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Reimagining the Road to Graduation

The Need for Extraordinary Systems to Get Students to and Through College

Who assists students on their journey to and through college and career, and how can they work together to build better systems of support?


Counselors & College Access Organizations   /   K-12 Staff   /   Higher Education Staff   /   Families   /   Peers   /   Employers & Community-based Organizations   /   Policymakers   /   Funders & Intermediaries


Counselors & College Access Organizations


Counselors and college access organizations (CAOs) provide college advising and logistical support to young people at various points in their educational journey, often working in place-based settings, including K-12 schools, community-based organizations, and institutions of higher education. But counselors are commonly stretched thin — the average caseload among school counselors has improved in the past three decades, but remains high at 430 students per counselor, a ratio that is even higher in many low-income communities. School counselors don’t have enough time or resources to make sure all their students are on track. Moreover, since the pandemic, these adults have shifted their focus to triaging the immediate needs of young people, such as mental health crises or lack of access to food.

“This morning I was on a phone call with a counselor. She's a star — she knows every kid, she is high energy, and she's been a counselor for 25 years. She said, ‘This is a year like no other.’” —Leader, college access organization, Mississippi Delta

Common Pitfalls That Counselors and CAOs Face
  • Insufficient time due to high caseloads and/or expanding job descriptions.
  • Limited access to data about how their students are performing in real time.
  • Generic resources that do not easily adapt to individual student needs.
Mindset Shifts to Help Counselors and CAOs Better Target Their Support
  • Form holistic relationships with students that go beyond college logistics and create space for students to share a wide range of concerns.
  • Tailor supports to meet students’ individual needs.
  • Bring students’ family members into the conversation about attending and affording college earlier and more frequently than many programs currently do.
Opportunities to Build a More Coherent System in Concert with Other Adults
  • Elevate student stories and data about their postsecondary experiences and needs to school/institution leaders, funders/intermediaries, and policymakers.
Further Reading
  • View student stories where counselors or college access organizations played a supportive role: Mel, Frankie, Xavier
  • View a complete list of concrete recommendations for counselors and college access organizations here.
Meet the Supporters
Who supports students on their journey to and through college and career? What mindset shifts can these supporters make to better coordinate high school, postsecondary, and workforce systems?