I’ve been mulling over the uncomfortable but rather pressing conversation started during the WACAC conference: how can school-based college counselors and IECs work together more effectively? I’ve been trying to boil the problem down a bit. It seems to stem from a nasty mix of ego and ignorance, money and mistrust—a lot of negative images.

School counselors have plugged themselves into a system from which they are contractually guaranteed security in exchange for their expertise and ultimately X hours of their time. Contributing any extra time or effort—as so many school counselors do for the sake of their kiddos—is going above and beyond, an act of generosity. Independents, by contrast, have foregone the all-encompassing salary and benefits. We choose to work on a basis in which the level of reward shows a direct correlation to the amount of energy we put into our work. Many IECs also contribute pro bono services, which often include workshops at local high schools.

The way that we view money (and each other’s relationship to money) often seems to create that gulf between school college counselors and IECs. Specifically, it’s when these two systems of compensation are seen as being in conflict that causes the rift. School counselors often immediately become suspicious of IECs for marketing themselves to that school’s students, and as soon as that mistrust enters the picture, it diminishes the spirit of the service being performed for the students.

The thing is that IECs ARE marketing themselves—they have to. It is a necessity for all independent contractors, and actually a natural extension of any appearance IECs make when in which they stand to draw new clients. As an American, I don’t see how there is anything intrinsically wrong about this fact—but then, in many people’s minds, when it comes to educational services, it’s as if the regular rules of capitalism somehow shouldn’t apply.

All of us are on the front lines of confronting the socioeconomic/achievement gap, and we all feel the pull of the moral imperative to somehow do our part to level the playing field. Throughout the college counseling field, no matter where or how we work, I think most of us have struggled with trying to reconcile this imperative with the ways in which we make a living.
Independents at their worst withdraw from that struggle completely and essentially become mercenaries out on the field. Public school – based counselors at their worst become martyrs, consumed by the systems in which they’ve become so enmeshed. Private school – based counselors at their worst internalize the ivory tower mentality, fearing that any overt alliance with independents or others might be seen as undermining their authority as the resident expert at an elite institution.

While these negative images have clearly sprung up from reality, they must be examined and dissolved for us to move forward, adapt, and collectively do greater good as the landscape of higher education rumbles beneath us all. Those with wisdom understand that if the benefit to families is our highest goal, then the combined expertise and perspectives of the school-based and independent college counselors MUST be more valuable than either one in isolation. It’s that shift in intention and attention—coupled with the work to earn each other’s confidence and to meet one another’s needs as best as we can—that will bring about change for the better.

I know this doesn’t begin to address the issue of district rules, quality control or upholding professional standards, but we have to start somewhere. Right?

By Nick Soper