The unsung heroes of higher education
Published in the November 28, 2014 Santa Maria Times.
One describes counseling “as the job of a lifetime.” Another says, “You can feel the positive impact you have on a student’s life,” and with that comes the knowledge that this impact can last a lifetime.
If counselors at Allan Hancock College have one thing in common, it is love for their work and for students.
“We actualize students’ potential,” said Yvonne Teniente-Cuello, chair of the Counseling Department. “They come to us at the beginning of their academic journey” and the counselor then guides them as they navigate that journey, hopefully to a successful conclusion.
A college counselor has heavy responsibilities. Bad advice could result in long-lasting consequences in a student’s life. As they help students prepare for a major and then a career, a counselor must be up to date on the prerequisites and classes needed to successfully pursue their goals.
They must also be current in the myriad of resources available for students as they work their way through academia. These include websites such as Great Schools, CSU Mentor and UC Application, and assisting students in developing an education plan. They must also present workshops for students in areas such as new-student orientation, student success, study skills, time management and transfer applications for both the UC and CSU systems.
Much has been written about the plight of contingent faculty in American higher education. Often overlooked are part-time counselors, who, like part-time teachers, are expected to provide the same service to students as their full-time counterparts, but do so for one-third the pay and no benefits.
Lisa McKinley has been a part-time counselor at Allan Hancock College for 23 years. She points out that a counselor needs to know if a student works, then how many hours a week can they devote to school. Attempts to carry too many units and work at the same time can set a student up for failure.
“We work with the whole student,” she said.
Counselors need to inquire about students’ life situations. Are they married, do they have children, do they have a stable home life? All of this can play an important role in whether students succeed or fail.
Another long-time Hancock counselor, Henry Davis, also teaches the student leadership class. This gives him a unique perspective when it comes to mentoring students.
“Both teaching and counseling give you the chance to interact with people in an important way,” he said. “You can help them actualize their potential, help them realize what they might be able to achieve.”
But in spite of their heavy responsibilities and the important role counselors play in a student’s life, many of them feel the same frustrations experienced by part-time teachers.
“We have the same responsibilities as full-time counselors,” said one counselor, who did not wish to be named. “We work in the same offices, see the same students, give the same advice.”
Students do not know when they sit down with a counselor whether that counselor is full or part-time. Like part-time instructors, many part-time counselors cannot survive on what they earn at one job. Some commute from one college to another to earn a living. Their lives are made even more difficult because they are paid at “activity rate,” the lowest place on the part-time salary schedule.
Counselors are a dedicated group, devoted to their profession and to their students.
“We are surrogate mothers and fathers,” said Yvonne Teniente-Cuello, and like all good parents, they intend to be there for their students whenever the students need them.
Mark James Miller, President, Part-Time Faculty Association of Allan Hancock College, CFT Local 6185, Santa Maria, CA