High school guidance counseling has become more challenging than ever. With growing numbers of students and multifaceted jobs, high school guidance counselors have become overstretched with less time to spend with individual students. According to a 2005 report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the average public high school student only gets about 38 minutes of postsecondary advising per year. In Florida, this time continues to be stretched thin as the student-to-counselor ratio keeps growing. For example, in Florida in 2012 the student-to-counselor ratio was 452:1, in 2013 it increased to 480:1 and at the end of 2014 it had grown to 491:1. (1)
Connected with less time with counselors, recent research also shows that high needs students and schools are more likely to be at a disadvantage. According to The College Board 2012 National Survey of School Counselors, “Counselors in disadvantaged schools are in greater need of more support from their school districts, more training, and more resources.” In particular, the report finds that “counselors at schools with at least 75% of the student body on free or reduced-price lunch see lower levels of support from their school districts, report greater need for further training, and report fewer resources.” Obviously this is a challenge nation-wide but especially in Florida with a sizeable proportion of low-income, minority and first generation students.
To better prepare students in Florida and the nation as a whole, Helios Education Foundation invested $1.25 million into an innovative high school initiative aimed at improving academic and college/career counseling developed by the Pinellas Education Foundation called Future Plans®. Future Plans® is a self-administered self-awareness and career exploration program designed to help students discover and understand their talents, interests, and preferences. The program also helps students align their skill set with educational pathways to in-demand and globally competitive careers. Comprehensively, Future Plans® has four major objectives:
Students choose postsecondary educational pathways that match aptitudes, values, and interests for in-demand sectors;
• Students leave high school with an informed and individualized educational plan;
• Guidance counselors use information from the individualized career plan to better assist students and parents on high school course requirements and career planning;
• Parents/guardians become more involved and informed about educational and career pathways for their children.
In the 2014-2015 academic year, the Pinellas County School District piloted the program with a subset of students. Over the last year (2015-2016) the work expanded rolling out to all 10th graders across the 18 high schools in the District.
Believing in the concept and goals of Future Plans®, Helios Education Foundation (Helios) supported the Pinellas Education Foundation with funding to evaluate the work. Together Pinellas Education Foundation and Helios contracted WestEd, a leading educational research, development, and service organization to evaluate the implementation and outcomes of the Future Plans® initiative across three years. Presented below are early findings on the program from the pilot year of implementation. Overall, students in Pinellas County Schools were engaged with Future Plans® and a majority found it valuable.
A higher proportion of Black, Hispanic/Latino, and students from low-income families started the Future Plans® assessment, and a higher proportion of Black students, compared to any other racial/ethnic group, rated the tool favorably, according to preliminary findings in an evaluation conducted by WestEd.
Initial findings are based on students at the 17 high schools in Pinellas County School District that piloted implementation of the Future Plans® program to some degree during the 2014-2015 school year. Data from the 2014-2015 school year serves as a baseline as it was collected prior to the full 2015-2016 implementation of Future Plans® in the Pinellas County School District. As can be seen in the chart below, proportionately more Black and Latino/Hispanic 10th graders started the Future Plans® assessment (21.6%) compared to their demographic makeup in Pinellas County Schools (17.1%).
Additionally, a higher proportion of 10th-grade students from low-income families started and completed Future Plans® and its satisfaction survey compared to the total percentage of these students in the district.
Beyond engagement, initial satisfaction with Future Plans® was also explored. Overall, the tool was received favorably — over half of all students who took the assessment agreed or strongly agreed that they found Future Plans® beneficial. A higher proportion of Black students reported satisfaction with the tool compared to their peers, with over 75% indicating that they agreed/strongly agreed that they found the Future Plans® experience beneficial. In addition, a greater proportion of students eligible for free/reduced price lunch reported the Future Plans® experience to be beneficial (63.9%) compared to their non-free/reduced price lunch eligible peers (52.7%).
Furthermore, compared to their peers, a higher proportion of Black students (75.3%) and low-income students (63.5%) reported having a better understanding of their abilities after completing Future Plans®, and both Black (56.8%) and low-income students (48.2%) indicated they are more likely to seek out education and career paths that lead to in-demand jobs as a result of completing Future Plans®.
These initial findings will not only be useful in comparing student satisfaction and engagement from the baseline 2014-2015 school year across the three years of full Future Plans® implementation, but they also suggest that Future Plans® may be perceived more positively by traditionally underserved, often first-generation college students. These students typically have less guidance and support in selecting a pathway for postsecondary success compared to their peers. Thus, tools such as Future Plans® may be particularly beneficial in exploring how these students’ skills connect to in-demand postsecondary careers and what postsecondary credentials are required to help them achieve their goals.
One of Helios Education Foundation’s core beliefs is that every individual should have the opportunity to attend and be prepared to succeed in postsecondary education. Helios’ investments in initiatives such as Future Plans® demonstrates the Foundation’s commitment to achieving this vision. To learn more about Future Plans®, please click here.
(1) National Center for Education Statistics. It is important to note that the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250:1.