Successful State Policy Advocacy: a Michigan Case Study

March 15, 2018

By Jack Porter, Advocacy Associate 

Beginning in the 2013-14 academic year, the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) began providing school counselors with a service in high demand due to an unfortunate lack of supply: postsecondary and career readiness training. A few years later, after it became abundantly clear to policymakers and practitioners alike that this coursework should be not just available to but required of counselors, a coalition led by MCAN and the Michigan Association of College Admissions Counselors successfully advocated for the passage of House Bill 4181.

The bill, which was signed into law in November 2017, ensures that school counselors in Michigan are more adequately equipped to guide their students in the crucial processes of college and career preparation.

School counselors in Michigan are currently required to complete 150 hours of professional development every five years in order to renew their license. The House bill mandates that one-third of these hours be dedicated to college and career counseling, a measure that was strongly backed by multiple parties during a hearing on the bill last year.

Sarah Anthony, deputy director of partnerships and advocacy at MCAN, was invited to testify before the Michigan House of Representatives at that hearing. Early in her testimony, Anthony depicted the clear need for this shift in focus by citing a survey from the National Office for School Counselor Advocacy that shows a majority of Michigan counselors feel underprepared to guide their students in the college and career preparation process.

“In order for counselors to effectively lead the college access movement in their buildings, we believe, and they have told us, that they must be formally trained with accurate and up-to-date information in college and career readiness,” Anthony testified. “Without this formal training, counselors have worked independently to pull together college access resources to support their students.”

Anthony then went on to describe one of those resources, which a school counselor hearing witness also supported in testimony: the MCAN School Counselor Postsecondary Planning Training Course.

The annual course runs from September to May, and contains three four-week sessions. Embedded in the syllabi are modules, online discussions, and three in-person seminars. MCAN has served more than 350 counselors since the course’s first year in 2013, but due to the overwhelming demand has had to waitlist some counselors who are eager to voluntarily enroll.

Furthermore, the course has proven to be effective; more than 85 percent of completers say they have changed their day-to-day approach as a result of MCAN’s content.

A point of emphasis throughout the hearing was that the bill does not add extra burden or training hours to the counselors’ already packed agenda. Rather, it takes aim at reallocating resources so that counselors can better serve their students. Ultimately, the Michigan bill tackles head-on the restructuring of school counselor roles that needs to take place nationally if these professionals are to adequately guide students in their post-high school planning.

The bill is set to take full effect in November 2019, and MCAN staff are hopeful that school counselors will turn to their training course to help fulfill the college and career counseling professional development hours now required by the State of Michigan.

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