Starting Students off on the Right Foot and Keeping Them on the Right Track!

May
2011
Kevin Bontenbal, Chair, Counseling and Library Faculty Issues Committee

Counseling programs in the California community colleges play a key role in helping students succeed. Over the years, the functions of counseling departments have multiplied significantly, further exacerbating the ever-present pressure to serve more students with the same number of counseling faculty. Students are the first to complain of the difficultly of getting in to see a counselor, as evidenced by increasingly long lines at walk-up windows and the two to three week waits to get an appointment. Counselors and other faculty will also attest to this dilemma and are keenly aware of the importance of counselors in assisting students to reach their academic goals.

The significant role counseling faculty play in the success of students has also been reinforced by numerous research based documents such as Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success in California Community Colleges (Center for Student Success, 2007), Facilitating Community College Transfer: A Master Plan Mandate, (Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates, Spring 2009), Community College Transfer Task Force: Findings and Recommendations Aimed at Strengthening the Community College Transfer Process (Intersegmental Task Force, September 2009), California Community College Transfer: Recommended Guidelines (California Community College Chancellor’s Office and California Community College Transfer Center Directors Association, 2006), and Crafting a Student-Centered Transfer Process in California: Lessons From Other States (Institute of Higher Education Leadership and Policy, August 2009).

Resolution, 8.02 S10, “Title 5 Changes to Include Counselor to Student Ratio,” further acknowledges the importance of counseling faculty in the success of students. This resolution requests that the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges work with the Chancellor’s Office to change Title 5 to indicate that the minimum number of required counseling faculty be based on the recommended counselor to student ratio of 1:370 cited in the Academic Senate adopted paper Consultation Council Task Force on Counseling (2003).

As valuable as such a change to Title 5 would be, the reality is that this could take a long time and even if it were changed, not all colleges follow Title 5 regulations to the letter. Recognizing this situation, Resolution 8.02 S10 also encourages local senates to work with their collective bargaining units to add reasonable minimum counselor to student ratios into local contracts, knowing that local contracts in many instances carry more authority in practice than regulation. As with other issues, when local academic senates work collaboratively with their bargaining units, the outcome proves beneficial to faculty and students. For senates in need of assistance with establishing or strengthening their relationship with their local union, the Academic Senate paper Developing a Model for Effective Senate/Union Relations (1996) provides useful guidance.

The precipitous decline in the system-wide number of counseling faculty can be attributed in large part to recent events, including the decimation of categorical funding (given that campuses commonly hire counseling faculty using matriculation funds), a significantly smaller portion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act than was expected (affecting many campuses that had planned to use these funds to backfill categorical funding), and the fallacy of the 50% law that claims counseling functions do not directly support instruction. As a result, colleges are incentivized to limit expenditures on counseling activities, including hiring. The timing has never been better to recognize the value of counselors in helping students reach their academic goals. Colleges can do this locally by codifying this value into local contracts and on a state level by advocating for Title 5 changes to define a minimum ratio of counselors to students. Together we can help students get started off well and keep them on the right track!

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.