Column: Why our kids need better career counselors

Joan Helwig and Patrick O'Connor

The need to improve Michigan schools is great, and some solutions will take time, but we don’t have to wait on everything.

A bill that’s already passed the Michigan House and waiting for action from the Senate Education Committee will immediately help fill a gaping hole in the career and college needs of Michigan’s students.

House Bill 4552 makes sure school counselors are trained in the updated information on Michigan’s college and career trends they need to help students make good choices when it comes to the educational opportunities and careers they’ll pursue once they graduate.

This bill is based in part on the testimony of business leaders who are eager to offer good paying jobs to well-trained students, including good-paying jobs in skilled trades and other fields that may not require four years on campus. It’s also based on the requests of many school counselors, who haven’t received new information on some of these ever-changing options. The bill ensures school counselors spend at least part of their required professional development hours learning about the current — and future — trends in helping students choose colleges and careers.

Business leaders aren’t the only ones who recognize the important role counselors play in helping students build strong futures. A recent study by the Center for Michigan found over 60 percent of Michiganders, including parents, felt college and career advising could be significantly improved. With the help of up-to-date counselors, students can match their plans more closely to their skills. This makes them more likely to make the most of the opportunities they have now, once they understand their relationship to the life they want in the future. The House’s legislation will help them make that vital connection.

Michigan school counselors face overwhelming odds meeting all of the needs of their students, since there are 728 students for every school counselor in Michigan. Despite those daunting numbers, timely training can make all the difference in the world to a student. Counselors who recently completed a newly designed professional development program in career and college advising walked away with stronger skills to work with 8th and 9th graders, as students are transitioning to high school. By developing grade appropriate activities for these early years, counselors make sure students and their families are better prepared for all that needs to be done during the junior and senior years. This gives students the chance to explore all of their career and college options, without rushing into a decision that isn’t fully developed.

Michigan students deserve the latest information on all of their postsecondary options, and they deserve a skilled counselor who is able to interpret updated material and create a wide array of options to match each student’s interests and strengths. By modifying the current requirements for the ongoing training of school counselors, the Senate Education Committee will be making government and local school districts more responsive to the needs of Michigan’s students, parents, businesses, counselors, and economy.

Passing House Bill 4552 should be the committee’s first item of business after its return from spring break.

Joan Helwig is a counselor in Marlette Community Schools. Patrick O’Connor is associate dean of college counseling at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills.