A New Consortium Works to Expand School Counselors’ National Reach

By Edward A. Mainzer

The National Consortium for School Counseling and Postsecondary Success (NCSCPS) is an outgrowth of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative begun in 2014. Concerned about low rates of college-attendance, and even more important college graduation especially among students from historically underrepresented populations, Ms. Obama announced the initiative on July 1, 2014 in an address to the annual conference of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) in Orlando, Florida. She articulated Reach Higher’s goals as:

  • Exposing students to college and career opportunities
  • Understanding financial aid eligibility that can make college affordability a reality
  • Encouraging academic planning and summer learning opportunities
  • Supporting high school counselors who can help more young people get into college (Reach Higher 2014).

In addition to addressing these issues, NCSCPS, in the words of one of its leaders, Mandy Savitz-Romer of Harvard, is determined to focus attention on what it believes are school counselors’ preparation programs that are “out of sync with the college and career demands that are central to school counselor work” (p. 57).

A Brief History with Expanded Mission Statement
The White House co-sponsored “convenings” in Cambridge, MA and San Diego, CA in 2014 and in Jacksonville, FL in 2015 (at which NCSCPS officially played a major role; members of its leadership had also been actively involved in previous convenings). In January 2015, for the first time ASCA’s School Counselor of the Year ceremony took place at the White House hosted by Ms. Obama. She also hosted ASCA in 2016 and in 2017, when the School Counselor of the Year ceremony was moved up so that it would occur while she was still in the White House.

Funding for the NCSCPS comes from the private Kresge Foundation, which in 2015 awarded a $150,000 grant for the purpose to Johns Hopkins University—whose Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy is one of NCSCPS’ leaders. In its own words “the NCSCPS has been established to carry the momentum of the 2014 introduction of Reach Higher initiative and the achievements that followed” (About NCSPCS). The NCSCPS leadership “Team” consists of eight school counselor educators and its mission is “[t]o drive student outcomes that increase equitable and accessible pathways to postsecondary success for ALL young people, with an intentional focus on removing systemic barriers for underserved populations” (About NCSCPS).
This mission statement is reflected in the work of many of the NCSCPS leadership Team members .

Building a college going culture has been central to the work of NCSCPS leader Patricia J. Martin, who led the College Board’s National Office for School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA) where she developed eight widely referenced components for building a college-going school culture (Mainzer, 2016, p. 37-38): The eight NOSCA components are:

  1. College Aspirations (“build a college going culture”);
  2. Academic Planning for College and Career Readiness (“a rigorous academic program”);
  3. Enrichment and Extracurricular Engagement (“ensure equitable exposure”);
  4. College and Career Exploration and Selection Processes (“early and ongoing exposure”);
  5. College and Career Assessments (“for all students”);
  6. College Affordability Planning;
  7. College and Career Admission Processes (“so they can find the postsecondary options that are the best fit with their aspirations and interests”); and
  8. Transition from High School Graduation to College Enrollment (“to help the students overcome barriers and ensure the successful transition from high school to college”) (College Board, 2010).

The Eight Components of College and Career Readiness
The readiness of counselors to deliver enhanced PK-12 college and career counseling and preparedness has been questioned and cited as a critical need by many scholars (e.g., Lapan, et al., 2017). In a 2017 report, The State of School Counseling: Revisiting the Path Forward, NCSCPS stated that “the top priority is to articulate further a common set of College and Career Readiness Competencies based on today’s best information, to be consistently used by practitioners and counselor educators alike” (Brown, et al., 2017, p. 5). One essential component of this process is to assure that the breadth of post secondary opportunities includes “a two- or four-year college degree or a certificate from a credentialed career program” (p. 7). They also call for a “college and career strategy that spans a child’s Pre-K to postsecondary educational journey” (p. 8). While acknowledging that “there is little research offering a proof point for effective models” (p. 11), NCSCPS continues to advocate for the NOSCA college and career readiness components “as the primary resource available for focusing college and career readiness” (p. 12). They conclude that

The eight components of college and career readiness represent the early genesis of a framework that must be expanded upon, researched and operationalized. The top recommendation to emerge from the Consortium was to identify effective school counseling models that drive postsecondary opportunities for all students. These models need to guide the development of new College and Career Readiness Competencies for counselors to implement, accompanied by ongoing and rigorous research to help school counselors and administrators prioritize activities and target services in the most effective manner (p. 18).

Positive Impact on School Counseling

  • Unlike a professional organization such as ASCA, which serves over 30,000 dues-paying members with a paid central office staff, NCSCPS has the advantage of being a smaller and more nimble group. As such, it adds another voice not just for school counselors, but for the mission of assuring that all elementary and secondary students receive meaningful college and career counseling services.
  • NCSCPS gives school counselors national visibility and a voice in their quest to assure that college and other post-secondary opportunities are accessible to every student through the services of highly qualified school counselors trained in the latest methodologies.
  • Beyond ASCA, NCSCPS contributes to the national debate on college accessibility and readiness.
  • NCSCPS is an additional voice for empirically supported best practices for PK-12 college and career counseling and preparedness.

Initially an effort to seize the moment in response to a particular political opportunity, it can be argued that the mission of NCSCPS remains even more vital with subsequent changes in America’s political leadership and political and educational policies. For more information and resources please visit their website at www.ncscps.org.

About NCSCPS. Retrieved from http://www.ncscps.org/about.cfm

Brown, J., Hatch, T., Holcomb-McCoy, C., Martin, P., McLeod, J., Owen, L., & Savitz-Romer, M. (2017). The state of school counseling: Revisiting the path forward. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.ncscps.org/downloads/ASU-Convening/Revisiting-The-Path-Forward-The-State-of-School-Counseling.pdf

College Board. (2010). Eight components of college and career readiness counseling. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://media.collegeboard.com/digitalServices/pdf/nosca/11b_4416_8_Components_WEB_111107.pdf

Lapan, R.T., Poynton, T., Marcotte, A., Marland, J. and Milam, C.M. (2017). College and career readiness Counseling support scales. Journal of Counseling & Development, 95, 77-86.

Mainzer, E.A. (2016). Educational initiatives and professional organization standards. Chapter 2 in McGinley, V.A. and Trolley, B.C. (Eds). Working with students with disabilities: Preparing school counselors. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Reach Higher. Retrieved from https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/reach-higher

Savitz-Romer, M. (2015). Guest perspective. Journal of College Access, 1, 56-59.


Edward MainzerEdward A. Mainzer, EdD, LMHC, served as a counselor and educator for over three decades. He is a member of the National Career Development Association’s Ethics Committee and previously served on the Board of Directors of the American School Counselor Association. He has published on topics including counseling law and ethics, the differently abled, and best practices in college and career counseling. He may be reached at eamainzer@outlook.com.

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