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The Lot of a Counselor: A Survey of the Field

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In a national survey of  916 secondary school counselors, most cited numerous responsibilites.

College counseling 92%
Personal counseling 89
Academic counseling 84
Student scheduling 81
Test-related activites 80

The survey also shows big caseloads for the counselors, especially those in public schools.  

                    Student-to-Counselor Ratios

Average Range
Public Schools 330 (40-700)
Religious Schools 218 (60-553)
Private Schools 161 (40-425)
ASCA ideal                                                                                    100
ASCA maximum                                                                           300
SOURCE: National Association for College Admission Counseling and the American School Counselor Association.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling in Alexandria, Va., wanted to find out what school counselors' lives are like. So association officials last year asked a University of Georgia professor to conduct a "baseline" survey of school counselors. Education Week obtained a copy of the results, which have not yet been released in final form.

Nationally, 87,528 guidance counselors worked in public schools in 1995-96--the last year for which data were available. Of those, 53,557 had jobs in secondary schools.

About half the 6,149 school counselors surveyed nationwide were association members, and half were randomly selected from a sample provided by Market Data Retrieval in Chicago; 916 completed surveys were returned. Though a response rate of just 15 percent was "reasonably acceptable," it "must be considered a limitation when interpreting the findings," the report says.

Counselors from all 50 states responded to the survey. Seventy-nine percent worked in the public schools, the rest in religious and other private schools. Two-thirds of those who replied were female, and 88 percent were of non-Hispanic white heritage. Based on the data collected, the "average" guidance counselor is a 48-year-old white woman with 12 years of experience working full time in the public schools.

Counselors have many names, the survey found, from "alpha counselor" to "sophomore counselor." Some carry unwieldy titles such as "director of guidance, college placement services, graduate opportunities, student services, and studies."

Counselors also have a lot on their plates. The survey listed five activities that at least eight of 10 respondents said were part of their responsibilities: college counseling, personal counseling, academic counseling, scheduling of students, and test-related activities.

The amount of time that counselors spend at their jobs--42 hours a week--was consistent nationwide, but the student caseload was not. Public school counselors were assigned anywhere from 40 students to 700 students each. The caseload in private schools and religious schools was substantially lighter.

Clerical and administrative tasks claimed up to 25 percent of the work time of nearly seven in 10 counselors. But almost three out of 10 said they spend no time on such tasks. On average, counselors spend just under 20 percent of their time, or eight hours a week, doing clerical and administrative duties.

Respondents reported that, on average, they spent 20 hours a week--about half their time--in direct contact with students, including more than 10 hours on college-admission-related activities. About seven hours a week went to personal counseling of students, and professional development received less than two hours. Despite the actual allocation of their time, the counselors said they felt that their most important tasks were individual counseling and college counseling.

Technology seems to have made significant inroads for counselors: More than 90 percent said they had access to computer and word processing software support at work as well as to a fax machine. Nearly nine in 10 had access to a computerized system of student records and to software for college searches.

Overall, counselors seem satisfied with their career choices--95 percent reported they were either "very satisfied" or "satisfied" with counseling. All counselors expressed somewhat less satisfaction with their current positions. Counselors in private schools and religious schools expressed greater satisfaction with both their career choice and their current posts than did those in public schools.

--MILLICENT LAWTON

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