Counselors crucial to Everett Community College, students say
A parade of students last week urged college leaders to reconsider a plan to replace four counselors and spread six others across the campus.
The counselors who are being replaced are on noncontinuing contracts. The plan is to hire in their place education planners whose jobs are more narrowly defined to giving academic advice.
Students told the EvCC Board of Trustees and administration leaders that college counselors provide valuable insight beyond what classes they should take.
“My concern is for other students like myself,” said Linda Mason, who dropped out of school years ago but is now on track to graduate from EvCC in June.
“I wouldn't be here today” without their guidance, she said.
Others said they, too, overcame long odds, thanks to their counselors.
“They are not stories; they are lives,” said EvCC student A. Eddie Herrera Jr., referring to the roomful of students supporting the counselors.
EvCC President David Beyer said the changes would save money in a tight economy and allow the college to serve more students at a time it faces record enrollment. Everett must confront a $1.6 million budget cut because of a reduction in state funding.
“We need to have staff focused on reaching more students, and this is one way of reaching more students,” Beyer said.
Other community colleges, such as Edmonds Community College, already use academic advisers who give guidance on what classes students should take, but don't delve into other problems they might face. Edmonds has six full-time academic advisers and four part-time counselors for mental health, crisis intervention and career counseling.
“The demand for the counseling services has gone up,” said Michele Graves, an Edmonds Community College spokeswoman. “With more students being unemployed came more counseling issues.”
EvCC counselors predicted the changes will hit hardest those students who are returning to college after a long time away as well as low-income and disabled students and people who must take preparatory courses before they're ready for college-level classes.
“The issue is not just about jobs,” said Earl Martin, a long-time EvCC counselor. “The issue is serving a needy population of students.”
The counselors say they agree with the administration that they need to serve an increased volume of students. Where they disagree is with the approach.
They quoted from a national report written by the Carnegie Commission that found “guidance is particularly critical for students who attend community college” because many don't have clear educational or vocational goals and often face financial, academic and personal pressures.
The idea of moving individual counselors to different departments around campus will end up serving limited students in limited ways, they argued.
Tom Gaskin, president of the faculty union for the college, said advising students is not just about educational career plans.
“It's not a humane model,” he said.
EvCC Board President James Shipman said the board will get an update at its May meeting after counselors have a chance to discuss the issue with Sandra Fowler-Hill, the college's vice president of instruction. She will meet with the remaining counselors but not with those whose contracts won't be renewed.
“I'm willing to listen and change if there is a better way to do things, but at some point management has to make a decision,” Beyer said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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