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School Counselors Say Support Is Critical To Student Success, Jobs

By Tiffany Rider - Senior Writer

January 29, 2013 - It’s been said those who fail to plan, plan to fail.

That may be harsh, but research has shown students with a clear educational path and career goal are more likely to complete their education than those who are undecided.

Academic advising begins at the high school level, where students have the opportunity to visit a counselor to review job opportunities, apply for college and even discuss personal goals. “Counseling is a vital component in K-12,” Chris Eftychiou, spokesperson for Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), said in an e-mail. “Community colleges and universities are looking for students who already have an idea what their career choices are when they arrive on their campuses. That way a student can move expeditiously through their programs and help increase the college’s completion rates in a timely manner.”

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According to research published by Columbia University in April 2011, “Many new students arrive at community colleges without clear goals for college and careers. Community colleges offer a wide array of programs but typically provide little guidance to help students choose and successfully enter a program of study.

Community college departments often do not closely monitor the progress of students who do enter their programs to ensure that they complete [the programs].”

Long Beach educators and legislators alike recognize this issue and are working on different methods of supporting education planning and increasing job preparedness to help students get on a career path. On the legislative side, the Seymour-Campbell Student Success Act was introduced in 2012 by then-State Sen. Alan Lowenthal and officially became law last September.

The act is a revision of the existing Seymour-Campbell Matriculation Act of 1986 for the purpose of increasing access and success rates of community college students in California through education planning services. Moreover, it requires the development of a formula for appropriating funds to the student success and support program enacted through the legislation.

The Seymour-Campbell Student Success Act becomes operative only if funds are allocated. While the state budget situation has improved over last year, funding sources are still scarce for programs like this. In the meantime, Long Beach educators are making those types of efforts here through programs like the Long Beach College Promise for LBUSD high school students – offering a tuition-free semester at LBCC and guaranteed college admission to students who meet transfer standards – and career development programs at LBCC and local universities.

“The days of career exploration in college are becoming a thing of the past,” Eftychiou said. “Students need to become aware of the career exploration process much earlier and be able to apply these principles throughout their life, because they will likely change their career path many times over their life span.”

Over the past five years, budget slimming has resulted in a loss of 48 counseling positions and two career center supervisor positions have been cut in just the past year, Eftychiou said. And while counselors do want to help students plan for careers, current caseloads – academic planning, monitoring student progress, parent engagement, personal crises and other school activities – limit how much career planning takes place.

Greg Peterson, vice president of student support services at Long Beach City College (LBCC), leads counseling and student affairs, among other elements of his division. Hired in February 2011, Peterson came to LBCC with the intention of increasing student degree completion and university transfer rates.

There are currently 30 career counselors and university transfer advisors at LBCC, plus up to 10 additional staff to assist students at the career and transfer center. Due to budget reductions over the past five years, Peterson said LBCC had to make reductions in career counseling areas and opted to consolidate the college’s career center and transfer center. As funding begins to support the Student Success Act, career counseling at community colleges across the state will receive a much-needed boost, he said.

“The majority of students need assistance in determining what their long term goals are,” Peterson said. “All students need long-term career counseling. We are just now developing broad based models. Expectations on the senate bill are high.”

These counselors use multiple methods to help students identify education and job goals. “For students who are really unclear, needing more time or attention, we provide career exploration tools to allow students to take various assessments on career interests and strengths,” Peterson said. Those tools include online platforms where students submit data on their interests, desired annual income and lifestyle choices.

“Because education is linked to our economy, we don’t have the luxury of students wandering through college,” Peterson said. “The focus is on completion and completing quickly.” As education funding resources dwindle, fewer courses become available through the state’s public system at a state-subsidized rate.

Soon all degree programs will be impacted, requiring students to meet more prerequisites in high school or community college before they arrive, according to Peterson. “It puts more urgency on the community colleges and high schools to help students at a young age define a career path,” he said. We have to give them something to move forward. We have to focus on career counseling.”

Freshman students at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), are required to work with academic advisors twice in that first year of study, though this initial counseling is geared more toward declaring a major and mapping a path toward graduation rather than to a career. “We have 25 years of data behind us that academic advising helps students graduate,” said Lynn Mahoney, associate vice president of undergraduate academic advising at CSULB. “We believe in lots of advising.”

And while majors like engineering have career counseling elements built into coursework, other areas of study like mathematics and the sciences typically do not. Mahoney did say it is a goal, however, to have career counseling courses as part of all majors in the future.

Manuel Pérez is the director of the career development center at CSULB. Career counseling is available to current students and CSULB graduates for one year after graduating. Former students are able to take advantage of services on a subscription basis thereafter.

The career development center offers PROCESS, a method for students to follow when making major or career decisions. The acronym stands for: personal assessment; research careers; organize findings; clarify career options; evaluate findings; select options; and set into motion (action). “The better a student understands themselves and what they want to do, the better decisions students will make regarding their educational and career plans,” Pérez said in an e-mail.

Despite the budget challenges, CSULB has been able to materialize resources to meet career development and advisory demand of its students. In addition, the campus’ career development center works with local businesses like Molina Healthcare and public entities such as the Long Beach Airport to build an employment community. Companies post job openings and internship opportunities. Some even set up information sessions where business representatives come to campus and promote their presence.

To build upon the existing business partners, Pérez said the center recently established a new position – an employer and job employment specialist responsible for reaching out to agencies and companies in the greater community to encourage participation on campus.

“I believe that everything a student does and experiences at the university has an impact on that student’s career destiny,” he said. “Thus it is the university’s responsibility to provide career counseling to educate and show students how the decisions they are making, activities in which they are engaged in and courses they are enrolled in affect their career destiny.”