“Counselors’ work load is so large that it’s humanly impossible to reach all the students that might need that extra push. There’s a gap.”

Joan Klaus,

founder, College and Career Readiness Network

The problem

High school guidance counselors are in short supply, and those on the job struggle to serve an overwhelming number of students while keeping up with a host of administrative tasks. As a result, many CPS students do not get enough guidance to succeed in high school and move on to college or the workforce.

CPS counselors are assigned to high schools at the ratio of one for every 360 students; the American School Counselor Association recommends one for every 250 students. Experiments to reduce the ratio in some high schools, such as North Lawndale Charter High, have produced results, but a counselor shortage makes hiring difficult, and in these tough economic times, the School Board couldn’t afford to pay them. Upcoming retirements are likely to make the situation worse.

Since 1997, high schools have been required to offer an advisory class that pairs a teacher with a group of students for four years. The class is intended to help students bond with someone on school staff who could help them realize their goals, but research indicates it has yet to fulfill its mission on a large scale.

Staggering statistics

Forty percent of respondents to a survey of CPS’s class of 2000 said they received no help from faculty or counselors with college applications. African-American and Latino students, who are more likely to drop out and less likely to attend college for a variety of reasons, rely more heavily on guidance counselors to get information about colleges and careers, and to prevent them from falling through the cracks. Yet a recent survey of students at four mostly Latino Chicago high schools found that 27 percent had never met their counselor.

Filling the gap

District purse strings are tight, and it’s unlikely that additional counselors will be hired anytime soon. The strategic planning department recently convened a group of educators to study the high school advisory program and recommend ways to improve it.

More promising is the growing number of nonprofits offering tutoring, mentoring and college readiness services to students who need it. Ten years ago, a group of Cabrini-Green volunteers formed the Tutor/Mentor Connection, which today recruits volunteer tutors for over 500 youth programs.

Joan Klaus, a Bank One Corp. vice president, founded the College and Career Readiness Network for organizations that provide college readiness programs to low-income and minority students. About 140 area corporate and nonprofit groups have joined. Partnerships with local hospitals have resulted in on-site health clinics at several schools, including Lake View High, where counselors are particularly adept at teamwork and networking. These clinics offer mental health and counseling services, taking some of the load off school counselors.


“Twenty Questions to Ask Your Guidance Counselor” and other tips to help students prepare for college can be found on the College Board web site.

For information on the College and Career Readiness Network, a coalition of college readiness agencies and programs, call (312) 494-6745.

The Tutor/Mentor Connection recruits volunteer tutors, trains them and offers other support services for area tutoring and mentoring programs. It also publishes a directory of places where after-school tutoring is held. For information, call 312-492-9614 or visit the web site.

Another college readiness program, Early Outreach, is open to students in 3rd through 12th grades. Classes are held at University of Illinois at Chicago. Call (312) 996-2549.

Tutoring to Educate for Aims and Motivation (TEAM) offers tutoring and college prep for students in the West Town community. Call (312) 666-3430 or visit the web site.

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