An Everett Community College counselor who’s won a national award for his work says the state’s colleges should do a better job of staffing people in his field.
Community colleges spend money every year on marketing and advertising to get new students to enroll. Earl Martin thinks the money would be better spent on counseling the students they already have.
Earlier this year, Martin, of Everett Community College, was named the national counselor of the year by the American College Counseling Association for his leadership and advocacy for counseling services at Washington’s community and technical colleges.
Martin, who has been a counselor at Everett Community College for 27 years, has spent most of his career as an advocate for the role of the counselor at two-year colleges and the ways counselors can help students finish what they start.
This state doesn’t have a standard for how many counselors a community college should have, so staffing can vary wildly from one college to another, Martin said.
And in recent years, he’s noticed more colleges creating what he calls “counselor lite” jobs — positions in which people work to guide students into career paths but don’t have the same level of training required of a counselor. Those employees usually make less than counselors, and they aren’t tenured members of the faculty.
The counseling profession requires a master’s degree, and the field is based on psychology training. Counselors go through supervised internships, among other things. “We’re coached and vetted and screened,” said Martin, who also holds a state license as a mental-health counselor.
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Counselors are also tenured, an important protection because “If I see something going wrong, I can speak freely without worrying about angering the boss,” Martin said. “Counselors can serve as ombudsmen, as a voice for the voiceless.”
All of that training is important because a personal issue may be at the root of the problem when a student is having academic trouble, Martin said. A trained counselor is better equipped to help by dealing with all the problems that are contributing to a student’s academic stumbles.
When budget pressures force colleges to cut spending, it’s common practice for them to trim the counseling staff, Martin said.
The state’s college presidents “have been very successful at arguing for autonomy and local control,” he said. “That’s why you see such diverse, divergent programs in staffing — even though they’re all funded by the state system.”
In his 27 years at EvCC, Martin has twice received the college’s diversity award and was named faculty member of the year and adviser of the year. He served two terms as president of the Washington Community and Technical College Counselors Association.
His advice to students: If you’re having trouble in college, seek help from someone with the word “counselor” in their title; only somebody with a master’s degree in counseling can be called a counselor.
Career advisers, educational planners and student-success facilitators may do important jobs in their own fields. But, he says, they are not the same thing.