Support needed for college, career exploration

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Emily Shields serves as the executive director of the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees, a statewide association dedicated to the success of Iowa’s 15 Community College and their students, staff, faculty and communities.

Emily Shields serves as the executive director of the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees, a statewide association dedicated to the success of Iowa’s 15 Community College and their students, staff, faculty and communities.

As we recover from COVID-19, Iowa is confronted with many challenges, among them a growing workforce shortage and declines in higher education enrollment.

The percentage of high school graduates pursuing education or training beyond high school has declined for three years in a row for the first time in history. At the same time, the demand for skilled workers to fuel economic expansion greatly exceeds the number of people with the skills to fill open positions.

There are many facets to these dual problems. One of them is a lack of guidance and support for high school students considering their college and career options. Research has shown that school counselors are key to a successful transition to post-secondary education and training. Their influence is especially significant for low-income and first-generation college students who may not have guidance available at home.

Unfortunately, caseloads and mental health needs do not always allow for counselors to play this role. Iowa’s average ratio is one counselor for 418 students and while that is below the national average, it is much higher than the 250 or fewer recommended by the American School Counselor Association.

As a part of the solution, the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees, alongside all 15 Community College presidents, have proposed the rapid expansion of the state’s College and Career Transitional Counselors (CCTC) program. Four counselors have been hired so far, and funding was recently awarded for 13 more counselors.

The people in these positions are shared between community colleges and one or more high schools, and they assist Iowa high school students in exploring college options to prepare for available careers.

The CCTC model of shared positions between high schools and community colleges has demonstrated success on a limited scale at increasing the number of Iowa high school graduates pursuing and succeeding in education and training beyond high school. It is time to invest state and federal resources in bringing the CCTC model to more parts of the state, and we have requested federal Community Project Funds to do so.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Iowa Department of Education, Iowa Business Council, Iowa Association of Business and Industry and Iowa Workforce Development have signed on to support this request, and they have been joined by school superintendents statewide.

These funds would pay to hire counselors in every community college district in the next year, reaching thousands of students who need help in understanding their education and training options and supporting students as they take steps to preparing for high-quality, high-paying jobs.

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