16. Solving the Guidance Gap: College and Career Counseling

September 19, 2021 Amy Baron Season 1 Episode 16
16. Solving the Guidance Gap: College and Career Counseling
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16. Solving the Guidance Gap: College and Career Counseling
Sep 19, 2021 Season 1 Episode 16
Amy Baron

GUEST: JON CARSON, CEO, COLLEGE GUIDANCE NETWORK.  Public high school counselors are overwhelmed, with caseloads of up to 700 students in the most extreme cases. At the same time, the college and career landscape is rapidly evolving, with new offerings such as bootcamps and certificate programs, and with rising costs making college seem less affordable each year. What's a high school senior to do? Amy talks with Jon Carson about College Guidance Network, a new content company that is helping to bridge the guidance gap.

Show Notes Transcript

GUEST: JON CARSON, CEO, COLLEGE GUIDANCE NETWORK.  Public high school counselors are overwhelmed, with caseloads of up to 700 students in the most extreme cases. At the same time, the college and career landscape is rapidly evolving, with new offerings such as bootcamps and certificate programs, and with rising costs making college seem less affordable each year. What's a high school senior to do? Amy talks with Jon Carson about College Guidance Network, a new content company that is helping to bridge the guidance gap.

Amy  0:06  

Hey, everybody, I'm Amy Baron. And this is Upskilled: Solutions in the learning universe, where I talk with professionals in education and workforce development, about practices and perspectives that catalyze positive change. Okay, we're here today with john Carson, who is the co founder and CEO of College Guidance Network, a company focused on supporting high school counselors in particular, but also students and families in navigating the Post Secondary College and Career landscape. JON is a 30 year ed-trepreneur, an entrepreneur in the education space, who has started and scaled several consumer facing education companies, including College Vine, Bidding for Good and Family Education Network. And we are so excited to have john here today to talk about college guidance. Welcome, Jon


Jon  1:07  

Thank you. Glad to be here.


Amy  1:09  

Great. So Jon, I thought we could just talk a little bit about the college guidance crisis. And I'd like to start off by just citing a figure that I read in 2018 article in Ed Week, that says that a typical counselor in a US public high school is responsible for around 482 students. So if you think about everything these counselors are dealing with, from academic issues, to emotional, logistical issues, and now you add in Health and Family Support issues with COVID-19. Obviously, that's just not going to cut it in terms of really supporting the students and families. So can you talk to us a little bit about how you see the college guidance crisis,


Jon  2:07  

which we sometimes call the guidance gap. And so it's got a couple of dimensions to it. So we're talking about sort of the supply side and the demand side. So we'll start with the part that you're referring to, which is that we just don't have a lot of guidance capacity in the system. And so the number is moves around year to year, but it's in the four hundreds. There are states where it gets into the six and seven hundreds. So it's if you just step back and think of somebody who's got a caseload with that number of people, it's just really hard. Now, it even gets more complicated, because not all students are the same. And generally, well, just mathematically 20% of the students are in the most struggling 20% of the class. And the counselors tend to, I guess, appropriately, really sort to gyrate to those 20% because they got to get those kids over the finish line. There's 20%, on the other side of that, who are highly motivated, the council's like you guys are fine. You'll do with me or without, and then there's everybody in the middle. So the problem is, you know, there's just a staffing problem. The part of the problem is that counselors are, as the profession has changed, they used to be called guidance counselors. And the profession, deliberately took the word guidance out of the naming. And so this was some time ago. So the American School Counselor Association, very clear, it's not about guidance, their school counselors do not say, we are not guidance counselors, we are school counselors. I think the dominant degree is social work, because they are counselors, and they're being overwhelmed by social and emotional issues, that teen mental health issues are alive and well. We see them in the newspapers, there are suicide issues that go on. You know, I had one principal tell me that they have one alert every month. And so they don't think we go through with it. But it's like the counseling department is sort of constantly in this high alert state. So you


Amy  4:36  

can imagine that the other 481 students that month are going to get slightly less attention than the one who's suicidal.


Jon  4:45  

It's, it's it's a math problem. You know, there's just only so much time and so that is on one side of the equation, but the other side of the guidance gap and the problem is that the sellers By that, I mean the colleges, they are in distress. So there's 2500 colleges, who are four year and then obviously community colleges and their world has become very complicated because most of them don't have very big endowments. It's a fixed cost business. And there's a demographic decline in the number of people graduating from high school. And you have the COVID issue. And so there are some reports that up to 20% of colleges are facing a financial solvency issue. And on top of all that, you have test optional, you have all sorts of the rules of the game are changing. And so it's become a very complex process. And then the last part that I'll end with, and then I'll stop, which is, this is the single most expensive consumption decision a family makes in their lifetime. The big number, have you just gone through it, I will tell you, it's a big number. And as a result, it's very high stakes. So you got a very high stakes decision. That's very complicated. The sellers are in disarray. And some of them are in financial sort of distress, which creates all sorts of bad does it kind of incentives for how much they're going to scratch the marketing message, and so on. So it's, so you have this like perfect storm, where the families, they can't get that much help from the school because the school counseling department has got just a ton on its shoulders. Meanwhile, the very process they're going into is becoming enormously more complicated than it was in our day. And so you add that all together, and you have a problem. And the proof points on that is you look at the number of kids who are jumping off into life after high school and just doing a total faceplant. And where you see that number is you look at the default rate on student debt, and default, and people are in arrears, meaning they're no longer making payments, and that's well into the 20 percents. And then you look at the number of kids who drop out after two years. Well, that's that's a bad decision. I mean, something some decision went went awry there. That so you know, essentially, and this is my I'll finish with this, it is fundamentally now become a giant game of chutes and ladders. And for some kids, those shoots are non recoverable.


Amy  7:32  

Right, right. So getting the right guidance about what to do upon graduation, whether it's a job or a college or, you know, four year Community College, how you're going to finance it, who needs what from you, and when all of those decision points are critical. And having someone in your corner from your school is no longer guaranteed. So you're really looking at a landscape that is incredibly complex, incredibly confusing and changing all the time. It seems now with COVID, especially. So what is the the effect would you say that this is having on on students in particular?


Jon  8:25  

So the macro effect is it's more overwhelming. And so there's been this has been reported, there's been a decline in the number of kids completing their FAFSA application, which is number of kids who are going to go to school because they basically are like, I'm not going to pay for it. So I'm not going to go. So it's it's overwhelming anxiety, it only is increasing the anxiety level. So we're back to the social emotional health issues. There's a level of competitive intensity at the more selective Schools has, you know, like, it was bonkers a couple years ago, it's like, double bonkers now. And so that's not healthy, actually, for kids to be in that intensified a competitive landscape. So early in their lives, they should be wanting to learn. So for kids, there's just not a lot of good answers. Now, the reality is, is there are lots of good schools that are affordable. But you know, it's how, you know, you got 2500 sellers. Well, that's a lot of complaint, where do you start, and they're all sending you mailings, and they're emailing you and they're telling you how great you are, and you're going to be great, you know, like, asking a lot for a kid to navigate that that's me a lot for an adult and navigate that.


Amy  9:49  

Right. And of course, you have such a diverse student population that we're talking about. We're talking about students who may be from immigrant families, students whose first language may not be English, We're talking about students from financially challenged backgrounds, students who really may not even be aware of the post secondary options available, and may think that college is just a fantasy because they're just not at all familiar with what it even takes to, to apply to college. So, so again, the effect on on different students in different situations, you know, varies greatly, you know, you have your elite students who, you know, this is just the norm, they know exactly what this process is about. They know exactly which the quote unquote best schools are, and what's expected of them to get in. So there's just a huge spectrum here.


Jon  10:48  

Well, another, you know, just factor in the mix is so then you say, Okay, so the counseling departments, you know, terribly busy this week, and I've got things I got to figure out and I got it. So then you go to the Internet, and, frankly, getting 750,000 search results, probably not that helpful, right? No, and now we're in this world where we have this over abundance of information. And you know, I've sort of come to feel the content doesn't want to be free anymore. It just wants to be really high quality and curated. Because people don't want information firehose is and that's what's on offer.


Amy  11:25  

Right? Right. So So let's look at this a little bit from the college counselor side, is there. Are there still people going into this profession? Is there a shortage of counselors? Or is it really more about the financials of the K through 12 education system? And there just is not the ability to hire enough people? Or is it some combination or, or other factors,


Jon  11:52  

there's clearly not I mean, to solve the issue by hiring more people, which is, in essence, through brute force. It's too expensive. I mean, I've had a principal who walked me through, okay, I go hire one more counselor. And that counselor might cost me 80,000 a year, and it's a three year sort of agreement that I got to bring it to the school board, it's a quarter million dollars, it's a lot of money, you know, better hope the math department doesn't get worried that that kind of money is on offer, because that'll be a food fight. counseling departments often don't win. But let's just say they do. Now you get the counselor and your student counselor ratio improved by 16%. He said, he looked to me and said, no one's gonna know. It's just not good. I'm just not going to feel any difference. Right. And so, you know, I think that your to your question about what's the state of the profession. I haven't seen the heart numbers. But I we hear a lot that counselors are retiring early, quitting going into, like private practice, because many of them have sort of social worker degrees and can become therapists. And so we hear of schools having a shortfall. They're there. They're down one or two counselors, and they're looking for replacements. That's been a burnout. I mean, the COVID thing was a total burnout for the counseling community.


Amy  13:18  

Right? Right. So you've got this startup College Guidance Network, and you have taken on this challenge. Tell us about CGN and and what you do, and how you're helping to try to solve this problem.


Jon  13:36  

So it starts with what we call this is the seminal kind of idea is that there is something that we call the guidance triangle. And the guidance triangle says that there are three components to being able to address this guidance gap. Sitting at the top is the counselor, who as we've already discussed, is got a very high caseload and is kind of, I don't know how else to say it kind of is overwhelmed with like how much they're having that sort of shoulder. That is the person who's on the front line, who is the only person who can really help with an individual kid because they had some sense they've met them face to face, they know a little bit about them, or more than that sometimes. So their point when they're the top of the pyramid. The second piece of the pyramid is what I would call the process management and data systems. And so about 15 years ago, one of our advisory board members started a company called Naviance. Now Naviance quickly got traction into the market by offering a software system that enabled the schools to more easily move transcripts and recommendation letters around, did a few other things. But it was a software system. That was really about Sort of the back office Process Management did some things for the kids. But that's not where they sort of focused. It's really for counselors, Process Management. The essence of college guidance network, or CGN, as we sometimes call ourselves is the third leg is the last frontier and it hasn't been built yet. And it's content. And so content is not your father's content, like reading articles, it could be that but in the 21st century, 2021 content is a much more vibrant sort of thing, which with the mass adoption of virtual technology, and zoom in particular, content is live classes. It is a, you know, year round live expert Speaker Series kind of speaker series in a box that brings you people from all over the country or experts in a particular area. Content is a professionally designed and built library of guidance content that is, you know, video playlist, podcasts, PDF downloads, tools. And our idea is we think you have to put a college guidance network library into every high school in the country, because that can leverage the counselor because the only way out of the guidance gap is you must build and it really is, it is the only way out, you must build capacity within the student and the parent. Good news is they're highly vested, they want to know what to do. So there they are engaged in the process, they just go on to YouTube isn't going to help them so you know, it's it's really taking content we call it NaVi arts for content meets masterclass for guidance,


Amy  16:52  

your logo is Experts for Everyone. And when you think about the needs, that they come at this process with the diversity of content that you need to sort of address all these different student profiles is really pretty huge. When you think about it.


Jon  17:10  

Um, you know, there's a lot of need out there. And I would say, you know, it's going to take us some amount of time to cover all of the waterfront, although, you know, we've we've got at least one partnership agreement that's almost at the end, that's going to give us 200 modules, it's going to fill out a big chunk of, of the of the waterfront. But you're right, you know, you need to cover everything from the basics of financial aid and FAFSA forms, you know, elite schools, performing arts, learning, you know, differences, you know, there's just a lot of things to cover. And we've been at it for a year. So we have produced we have almost 100 hours of content that we can work with for the on demand piece. And then again, we're programming every week with live episode speakers on a variety of topics. So you're right, but it's, you know, we're a content company. We're a content factory.


Amy  18:08  

Great, great. Well, it's content that is sorely needed out there. So I'm glad you're doing it. Well, thank you. All right. Well, thank you so much for coming on. and wish you the best of luck with college guidance network.


Jon  18:26  

Right. Well, thank you much. Come to us at


Unknown Speaker  18:37  

And thank you all for listening to upskilled. This episode has been brought to you by convergent learning, specializing in education technology, product consulting and market strategy. You can follow me on LinkedIn or on Twitter at AmyBaron1. And we'll see you next time on Upskilled.


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