Michigan Could Become a Model for High School Counselor Training

Sarah is MSU's top admissions person other than Jim Cotter
Michigan State’s Sarah Summerhill

By Kim Lifton

President, Wow Writing Workshop

Michigan could become a national model for counselor training when a new law requiring high school counselors to complete college and career guidance training to renew their state licenses goes into effect in 2020.

It will be the first state in the U.S. mandating that counselors add specific training to their professional development licensing requirements.

The law follows a decade of lobbying efforts by two well-known college admissions industry advocates, Patrick O’Connor, the associate dean of college counseling for the Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, MI, and Sarah Summerhill, the assistant director of admissions at Michigan State University and former chair of the NACAC Government Relations Committee. The duo had support from many organizations, including  MACAC, MCAN, the Michigan Home Building Association and the College Board.

“It was worth the effort,” O’Connor told Link for Counselors. “This will keep counselors current.”

“It was well worth the effort.”
Amazing high school counselor Pat O'Connor from Cranbrook Schools
Patrick O’Connor

O’Connor took a few minutes to chat about the new law with Kim Lifton, president, Wow Writing Workshop. Kim is a regular contributor to Link for CounselorsO’Connor said he is hopeful this is just the beginning of a trend in college admissions. Counselors, he said, need to stay up-to-date in this rapidly changing world. They also must understand alternative options to four-year degrees, such as skilled trades and technical training programs.

Kim LiftonWhat types of courses will count toward professional development credit?

Patrick O’Connor: We don’t know just yet. The Michigan Department of Education will convene a group of interested parties (I will be on the committee) to discuss what will count for the credit. The rules will be up and posted by July 1. The Michigan Department of Education will develop rules and guidelines to enforce these new requirements.

KL: How will mandatory training focused on counselor training improve current training? 

PO: Currently, counselors are required to take 150 hours of professional development every five years to maintain their licenses. Nearly all that development is geared toward teachers, not counselors. When the new law kicks in, 25 of those 150 professional development hours must be completed in activities focused on college counseling; another 25 must be completed in activities focused on career counseling. Of the 25 career counseling hours, 5 must be focused on career options in the military.  Once counselors see what’s out there, they will be more inclined to participate in more college-ready and career-ready courses and spend less time in teacher development programs.

Counselor Training for Career-Readiness

KL: Are college-ready and career-ready the same thing? 

PO: No. Different life experiences require different preparations. We do all students a disservice when we develop a school counseling curriculum that assumes the skills needed to become a machinist are the same skills needed to make it through graduate school.  Once we accept the idea that difference is valued, we can get on with the business of meeting individual needs with something other than a one-size-fits-all approach to life after high school. Then we’ll get more students interested in what we have to say. ​
KL: How will this new requirement help students?

POStudents and families need the latest information in college and career trends to make strong, personalized decisions about life after high school.  Counselors can only give them this information if they have it themselves.  This training will achieve that goal.

KL: Will the Michigan Department of Education consider granting professional development credits for college visits?

PO: If this is done right, counselors will have the opportunity to see what’s out there. We want to see if we can get that included.

KL: Will counselors be able to tour technical training schools and manufacturing plants for credit?

PO: That is the hope. Counselors should know what’s out there for students beyond college after graduation. Counselors toured a plant that was directly across from a high school; they had never before gone to the plant. While there, the owner told them he needed skilled workers. He told them if they had kids who wanted to go to college, and they came to work for him, he would pay for college.

Wow Writing Workshop is a strategic communication and writing firm founded by professional writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been used by students to write application essays and resumes; by business owners to create blogs, websites and other communication materials; and by English teachers to improve student writing skills.