More Than Gatekeepers - Higher Education

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More Than Gatekeepers

by OMAR M. COOK, LAWSON BUSH V, AND EDWARD C. BUSH

High school guidance counselors have extraordinary influence in steering Black males to college or to the streets.

Black males have chronically been in the lower percentiles of students qualifying for entry to four-year institutions as compared to other ethnic and gender groups. There are a myriad of axiomatic factors such as a lack of opportunities to learn because of less qualified instructors and advanced course offerings, institutional racism, and incongruent cultural backgrounds that have contributed to this quandary. Yet, the role guidance counselors play in this matter has been significantly understudied and severely underestimated.

In Omar Cook’s (2007) dissertation, “African-American Males’ Reflections on Their Preparation and Access to Post-Secondary Opportunities: The Impact of Counselors’ Activities, Interactions and Roles in Urban Schools,” he found that counselors may be more than passive gatekeepers as suggested by previous scholars, playing a more assertive role in funneling Black males away from college altogether or into the California community colleges. Moreover, the study suggests that non-Black counselors showed an unwillingness to consistently provide unequivocal, adequate and sufficient college-related pedagogical practices, options, pathways, and services to African-American males. This is evidenced in the following quotes by two participants of the study:

“Her race (Caucasian) was a factor. None of the counselors put much priority behind Black students. I think it was just an assumption that we were not interested in education beyond high school.”

 “Her race (Caucasian) was a factor. I think she had a little bit of bias and favoritism with White kids. She communicated more with them by asking more questions and going in-depth with options and benefits regarding college stuff. We only had “in and out” sessions that were very limited in communication regarding college and personal inquiries.”

These types of interactions can directly influence college-going rates. In looking at college attendance data as of fall 2006, 81 percent of all Black males in California public colleges and universities were enrolled in California community colleges in comparison to 70 percent of White males and 60 percent of Asian males. In addition, Black males attend community colleges in greater numbers than Black females, according to the California Postsecondary Education Commission 2006 report. As of fall 2006, there was a total of 58,486 Black males enrolled in California public institutions of higher education. Among the percent of Black males enrolled in California public colleges in fall 2006, 4 percent attended a school in the University of California system, 15 percent attended a California State University and 81 percent were at community colleges.

The relegation of Black males to the community college system is maintained both by the individual biases and perceptions of counselors as found in the aforementioned study and by institutional racism and neglect. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, California ranks 51st in the national ranking of student-to-counselor ratio among all states including the District of Columbia. The average student-to-counselorratio in California high schools is 486:1. The student-to-counselor ratio recommended by the American Counselor Association and other counseling organizations is 250:1. California, one of the wealthiest states in the country, has moved towards the bottom in per pupil spending as the state’s school population has darkened.

Furthermore, because of a lack of sufficient counselors particularly in urban areas, they have little time to provide the amount of quality and comprehensive career and college information that is needed to properly guide and motivate students. Many counselors spend a great deal of their time handling discipline referrals and attendance issues while also having the responsibility of making hundreds of schedule changes throughout the school year.

In an effort to provide a remedy for these issues, we recommend more structural and pedagogical changes that include substantive modifications in counselor training and professional duties such as 1) the implementation of an introspection component in graduate programs that allows for a self-examination of counselors values and attitudes; 2) restructuring the role of counselors’ in public schools to enforce the suggested counselor-to-student ratio of 250:1; however, we recommend a 200:1 ratio because that would give counselors a chance to provide more in-depth and personalized services; and 3) an increase and mandate for culturally specific in-service programs.

Additionally, Black male participants in Cook’s study suggested the following to improve the counseling relationship and college-going rates:

• Get to know them better and provide more motivation instead of assuming they aren’t interested in college.

•Provide sufficient information on college campus presentations. The hope is that the counseling community will take these recommendations and suggestions and incorporate them accordingly, so that counselors can position themselves to engage with Black males culturally, pedagogically and intellectually.

Dr. Omar M. Cook is an adjunct professor at National University and El Camino Community College. Dr. Lawson Bush V is a professor in the Charter School of Education at California State University, Los Angeles. Dr. Edward C. Bush is vice president of Student Services, Riverside Community College.

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