Each summer since 1993, I have worked as an adjunct counselor at Muskegon Community College advising both new and returning students as they plan for the future. Over those 22 years I have gone from seeing this job as a summer job to seeing it as a unique professional development opportunity that gives me insight into college success while also working with middle school students. At M.C.C., I see students who have stayed on track in college and those who apologize for their academic record. I see students who have graduated from high school early and those dropped out and then completed a GED. I see students whose test scores show they need a full semester of foundational skills and those who enroll with 9 credits of AP classes. I see students who are completely certain about their goals and those who are totally undecided. I see athletes, musicians, future doctors and poets. I am most interested not in where these students start in college but where they finish. None of the groups I mention are inherently at risk of not completing college.
The habits and skills these students arrive with in college were molded many years ago. In elementary school, middle school, and high school students develop skills, abilities, and interests that set up like pottery as they progress through years of growth and learning. My role in middle school is concretely tied to success in later years. Research indicates middle grades are pivotal in future success in both academics and habits of success.
Through the MCC counseling department, headed by Kelley Conrad, I have learned the purpose of our actions in the advising process to successfully navigate the college transition. I understand what makes a student less likely to complete their degree and I know what strategies to suggest to improve the likelihood of success. Just like in middle school, the students I see at the college want to do well. They want to complete a degree. They want to find a career that challenges and inspires them.
There are new initiatives at M.C.C. that increase the likelihood of success for students. Over the years, I have watched the advising process become more informed by data. My days there are purposefully scheduled to reach as many students as is possible. I have seen our process become more integrated with Financial Aid. I have seen courses become focused on "college success", and the course with this name change into a requirement (along with new student orientation). I know there are 3 main reasons a student doesn't finish: financial obligations, academic preparation, and not selecting a major. At M.C.C the advice is "Start, stay, finish."
I can see the way we are advising makes a difference. I know the research says students who see a counselor at M.C.C. improve the likelihood of student persistence and retention. My role as a counselor there (though only part-time) makes a difference to these students. Information and advice needs to be accurate and complete. Students need to see a counselor to understand the information necessary for success. The data and research is clear and I can improve my advising through the use of this data.
There are numerous tools that are useful in the process. None of them are secrets. Anyone can use them. Whether you are a middle school, high school student, or college student these are open resources designed to help you understand your options. As a student interested in a transfer program, transfer guides based on college and major field of study are easy to access on the MCC website. The Michigan Transfer Network is available for those who have questions about courses they take in one institution and the equivalency at another. There is really no reason not to get enough information, but a counselor's knowledge and experience can help a student interpret and make use of this information.
Counseling, whether K-12 or post-secondary, is the key to making a transition between schools. We know that there are three components to making a smooth transition-safety, relationships, and information. Your counselor can help with them all. Be sure to talk to your counselor about your future plans as you return to school this fall. Make sure you take actions as a student to be career, college, and community ready. Your school counselor is uniquely trained to help you plan and succeed in the future. I am here to help and support your goals.