualized admissions and financial aid expertise to Nashville area students and their families.
At OCC, students connect with a mentor who is responsible for supporting them throughout the college enrollment process. The Center offers ACT prep and FAFSA assistance, as well as opportunities to talk with college representatives and visit college campuses. Most importantly, the OCC helps counsel students on their search for a college or program that will suit their needs and interests best, setting them up for a better chance to be successful in completing their degree. Even after students have graduated high school and entered their post-secondary programs, OCC mentors will continue to offer them guidance and support as they navigate their education journey.
The Scarlett Family Foundation has provided funding for Oasis College Connection since 2008, inspired by the belief that all students deserve access to resources that will allow them to become college ready. Through their school-based model, OCC has worked with over 5,000 Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) students in 10 high schools, their feeder middle schools, and Nashville State Community College.
In order to provide the best resources for students, Oasis College Connection works in close partnership with MNPS, both inside and outside of the classroom. This provides ample opportunity to discuss college access in group settings and to host personalized one-on-one meetings. Teachers and school leaders are true partners to the College Connection mentors, each group collaborating with the others to teach students that tomorrow is as important as today.
Earlier this year, Governor Bill Haslam shared what has motivated his administration’s tireless work on behalf of students, “I do believe in, as much as possible, trying to level the starting line, and the best way to level the starting line is education.” This thought succinctly encompasses the mission our state has set forth: to provide all Tennessee students with a clear, attainable pathway to economic prosperity through education. Not only does a well-educated workforce benefit our state as a whole, but it also ensures that year by year, more Tennesseans will have the ability to support themselves and their families through quality jobs.
Over the last decade, Tennessee has taken bold, purposeful steps to improve the quality of education students are receiving and to support their overall success. After years of progress– and with a change in state leadership forthcoming—we must set our sights on the path ahead, as our next steps will be some of the most important yet. To do that, we need to remember where we have been and evaluate what challenges still lie ahead.
High Expectations and Accountability Laid the Foundation
In 2007, Tennessee received failing marks from the US Chamber of Commerce for “truth in advertising” related to student proficiency results. This became a galvanizing moment for our state, a chance to raise expectations around education in our communities. Tennesseans came together to create and adopt rigorous K-12 standards and addressed tough issues like mandatory assessments and teacher evaluations.
By implementing high standards— and holding our teachers, schools, and students accountable to them— Tennessee has become one of the fastest improving states in the nation and stands out among our Southern peers for student growth.
Although there is much work still to be done, Tennessee has laid a formidable foundation to improve student outcomes and to increase the number of well-prepared students sent on to college and career pathways. We cannot continue this improvement unless we maintain our commitment to high standards and the continual assessment of student learning.
Post-Secondary Education Opportunities are Key to Economic Success
While 87 percent of high school students say they want to go to college, 34 percent of Tennessee’s students forgo higher education to enter the workforce immediately after high school. Without any post-secondary training, these students can expect an annual salary of $10,880— not nearly enough to live on or to raise a family. It is also important to note that at least 55 percent of jobs in our state will require some form of higher education credential by 2025.
All students deserve a bright future, a life that includes a steady job and a living wage, no matter the path they choose to take after high school. For this reason, the stakes are high for our students. The question is no longer, “How do we get students to graduation day?”; but “How can we ensure high school is an on-ramp to college and career?”
Next Step: Building a College-Going Culture
Tennessee is implementing innovative programs and approaches to increase readiness and to create seamless pathways from K-12 to postsecondary certificate or degree attainment after high school.
- As a state, we have set a goal to improve participation rates and performance on the ACT, a key metric of high school students’ college readiness. In 2018, more Tennessee students took the test than ever before and scores are improving.
- Through the Tennessee Promise and Reconnect programs, now any Tennessean has the opportunity to attend two years of community or technical college tuition-free. As a result, our state leads the nation in FAFSA applications; and postsecondary enrollment is up.
- Early Post-Secondary Opportunities and Career and Technical Education programs at our high schools are helping to give students more exposure to potential postsecondary options and equip them with the tools and skills they need to be successful on their chosen path.
- The Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support (SAILS) Program has helped thousands of students get face-to-face instruction time in high school to catch them up and avoid remedial coursework in college. Since launching statewide in 2013, the program reduced the percentage of students needing math remediation by 15 percent.
- The Labor and Education Alignment Program (LEAP) brings together business and education to identify and address high-need skills gaps in a region. LEAP grants created opportunity for students to participate in dual enrollment, work-based learning and career exploration programs for high-demand jobs.
Through the programs above, Tennessee is redefining what it means to go to college. By offering students both financial and educational support, our state is ensuring that Tennessee students have more onramp opportunities for postsecondary education and then stay on track to complete a degree or credential. Technical colleges, community colleges, certification programs and 4-year universities are all producing the certifications, degrees and credentials that the workforce of today and tomorrow will require; our students should view each of these options as a powerful pathway to prosperity.
Tennessee will welcome new state leadership in the coming year. Our new governor, in tandem with our state legislators, will have a prime opportunity to shape education policy in ways that will have lasting impact on our workforce and economy. These leaders should focus on accelerating our progress by building upon education policies and reforms that have been shown to work, and finding innovative solutions to persistent challenges.
Over the past decade, we have witnessed the ways in which our students can benefit when elected officials from both parties join forces with education, business and community leaders. If we encourage the leaders of our state to dedicate themselves to expanding the programs that are working well, enabling more students to exit K-12 well-prepared for their next steps in life, we could forever change what it means to live and work in Tennessee.Read More
In the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success, a citywide framework to improve Nashville’s literacy rates, the words “parent,” “family(ies),” and “generation” are mentioned more than 300 times. The Blueprint’s research and recommendations indicate that parental engagement is critical for childhood success. However, such support is practically impossible for parents who can’t read or who lack English-speaking skills.
The Nashville Public Library estimates that 250,000 Nashvillians need adult education support, like basic literacy, high school equivalency, and English. As a city, we are serving just one percent. Adult literacy rates impact every part of Nashville: employment and poverty levels, healthcare costs, K-12 school performance, and general dependence on systems for support.
The Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC)’s vision is for all Nashville adults to attain the literacy skills they need to navigate life and support their children. NALC learners become more independent and confident through improved health, financial security, and family and community engagement.
NALC’s mission is to teach reading, writing, and English-speaking skills to Nashville adults. Since 2008, the Foundation has supported the Start Now tutoring program at the Antioch branch. Their services provide learners with a safe place to learn and grow, primarily through one-on-one tutoring, supported by a network of dedicated volunteers. The nonprofit efficiently coordinates with partners and ensures students find the best options for their goals so they can feel the difference in their day-to-day lives.
Whether it’s working toward a new job, earning a degree, or helping a child with homework, NALC values and prioritizes each individual’s learning needs. In short, NALC teaches children how to read by teaching parents how to read.Read More
Academies of Nashville: Helping High School Students Earn a Post-Secondary Credential & Be Career-Ready
The majority of jobs in today’s economy require education beyond high school before employment. Having the opportunity to gain an industry certification while enrolled in high school equips students with a market-ready skill upon graduation. Colleges and universities also value industry certifications, as this designation indicates a student has successfully taken and passed a rigorous exam in a specific field, demonstrating promise for college and career success.
The Academies of Nashville, housed in the 12 largest neighborhood high school campuses of Metro Nashville Public Schools, provide students the ability to pursue a career pathway of study in fields ranging from healthcare and engineering to hospitality and automotive technology— all before graduation. Every pathway offers early college credit and many provide an opportunity to gain an industry credential. However, the exams can cost up to several hundred dollars— a prohibitive financial barrier for many students.
In partnership with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the Foundation provided funding to support the expansion of MNPS’s student industry certifications program and help remove that financial barrier for students pursuing a credential.
Specifically, the three-year investment helped to defray the cost of industry certification examination fees and supported professional development for career and technical education teachers to earn the related industry certifications.
As a result, the number of students registered and sitting for the exams nearly doubled in the 2017-2018 school year. The number of students who passed industry certifications also increased, raising the pass rate two percentage points to 61 percent.Read More