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Marianela Medrano-Marra Mar 3, 2010

Counseling in Higher Education

Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you.
As a new director of counseling at the community college level, I am greeted by a pressing need to think creatively and proactively to counterbalance the myriad students’ needs on the rise while the resources to address those needs decline. The severity of psychological and academic problems among college students disrupts the balance they need to achieve academic success. Counselors in community colleges need to wield kaleidoscopes with ample lenses that embrace the multiplicity of issues.

Since its beginning in the 1950s, community college counseling has been characterized by ever-changing currents. With currently decreasing financial support for community colleges, a more general economic recession, increasing campus violence, the pressing need to ensure retention, and other common occurrences in collegiate life (test anxiety, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, etc.) we are called to redefine the models we use to address these needs.

Ordinarily, community college students are conceptualized as ethnic minorities, adult female learners, part-time students and displaced workers. In reality though, the typical community college student has become difficult to stereotype, and radical changes in the community college population is noteworthy in the last ten years. More parents are sending their youngsters to receive the benefits of a more affordable community college education for their first two years, drastically changing the demographics of the student population. Community colleges are thriving, multifaceted entities, calling for a reassessment of what counseling is all about.

In the same sense, counseling in the community college arena is very difficult to stereotype. We now know that it goes beyond reduction of student attrition, advocacy, or academic guidance. In the beginning, the main focus of community college counseling was primarily testing and placement, probation and suspension policies, general education requirements, and transfer programs. The changing nature of the population calls for a focus on an expanded, integrative design where counselors can address the different dimensions that impact students’ lives.

In addition to a developmental perspective, the kind of counseling that is needed now should leave no angle of a student’s life untouched. The priority now is the creation of contextual means to honor the diversity of the growing population. It is imperative that we create sustainable means to track the changes and to identify best practices before we venture to give birth to any initiative. It is imperative that when designing appropriate programs we keep in mind how students exist within a series of overlapping contexts of influence, such as economics, culture, demographics, etc. and that such overlaps should inform the scope of service.

While I am still at the stage of contemplation, and won’t force my way into action until I feel that I truly understand the complexity of the population for which I will recreate a counseling center, I remain open to the wisdom of colleagues who are invested in the community college philosophy. What I am saying is that I am embracing my new responsibilities with a beginner’s mind, a mind that is willing to stop and listen to the blessings dropping their blossoms around me. Each of us is a petal of the blossom, and I invite you to dialogue with me about the future of community college counseling.

Marianela Medrano-Marra is a counselor and Dominican writer living and practicing in Naugatuck, CT. She writes poetry, essays, and creative non-fiction; with publications including essays and four books of poetry.

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