When Are Counseling Paraprofessionals Appropriate? A Friendly Reminder

Mary Beth Barrios, San Bernardino Valley College, Member of Counseling and Library Faculty Issue Committee
Char Perlas, Mission College, Member of Counseling and Library Faculty Issue Committee

During this tumultuous economy, districts find themselves entertaining a variety of solutions as a means of tackling severe budget reductions, and colleges are faced with the impossible task of providing quality student services without adequate resources. As a result, paraprofessionals may have absorbed additional duties previously performed by a robust counseling department. This article is written as a reminder of the uses and limitations of the paraprofessional staff as outlined in the Academic Senate’s adopted papers The Role of Counseling Faculty in the California Community Colleges (1994) and The Standards of Practice for California Community College Counseling Programs (1997).

Paraprofessionals, also referred to as counseling assistants and information technicians, are comparable to instructional assistants within the classrooms (ASCCC, 1994). Individuals hired within paraprofessional positions range from bachelor’s degree recipients to community college students. Discrepancies found within paraprofessional hiring practices reinforce the importance of identifying the primary role of the paraprofessional within California community college counseling departments.

Similar caution should be applied in the use of computer-assisted systems. Expanded use of technology is arguably one method of reaching more students with limited resources, but the vital role face-to-face counseling plays in a student’s success should not be underestimated. According to The Role of Counseling Faculty in the California Community Colleges (1994), the role of paraprofessionals is limited to three main activities:

  1. Assisting at registration by providing information and referring students to campus offices and services: This information might include important dates and deadlines or how to read a class schedule. Paraprofessionals can also assist students in scheduling classes once the course list or student educational plan has been developed by counseling faculty.
  2. Providing information about program requirements: Many counseling departments prepare materials about college programs to help students plan their schedules. Paraprofessionals could disseminate this information.
  3. Facilitating and supporting activities: There are many useful activities that paraprofessionals could provide in Transfer Centers, Career Centers, Assessment Centers, Disabled Student Programs, and Extended Opportunity Programs. They might assist students in using reference materials or computerized career information systems. Paraprofessionals can coordinate university tours or visits by university representatives. They may also design and organize advertising for center activities or make classroom presentations to students about the services of various campus offices and programs. In addition, they might provide placement test results, as long as their interpretation is left to faculty. Additional responsibilities could include assisting with community outreach, such as high school visits and outreach (pp. 8 – 9).

Community college students face many barriers that may include low socio-economic status, poor academic preparation, lack of familial support, lack of confidence or awareness of their place in the world. These are challenges that make the community college student especially at risk of failure and lower success rates. To help students combat these challenges, a counselor’s expertise in student development, counseling techniques, assessments and evaluations are essential (ASCCC, 1994). The benefit of counseling and its direct link to student success is also well documented in the literature: Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success in California Community Colleges (Center for Student Success), Facilitating Community College Transfer: A Master Plan Mandate (ICAS), The Transfer Velocity Project: Key Findings on Student Transfer in California Community Colleges (RP Group), Community College Transfer Task Force: Findings and Recommendations Aimed at Strengthening the Community College Transfer Process (Intersegmental Task Force), California Community College Transfer: Recommended Guidelines (California Community College Chancellor’s Office and California Community College Transfer Center Directors Association), and Crafting a Student-Centered Transfer Process in California: Lessons From Other States (Institute of Higher Education Leadership and Policy).

Paraprofessional responsibilities should not extend beyond information dissemination. When the duties expand into goal setting, planning or decision making, the paraprofessional has overstepped his/her professional boundaries. It is recommended that paraprofessional roles and duties be assessed to ensure that paraprofessionals do not extend beyond the objective of providing students with requested information. A simple question regarding class scheduling has the propensity to lead to questions relating to decision making, goal setting and planning (ASCCC, 1994). According to The Standards of Practice for California Community College Counseling Programs (1997), “Paraprofessionals should not be expected to perform tasks that go beyond their qualifications” (p. 8).

As suggested in The Standards of Practice for California Community College Counseling Programs (1997), if paraprofessionals are utilized, proper training and supervision are imperative. Both training and supervision should be conducted with counselors taking an active role in both. Training methods could include individual one-on-one trainings, small group trainings, or an in-service training to the greater college community in order to differentiate the goals and responsibilities between counselors and paraprofessionals. Trainings and supervision should include clearly defined responsibilities and a counselor referral process. Identification badges, that include name and position, should be provided along with ethical and confidentiality regulations.

Title 5 directs California Community Colleges to provide “an adequate counseling staff, both in training and experience…” (§ 51975). As we face this cycle of economic difficulty and specifically the decimation of categorical funding, California community colleges are put in the challenging position of cutting costs while still providing an “adequate” level of service. In light of this, we must ensure that the methods we use to do so are not to the detriment of students and their success.


Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC). (1994). The role of counseling faculty in the California community colleges. Sacramento, CA: Author. Retrieved March 14, 2010, from http://www.asccc.org/Publications/Papers/Role_counselingfaculty.html.

Academic Senate for California Community Colleges (ASCCC). (1994). The standards of practice for California community college counseling programs. Sacramento, CA: Author. Retrieved March 14, 2010, from http://www.asccc.org/Publications/Papers/Standards_counseling_programs.html.

California Community College Chancellor’s Office and Transfer Center Directors (CCCCO). 2006. California community college transfer: Recommended guidelines. Sacramento, CA: Author. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://www.cccco.edu/Portals/4/SS/TransferArtic/policy/rec_trans_guideli....

Center for Student Success. (2007, February). Basic skills as a foundation for success in California community colleges. Sacramento, CA: California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. Retrieved March 14, 2010, from http://www.cccbsi.org/publications.

Institute of Higher Education. (2009). Crafting a student-centered transfer process in California: lessons from other states. Sacramento, CA: Author. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from http://www.csus.edu/ihelp/pdfs/r_transfer_report_08-09.pdf.

Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates (ICAS). (2009). Facilitating community college transfer: A master plan mandate

Intersegmental Task Force. (2009). Community college transfer task force: Findings and recommendations aimed at strengthening the community college transfer process. Research and Planning Group (RP). (2009). The transfer velocity project: Key findings on student transfer in California community colleges. Author. Retrieved March 16, 2010 from http://www.rpgroup.org/documents/TVPBrief.pdf.

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