Counseling in a Data Driven Culture

Counseling students through the college application process is difficult work. This is especially true when working with lower income students who have the weight of the world working against them.  With the rising cost of tuition, stricter admission requirements, and ever-changing financial reporting protocol, it is extremely challenging for a student to navigate this process without help.

Enter the counselor. The hopeless optimist that had an unwavering belief in the potential of each and every student regardless of grade point average, or even more telling, motivation.  This professional has been brought on by a nonprofit organization that boasts a unique model to encourage student achievement, most specifically, college attendance.  (College graduation is a different beast that deserves its own blog entry.)    The goal of this counselor is to get the students into college…by any means necessary…and often the task is met with excitement and fervor.    Throughout the year, however, as she gets to know students more closely, she learns that college is a long shot for some.  Whether it be a homeless student or one who reads at an eighth grade level, her overwhelming confidence and determination morphs into the celebration of small victories… “You made it to the SAT on Saturday!” or “You did not fail a class this semester!”  Managing expectations is a part of the job… but so are data.

Data are essential to the success of many nonprofits. After all, you must show that your program works in order for it to continue to be funded.  This is especially true with our current administration’s drive to cut government funding to programs like TRIO.  Non-profits may have to rely on foundations and private donors for funding.  But what happens when the data tells a story that does not indicate success?  How does the counselor explain that her students have fallen below the mark?  I would argue that she should do just that.

Data can be scary, but it can also highlight areas of need which is critical to the success of programs, especially those designed to improve the lives of others. This information can be used to make adjustments where needed with the goal of delivering a superior product resulting in impressive results.  Additionally, the only way to really see growth is to have firm understanding of where one stands.  Thus, data is critical.

To our counselor friend who is now completely overwhelmed with the tasks of each day, working with students while providing her superiors with data, I say, hang in there! Your work is all for the greater good.  You, my friend, are working to create a more thoughtful, empathetic, perfect society… keep going.

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