School counselors often go above and beyond the call of duty to help students find their way. Take Kerry Nordstrom, counselor at Scammon Bay School, who has challenges most of us can only imagine.  Her school is situated in an Alaskan bush village that is closer to Russia than to Anchorage, is located on the Bering Sea inaccessible by roads.

In Kerry’s first year as the school counselor, only one student applied for college. She found the village simply didn’t have a college-going culture. Because of the lack of resources, very few students considered university as a feasible option.

Guiding the way

The following year, Kerry worked with a representative from the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau to arrange a campus visit for seven students. Six of them applied for admission and were accepted. Although an airline and bank provided funding for the campus visit, there were no funds for the six students to travel for their freshman year. Kerry and her husband used all their airline miles for the six students so they could go to college in Juneau. 

“School counselors help students improve their academic achievement so they stay in school and are prepared for life after graduation.”

Kerry’s actions may seem extraordinary, but they come from a deep belief that a high school education is no longer enough. A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center found millennials aged 25-32 with college degrees earned a median salary of $45,500, compared with $28,000 for those with only a high school diploma. This $17,500 pay gap is larger than previous generations saw. In addition, the unemployment rate of high school graduates was 12.2 percent compared with 3.8 percent among college graduates, and 21.8 percent of high school graduates were living in poverty, compared with 5.8 percent of college graduates.

According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 65 percent of jobs in 2020 will require some type of post-secondary education. By comparison, in 1973, only 28 percent of jobs were held by workers with post-secondary education, which had grown to 59 percent by 2010.

The road ahead

In the past, a major challenge was to keep students from dropping out. The challenge now is not only to help them finish high school, but to help them choose from the vast array of post-secondary career and education options and to ensure they’re prepared to succeed in the career of their choice.

In most schools, school counselors like Kerry are primarily responsible for helping students decide what they’re going to do after graduation. But school counselors do more than just help navigate college admissions. School counselors help students improve their academic achievement so they stay in school and are prepared for life after graduation. School counselors help provide social and emotional learning so students have the tools they need to succeed in college and careers.

We know it’s no longer sufficient to have the skills required for a job. Workers need the right mindsets and behaviors to be successful. Qualities such as self-management, self-confidence and self-determination are no longer just desirable. In the 21st century, they’re crucial.

For all students, whether they live in a remote Alaskan village or a large metropolitan city, life is a journey. Students need a guide, and that’s the school counselor.