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A Bell & Howell Infonnation CompaiQ^
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Elizabeth Ann Acree
Copyright © Elizabeth Ann Acree 1998
A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the
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In the Graduate College
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As members of the Final Examination Committee, we certify that we have
read the dissertation prepared by
Elizabeth Ann Acree
The Community College Counselor: Multiple Meanings,
Multiple Roles
and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation
requirement for the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Dudley Woodard
John Levin
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My parents, Jim and Jan Wilkerson, have always encouraged me to pursue
my life's interests. They also taught me what was really important in life—love,
family and spirituality. Those are the things that have allowed me to face
challenges and to endure.
I also acknowledge my husband. Randy, for indulging me to pursue my
life's interests even when it disrupted and antagonized our lives.
This work is dedicated to my daughters, Chelsea and Janet.
Statement of the Problem
(1) Role Definition
(2) Intangible Services
(3) Professionalization
(4) Bureaucracy
Significance of the Problem
(1) The Counseling Profession
(2) Counselors in Higher Education
(3) Counselors in Community Colleges
(4) Rogers Community College Counselors
Experiential Knowledge
Existing Theory and Research
Role Theory
Street-Level Bureaucracy
How RCC Counselors Perceive Their Roles
(2) Educator
(3) Helping and Guiding
(4) Goal Development and Academic Success
(5) Institutional Support
How Outsiders Perceive Their Role
The Multiple Roles of RCC Counselors
The Counselor's Preferred Role
The Counselor as a Therapist
The Counselor as an Academic Advisor
The Counselor as a Career Advisor
The Counselor as a Referral Agent
How RCC Counselors See Their Own Profession
How RCC Counselors See Their Own Status in the Institution
The Importance of Faculty Status
The Distinction Between Advisors and Counselors
Crisis Counseling
Faculty Status Equals Classroom Teaching
Frustrations Inherent to Bureaucracies
Organizational Directives
The Focus on Number Crunching
The Focus on Academic Counseling
The Focus on Counselors as Generaiists
Modifying the Conception of Teaching
Table 1 - Basic data by campus
Figure 1 - Example of original block of text
Figure 2 - Original block of text with relevant coding notations
Counselors are currently being scrutinized as to their place in a community
college setting. Administrative units are questioning whether counselors are
necessary, and whether they should maintain their past role. But before changes
are made, the full scope of the role needs to be examined. Previous studies have
concentrated on role definition, looking primarily at which tasks counselors
perform and their job satisfaction. I first examine the counselor's role using a role
definition format to provide a baseline of data to compare with other studies. Then
I considered three other elements—intangible services, professionalization, and the
bureaucratic setting—that 1 proposed were contributing to the uncertain position of
counselors in community colleges.
This is a qualitative case study of community college counselors.
Personal interviews with counselors were utilized as the primary source of data.
The case smdy instimtion is a large, urban, multi-campus community college.
Results indicate that counselors are satisfied with their generalist role of
providing primarily career and academic counseling, providing a very small
percentage of personal counseling and providing a variety of other services. This
is unlike the literature which suggests that counselors are dissatisfied with the
generalist role and prefer a more specialized personal counseling role.
The counselors in this study were frustrated by their perceived role by other
groups. They felt misunderstood and unappreciated. Consequently, they searched
for ways to make their services more visible and understandable. They also relied
heavily on their professional status to validate their role. But rather than
emphasizing their traditional professional counseling characteristics like the use of
a theoretical body of knowledge or specialized training and certification, they
underscored their similarity to the instructional faculty who conmiand the highest
professional status in community colleges.
The counselor's role was also highly effected by bureaucratization. The
very nature of bureaucracies induces human interaction that is brief and efficient,
but not necessarily meaningful. Improving human interaction is where counselors
need to focus their efforts, rather than dwelling on professional status. And,
administrators must also consider human interaction rather than just dividing tasks
and measuring the number of students served.
Statement of the Problem
Financial problems, social and emotional issues, and substance addictions
are just some of the distractions that may prevent community college students from
attaining their educational goals. Student services have long been tasked with
providing support services and programs that address these issues and promote
student success (Cohen & Brawer, 1989). The public pressure for colleges to
retain students and ensure student success is higher than it has ever been, with
lawmakers and the public calling for accountability and retention measures
(Garland & Grace, 1993; McClenney, 1994). At the same time, colleges are
strapped for resources and are examining the efficiency and effectiveness of all
student services programs (Cvancara, 1997; Pulliams, 1990).
Student services has been stressed as a "support function critical to
attaining educational objectives" in the literature on community colleges (Lorenzo,
1994, p.l 13). Counselors are masters level helping professionals who offer
academic, career, and personal counseling to students in need. They have been a
part of smdent services since community colleges began (Creamer & Dassance,
1986). And even though counseling services have not typically been
systematically measured and tracked, there are some studies that indicate a positive
correlation between counseling services and student retention. Coll and
VonSeggem (1975, 1986) cite three different studies conducted in the 1980s that
found counseling programs positively affect student enrollment by addressing
academic and personal issues that are distracting for students and that may lead to
dropping out.
Community colleges consider retention to be important and often list it as
part of their mission statements. They want students to obtain a degree and/or
transfer in order to combat the premise that community colleges merely serve to
"cool out" students, meaning students are convinced not to aspire to higher level
degrees (Clark, 1960, Martens, et al., 1995). But, they also want to retain students
for financial reasons. Cvancara (1997), in examining the challenges of counseling
in community colleges states:
Ultimately, a college's investment in counseling services helps not only the
students, but also the college.... If providing counseling for a student
keeps that student in school and helps him or her survive academically,
that's one more student for which the state will reimburse the college (p.13).
Consequently, administrators are weighing and comparing the positive aspects of
counseling services with the costs. They are under great scrutiny by the public and
funding sources to be accountable for all costs and to show the positive impact of
all programs (Garland & Grace, 1993; Wamath, 1973). This accountability is
experienced by all public education and human service organizations, and
administrators question the roles and tasks of all workers, as well as considering
how tasks and responsibilities can be divided in order to improve efficiency and
effectiveness (Katan, 1984; Matson, 1994).
Student services administrators in community colleges have followed this
trend and are considering the services provided by counselors and weighing
questions about efficiency and effectiveness. Should counselors be providing all
of these services, or could some of them be handled by advisors with bachelors' or
associates' degrees? Should they continue offering the traditional services of
personal, academic and career counseling, or should counselors be offering other
The personal counseling function of counselors is specifically being
questioned (Matson, 1983; Robbins, 1983). Personal counseling services are
costly and time-consuming and they are potentially Utigious situations (Gilbert,
1989; Pulliams, 1990). Should the focus of counseling services be solely on
academic and career issues or should personal issues be addressed?
The teaching of human development courses is another common function of
counseling services that is being questioned. Classes and preparation time take
counselors away from the office and limit their availability for one-to-one
counseling/advising sessions with students. Should counselors teach? And, if not,
should they retain status as faculty at their institutions?
These are some of the questions under considerable debate at Rogers
Community College. Rogers Community College (RCC) is the fictitious name for
the institution where I studied the counselor's role. At RCC and at other colleges
across the nation, the role of the counselor is being scrutinized.
But before changes are made, the full scope of the counseling role needs to
be examined. Previous studies about counselors have concentrated on role
definition, looking primarily at which tasks counselors perform and their job
satisfaction. This type of analysis examines only one aspect of the counselor's
role. I proposed that there were other elements that would provide a more complex
analysis of the role. In this study I first examine the counselor's role using a role
definition format to provide a baseline of data to compare with other studies. Then
I consider three other elements—intangible services, professionalization, and the
bureaucratic setting—that may be contributing to the uncertain position of
counselors in community colleges. The research questions that I explore in my
study are generated from these four elements and their influence on the counselor's
role. Let me describe these four elements in more detail.
(1) Role Definition
There has never been a clear and widely accepted definition of the
community college counselor's role. Counselors have never just provided
individual and group counseling like many of their counterparts in four-year
colleges and agency settings. In fact, administrators discourage personal
counseling because it is too expensive and is fraught with liability issues (Gilbert,
1989; Pulliams, 1990; Robbins, 1983). Their role typically has been to provide
limited personal counseling, academic advising, career counseling, program
development, and consultation. They may also teach classes, handle administrative
tasks and perform many other duties. This seems commendable to have a
professional staff that can serve in so many different capacities. But this
multifaceted counseUng role creates many misconceptions about what counselors
are doing and what they should be doing (Cvancara, 1997; Thurston, 1983). For
example. Gulp (1995) found that counselors at one community college preferred to
spend 50 percent of their time providing personal counseling to individual
students, while the faculty and students felt counselors needed to spend more time
dealing with students in groups and in the classroom.
The Gulp study indicates that counselors are experiencing role conflict and
role ambiguity due to multiple and nebulous expectations. These issues of role
definition are the bases of my first research question.
Research question 1: Are counselors experiencing role conflict and role
ambiguity and if so, how do they respond?
(2) Intangible Services
A second element that contributes to the uncertain position of the counselor
is intangibility. The work of the counselor is not highly discernible and there has
not been much effort in the past to attach measurable goals and outcomes to
counseling activities. As a result, counseling is in an insecure position within
colleges and is highly vulnerable to budget cuts. In addition, several authors
describe the sentiment that counseling does not usually generate academic credit
therefore it is not considered a central activity in moving students toward a degree
(Coll, 1993a; Robbins, 1983; Seidman, 1985).
As a result, counselors feel a constant need to demonstrate their worth. In
addition, they feel like their campus communities do not understand the basis of
counseling relationships and the positive effect on retention. This issue is the basis
of my second research question.
Research question 2: How do counselors endure in an atmosphere of
disrespect in regards to their effectiveness and uncertainty about their
continued role?
(3) Professionalization
The third element that I examine is the professional status of community
college counselors. Their role is based on a professional model that seeks to offer
theoretically based service to clients while maintaining a degree of autonomy in
the workplace. However, there is controversy over whether and to what degree
counseling should be considered a professional occupation. Most would agree that
the field of counseling is usually considered to be an emerging profession (Dunlop,
1968; Vacc & Loesch, 1994). Nationally and locally, counselors strive to fashion
their training and associations in such a way that they will be considered a
bonafide professional occupation. At the same time that counselors are striving for
professional status, they are also faced with the realization that the faculty are the
dominant professional group in a community college (Seidman, 1985). The
faculty have the most stams and authority in the community college setting. The
counselor's expertise and training in human development is commended by some,
but it is expertise in teaching that secures status in community colleges (Matson,
1983; Seidman, 1985).
Counselors want to be recognized as a professional occupation which
prompts them to focus on traditional counseling practices and areas of expertise.
But, counselors in community colleges also want to be recognized in their own
particular setting which values instructional expertise more highly. Thus, my third
research question emerges.
Research question 3: How do counselors assert their professional status in
an atmosphere that values the teaching profession more highly?
(4) Bureaucracy
Finally, a fourth contributing element to the counselor's role is the
bureaucratic disposition of the community college. Counselors enter the
workplace with the expectation of helping people to better their lives and of
creating improved communities. The reality of the urban community college as a
work setting, however, often precludes the fulfillment of professional altruistic
goals and strategies. Michael Lipsky (1980, p.xii), who has studied the tensions
that exist among clients, workers and administrators, states that people in the
helping occupations in bureaucratic settings "seek out these occupations because
of their potential as socially useful roles. Yet, the very nature of this work
prevents them from coming even close to the ideal conception of their jobs." The
urban community college is a typical bureaucratic institution that asks professional
workers to use their discretion in providing services, and at the same time, imposes
a bevy of rules and regulations about how services must be provided. For
example, counselors are hired to provide personal counseling as a part of their job,
using their professional discretion to help students overcome personal obstacles to
academic success. Conversely, the administration places limits on how many
times a counselor can meet with an individual student. A dichotomous policy like
this is confusing to counselors, and they struggle to understand their role and how
they can fulfill their professional goals in the organization.
Their struggles often result in the development of work patterns that help
them to narrow the gap between the institution's demands, the student's needs, and
their own professional values. These work patterns add up to informal and
unwritten policies which may have an effect on student success and on the
direction of the organization. These issues are the basis of the fourth research
Research question 4: How do counselors accept the limitations placed on
them by a bureaucratic institution?
Significance of the Problem
Before the fate of the counseling role is determined, we need to examine
closely these elements of the counseling role. How can institutions reshape and
redirect the counseling role when there is little research about the full complexities
of the role? This study provides awareness of how counselors perceive their role
and how they function within those parameters. In addition, the study examines
their everyday coping mechanisms which are key to understanding their genuine
role and contribution to the mission of the community college. Workers in
bureaucratic settings are subject to many rules, and it is important to understand
how the rules are experienced and how other pressures are dealt with (Lipsky,
Studies across the nation support the idea that counselors are frustrated and
unclear about their role in the conmiunity college. However, the Uterature does not
address how counselors respond to this ambiguity. If counselors are creating work
patterns in response to confusing and multifarious roles, then these work patterns
need to be examined in the context of the community college setting to determine
whether and to what extent counselors should be viewed not just as implementers
of policy, but as policy makers themselves.
The findings of this case study will provide a comprehensive study of the
conmiunity college counselor's role which is lacking in the literature. Other
smdies speak to why counselors are dissatisfied, but do not consider how
counselors respond. Furthermore, few studies consider the effects of the
bureaucratic institution and professionalization. This study will benefit RCC in
determining whether and how to restructure the counselor's role. The findings will
also be relevant for other institutions across the nation that are examining the role
of the community college counselor in an attempt to streamline student services
and/or redefine the counselor's role.
This research project developed out of my interest in the professionalization
of the field of student affairs. Student affairs programs, which began with basic
academic advising, student discipline, admissions and registration services, have
expanded to include numerous programs designed to promote student success, as
well as other programs that have been relinquished by faculty over the years.
These programs include counseling, housing, orientation, student union, activities,
remediation/tutoring, multiculturalism, special populations programs, career
counseUng, recruitment and retention, and financial aid, to name a few. This field
has followed a similar path as other occupations and has worked to estabUsh itself
as a profession. The rationale for increased professionahzation in general is to
improve services to chents and to maintain high standards of service and of
personal conduct. As student affairs professionals, it is assumed that increased
professionahzation will result in better service to students. However, student
affairs hterature on this subject focuses on the benefits for workers and the field,
and not on improved services. There is little research in the field that studies how.
and if, increased professionalization within student affairs has any effect on
workers (other than beneficial) or on the institution, and there is even less research
that examines whether there are any effects on students. With these issues in
mind, I set out to design a study whereby I could examine the impact of increasing
Rather than trying to assess the impact of professionalization on an entire
student affairs department which might have included ten different specialty areas,
I narrowed the focus of my project to one department within student affairs. This
enabled me to intensely study the effects of professionalization in one area. I
chose the counseling department because it is the department within student affairs
that is most heavily immersed in professionalization issues. But, instead of
examining counselors within the context of student affairs professionalization, I
chose to examine them within the context of counseling professionalization issues.
Counselors are more surongly aligned with the counseling field than with the
smdent affairs field. They were trained as professional counselors and are more
likely to participate in professional organizations that are rooted in counseling,
than in student affairs.
The backgrounds of professional counselors, college counselors and
community college counselors all have bearing on this study. They all share a
common historical background, but they also experienced unique developments as
they were molded to fit the characteristics of their institutions. I will separately
review each of the following areas—(1) the counseling profession, (2) counselors
in higher education, (3) counselors in community colleges, and (4) counselors at
RCC—to demonstrate how these backgrounds impact this study.
(1) The Counseling Profession
Purkey and Schmidt (1987) offer this definition of counseling:
Professional counseling consists of a broad range of activities and services
provided by a wide variety of trained professionals. It is an emerging
profession that includes services offered by counselors and related
specialists in educational, industrial, medical, residential, recreational,
correctional, pastoral, and countless other work settings.
The early history of the counseling profession can be traced back to the tum-ofthe-century with the introduction of guidance programs into schools (Myering,
1964; Purkey & Schmidt, 1987). As industrialization changed the face of the
western world, a need for assisting young people through the educational process
became apparent.
By the 1940s, guidance programs expanded into a wider view including life
adjustment (Purkey & Schmidt, 1987). Sigmund Freud and other psychoanalysts
influenced the field as counseling began to help individuals resolve difficulties and
deal with life problems (Pietrofesa, Leonard, & Van Hoose, 1978). In addition,
die psychometrics movement associated with World War II had a significant
influence on the counseling profession. Research studies and personnel work
related to the war effort contributed to the understanding of personality and
adjustment (Pietrofesa, Leonard, & Van Hoose, 1978). But it was the
combination of psychoanalysis and psychometrics that eventually shaped the
counseling field that we know today (Tyler, 1969; Whiteley, 1980).
Developmental theorists also had a powerful influence on the profession
from the 1940s through the 1960s. Havighurst's identification of developmental
tasks and Carl Rogers' client-centered counseling were just two of the theories that
revolutionized the movement away from rudimentary testing and vocational
placement and into a person-oriented counseUng focus (Purkey & Schmidt, 1987).
Counseling joined the ranks of other helping occupations in the first half of
the century in an effort to increase their professional status. In the late 1940s there
was a movement to increase professional qualifications which culminated in the
1947 Statement on the Preparation of Counselors (Pietrofesa, Leonard, & Van
Hoose, 1978). By the 1970s several states had passed laws providing for licensure
of counselors in private practice. And, by 1992, thirty-two states had counselor
licensure requirements (Vacc & Loesch, 1994). Professional associations were
also founded in the 1940s and 1950s and served to further the goals of the
counseling field.
The helping occupations, like counseling, psychology and social work
shared some common characteristics in their quest for professional status, which
are noted by Rein and White (1981). They assert that human service professions,
like counseling, have all contended with lower status in the occupational hierarchy
for several reasons: their unique skills have always been recognizably weak, they
are unusually responsive to the context of their setting, and their operations are at
the mercy of politics that change with each generation. Hanna and Bemak (1997)
agree that counselors have skills that are not unique. They state:
It would be difficult for any therapy discipUne to carve out a unique identity
because such a quest is based on an illusion of separateness. . .. This
knowledge base transcends the boundaries of the various professions, it is
multidisciplinary, and it makes use of language available to all (p. 202).
Reisch and Wenocur (1986) corroborate the second point above—that these
professions are unusually responsive to the context of their setting. They have
studied the professionalization of social work and believe this occurs because this
"practice developed mainly in an agency context, and social workers have been
especially vulnerable to expectations for ideological and behavioral conformity
from bureaucratic authorities and political and financial sponsors (p. 76)." This is
also true of the counseling field which developed in educational settings that also
are characteristically bureaucratic and under the influence of politics and funding
(2) Coimselors in Higher Education
The earliest counselors were faculty, deans and presidents. This model had
worked since the first colleges and universities opened their doors, but there were
several changes in the early 1900s in these institutions that affected how students
were counseled and advised. One change was the influence of the German
research orientation. As faculty placed more emphasis on individual and collective
research, there was less time to counsel students. Another change was that
institutions were growing larger and the increased ratio between faculty and
students made it difficult to counsel smdents individually. At the same time,
vocational guidance was being introduced into public school systems.
Consequently, the vocational counselor made a logical move into the domain of
colleges and universities (Heppner & Neal, 1983; Yarns, 1996).
At the same time that counselors were establishing their presence in
colleges, the field of student affairs was organizing and moving towards a more
professional status. Student affairs had emerged when several functions like
student records, advising and discipline had been abandoned by the faculty in the
early 1900s. College student affairs and college counselors were also being
influenced by the developmentalists as evidenced by The Student Personnel Point
of View report which issued in 1937 by the American Council on Education. The
report emphasized the development of the student as a person rather than upon his
intellecmal training alone (Creamer & Dassance, 1986).
Heppner and Neal (1983) state that the period between 1945 and 1955 was
one of "transition and professionalism" for college counselors (p. 83). On the one
hand, the counseling movement in higher education was being advanced by the
funding for veterans returning from World War 11 and the emphasis was on testing
and career education. But, during this same period, college counseling was being
influenced by the psychoanalysis and human development movements and began
to separate themselves from other student personnel work. By the late 1950s the
trend for counseling had moved away from vocational guidance to a broad
developmental form of personal counseling (Yarris, 1996).
The next two decades brought the continued expansion of counseling
centers and personal counseling. But, during the late 1970s and 1980s, college
counseling centers began to experience constricted budgets. In response.
counseling centers did begin to offer outreach activities that impacted larger
numbers of students, but personal counsehng remained the major role (Heppner &
Neal, 1983).
Heppner and Neal (1983) report that the majority of studies on college
counseling services from the 1950s through the 1980s show that students rank
vocational counseling as most appropriate problem for counselors. And, yet the
field continued to move into the specialized realm of personal counseling. Forrest
(1989), in describing the current college counselor's role writes:
Psychologists and many professional counselors are more likely to consider
the work they do to be psychotherapy, more involved in diagnosis and
assessment, better informed about theories of abnormal behavior and
psychopathology, more likely to administer and interpret psychological
tests, more likely to receive referrals or to consult about seriously disturbed
students, and more likely to be considered the mental health experts on
campus than other student affairs professionals. .. Student affairs
professionals who are not trained in counseling or psychology are limited in
their use of a counseling model (p. 275).
This movement into personal counseling also impacted counselors in community
colleges. I now turn to brief review of the history of counselors in community
(3) Counselors in Community Colleges
Community colleges were introduced as junior colleges in the late 1800s
and were mandated to relieve the universities of freshman and sophomore studies
(Cohen & Brawer, 1989). Many of these early community colleges were
associated with secondary schools, consequently the high school counselor was a
significant model for the community college counselor. Vocational counseling
was the primary function of these early high school counselors and it was primary
for early community college counselors as well as for counselors in four-year
institutions (Creamer, 1994).
During the period of 1945 to 1985 two-year colleges experienced
phenomenal growth. In addition to adding students, community colleges added the
functions of adult education and community services to their former mission of
transfer and occupational education. And it was in 1948 when the term community
college, which more accurately depicted the changing mission, was formally
introduced (Creamer & Dassance, 1986). The changing mission now encompassed
attending to the educational needs of the community as the primary reference point
(Gleazer, 1994).
Baker (1994) suggests that community colleges are social systems. Outside
forces—political, economic, social—affect their internal functions. Community
colleges respond, and as a result the external environment is affected. He contends
that it is this social system interaction that has altered the community college
mission from "one of primarily providing a university transfer program to one of
providing a comprehensive range of offerings in response to a changing societal
context"(p. xii). External forces of the day persuaded leaders "to begin thinking in
terms of educating the masses, community needs and services, open access, and
vocational/technical education" (p. xii).
Expansion of the community college curricula resulted in confusion and
conflict about the community college mission and educational role. Deegan, et al.,
(1993) suggested that community colleges were struggling with ambiguous
mission statements and internal role conflicts. They also asserted that the future
success of community colleges would be determined by their ability to clarify their
roles for counseling as well as all other areas by adopting practices, actions, and
policies that lead to quality programs. Matson (1983, p. 20) concurs with this
notion stating that "the dynamic, every-changing qualities of the two-year college
have contributed to a long-term concern with the definition of the counselor's
The open-door policies and the mission to provide access to higher
education for all citizens also contributed to the need for counselors and to their
expanding role. As community colleges endeavored to attract first generation
college students, it became apparent that this population held diverse needs and
characteristics that presented programmatic challenges to student affairs
practitioners and administrators (Martens, et al., 1995).
Community college counselors were also being influenced by the same
factors that counselors, in general, were assimilating: the psychoanalytic influence,
the psychometric influence, the human development influence and
professionalization issues. The four-year colleges were continuing to move
towards a more prominent personal counseling model and this effected the
characteristics of community college counselors, however community college
counselors never gave up their advising function as did most four-year college
counselors (Matson, 1983). Robbins (1983, p. 6) stated that some counselors were
using a therapeutic orientation, but that few colleges maintained this approach
because it was too expensive.. . "sometimes to the regret of those counselors who
were restless to practice what excited them in graduate school or in their former
Even though counselors seemed to have carved a niche for themselves in
community colleges, the financial worries of the 1970s and 1980s would cause
institutions to reevaluate counseling and all other programs. Funding for
community colleges had shifted over the years into the hands of state governments,
turning funding issues into political debates (Cohen & Brawer, 1989). As costs
were driven up by increasing enrollments and high inflation, community colleges
were forced to control expenditures. And because the funding shift had made this
a political issue, administrators were looking for ways to bolster programs that
demonstrated a direct benefit to society. Services that helped students achieve
educational success in a timely and efficient manner became paramount. Services
such as academic advising and vocational advising were given priority in this
period of fiscal stringency (Coll, 1993). And this shift in emphasis seems to be
continuing to gain momentum. A statement from an Illinois community college
administrator described the change this way, "It doesn't take someone with a
Master's or Ph.D. in counseling and national certification to do academic and
career advising. A bachelor's degree will do (Cvancara, 1997, p. 35)."
During the 1970s and 1980s counselors also became involved in the
teaching of courses in human development like self-esteem, test anxiety, and
career exploration. This movement is described as an attempt to reach more
students during periods of contiguous growth and fiscal shortages (Matson, 1983).
McGrath and Spear (1991, p. 50) saw this movement from a different perspective.
As counselors and others began embracing the human development movement,
there was a shift from remediation to developmental education that "happened
quietly, without rancor or debate." There was a subtle blending of cognitive and
personal development goals. And as a result, McGrath and Spear (1991) state:
The affinity between developmental programs and the student service
function commonly results in institutional alliances between developmental
faculty and counseling staff.... As the cryptocounseling stance of
developmental instruction established itself throughout the community
college, the counseling staff was tremendously reinforced by an energetic
and committed developmental teaching faculty, (p. 51)
Overall, defining the counselor's role has challenged community college
counselors during the entire history of the institution. Several recent studies
provide a understanding of their current role. Coll and House (1991) report that
the main activities of counselors still included academic, career and personal
counseUng, but the trend is towards more academic counseling and less personal
counseling. In their study of Oregon community college counselors, they found
that counselors reported spending 32% of their time providing academic advising,
16% of their time providing career advising and 14% of their time counseling on
personal matters. Other duties included administrative tasks, teaching, testing.
orientation, and special programs. Drakulich (1992) also reports that counselors in
New Jersey community colleges spend 29% of their time providing academic and
educational counseling, 10% career advising and 14% personal counseling. A
study by Keim (1988) shows that counselors, nationwide, are spending 29% of
their time in academic counseling, 16% career and 11% personal. In each of these
studies counselors were primarily providing academic counseling, but they related
that they preferred to do less of this and more personal counseling. Robbins
(1983) described the counselor's multiple roles:
Because the varied counseling activities of an eclectic approach seem to
lack that single focus that characterizes the work of the traditional
counseling practitioner, the community college counselor's role is often
misunderstood, unappreciated, even abused. The counselor, some charge, is
trying to be all things to all people. He or she can even be given jobs that
no one else wants or feels able to do! (p. 10)
Recent studies also indicate that the ratio of full-time counselors to students
is around 1:1,000. Keim's (1988) study reported a ratio of 1:951. She also
reported that this number had increased from earlier studies that reported the ratio
at 1:400-600 (Hinko, 1971, as cited in Keim, 1988). More recently, Lorimer
(1994) found that the median ratio for California counselors was 1:1,717. And
Cvancara (1997) relates that the ratio for counselors at an Ohio community college
is approximately 1:1,000.
I have reviewed the backgrounds of counselors, in general, in higher
education, and specifically in community colleges. Now, let me review the current
status of counselors at RCC where I conducted my research.
(4) Rogers Community College Counselors
RCC is a large urban conmiunity college in the southwest. It maintains five
different campuses ranging in size from approximately 13,000 students at the
largest campus to 2,000 students at the smallest. It has been in existence for
twenty-five years and maintains a typical mission of providing transfer programs,
terminal vocational degrees and community service.
RCC opened during the time period that I have described earlier as being
one of transition and professionalism for counselors. The first counselors at RCC
were from the faculty ranks and they did not necessarily have any formal training
or background in counseling. And even though they functioned as counselors,
they were seen as faculty. As the college grew, their major function became the
coordination of academic advising. Academic advising, like counseUng, occurs
with students, one-to-one, but the encounter is usually brief and it does not delve
into personal issues. Some of the work advisors handle include course selection.
semester planning, clarification of degree requirements, and degree checks.
The first advisors were hired through a special program and were
supervised by counselors. They were paraprofessionals who were working
towards bachelor's degrees in a related field. But, over the years, they became
permanent positions, filled by associate or bachelor level staff employees.
RCC administrators, like other community college administrations, were
pressed by political and financial forces that compelled them to place emphasis on
programs that demonstrably got students from point "A" to point "B." As more
staff were hired, they hired bachelor's level advisors and as counselors retired and
resigned they were not replaced. Counselors were also being impacted by the
broad changes in the counseling field. As the focus of professional began to place
more emphasis on personal counseling it gave further rationale for the
administration to continue hiring advisors in the place of—or instead of—
This shift in focus can be verified through documents pertaining to
counselors at RCC. In a handbook for counselors, written in the 1980s, the focus
is entirely on personal counseling. It covers, in detail, professional counseling
concerns such as ethical standards, crisis counseling, and student referral. But, this
handbook does not address methods or issues related to career or academic
advising. However, in a 1995 program review of the counseling department, the
goals clearly include academic and career advising.
During the 1970s and 1980s, RCC counselors, like others across the nation,
were induced to begin offering classes in various topics on human development in
order to reach larger numbers of students. Another less obvious reason may have
been that teaching was "a means of gaining respectability in the eyes of the
academic teaching faculty" (Matson 1983, p. 22).
Today, there are approximately twenty-one full-time counselors at RCC and
five part-timers. All but one held masters degrees and two held doctorate degrees.
The majority of the counselors in this study had guidance counseling degrees from
state colleges of education and over half of them had worked as teachers in public
education. The ratio of counselors per students is in the range of 1:1,000 like that
which is reported in studies already mentioned.
The community college counselor's role has developed and changed over
the years as the result of many different influences. Counselors began their
presence in higher education in a vocational context. New theories and concepts
of human development prompted counselors to shift emphasis towards a personoriented counseling focus during the latter half of this century. But, fiscal
stringency of the 1980s and 1990s again prompted a shift back to a vocational
context. Counselors and administrators continue to debate what the focus of the
counselor's role should be. Purkey and Schmidt (1987) offer a consummate
statement that speaks to the counseling issues that I have described in this first
The counseling process, as opposed to other educational or vocational
activities, has not received unanimous support within the profession,
particularly in some school programs where other pressing needs such as
testing, placement advisement and guidance are sometimes seen as more
important than counseling. Consequently, practicing counselors continue to
debate the merits of their various professional roles and functions. The
debate is sometimes nurtured by the diversity of those in the counseling
profession, (p. 138)
The research questions that I will address attempt to clarify the counselor's
role. They will illuminate the counselor's role and examine it within the context of
a bureaucratic setting. Further, this study not only examines counselors' activities
and roles, but it considers how their professional status has served to shape those
roles. Lastly, this research considers the implications of counselors' actions as
they struggle to act out their professional roles in a bureaucracy.
Experiential Knowledge
The theoretical framework for my study is based not only on formal theories
previously established by other researchers, but also on my own experience and
identity (Maxwell, 1996). The latter elements need to be identified and considered
as analytical frameworks that guide my research. Part of my experiential
knowledge comes from working in community college smdent development
programs and observing counselors and counseling departments. I have worked at
two institutions that treated the counselor's role differently. At one institution,
counselors were master-level, professional staff. They provided academic, career
and limited personal counseling, and also taught human development courses and
developed student development programs. Counselors at the second institution,
had almost identical responsibilities, but held faculty status. This latter structure is
the same as RCCs. Consequently, my personal experience has led me to be
curious about these different structures and their effect on the counselor's role.
Another part of my experiential knowledge is linked to academic
knowledge, and relates to my interest in professional occupations and particularly
the professionalization of student affairs. I had explored these topics throughout
my doctoral studies and had come to share the view of some scholars that the
professionalization of human services occupations primarily serves to promote the
interests of those within the occupation and not of the clients whom they serve
(Cullen, 1978, Hirt, 1991, Hoffman, 1989). I bring these views to my research.
They influence my research questions and my data gathering.
Existing Theory and Research
There are three formalized theories that I draw on to inform my research on
counselors in the community college. I will provide an explanation of each theory
and describe how it has been used to examine the counselor's role. I will also
address how each theory will inform my research. Role theory is the first of these
and is the most commonly used to examine community college counselors and
their activities.
Role Theory
Role theory "seeks to explain the ways in which the behavior of the
individual is directly and indirectly influenced by the social environment (Vida
Davis, 1996)." It postulates that people play out roles according to groups and
categories to which they belong: professional groups, ethnic groups, mothers, etc.
People identify with those groups by internalizing the group's attitudes as their
own and seeing themselves as others see them. Another aspect of role theory is
that society designates the status of a particular role, then appropriate behaviors
and structures are built around that designation. Consequently, the use of role
theory to examine occupations within organizations concentrates on workers
fulfilling and experiencing a specific role.
The use of role theory makes sense in studying community college
counselors. They are professional workers placed in positions where their roles
are unclear and often disparate from their formal training. Counselors, themselves,
have expectations about their role based on their formal training. Administrators
have notions about the counselor's role based on institutional needs. Faculty and
staff have notions about the counselor's role based on tradition and experiences.
And, students have notions about counselors based on societal definitions of the
word "counselor." When counselors then attempt to perform their duties, they
often encounter incompatible demands. Turner, 1996, describes these types of
encounters as "role conflict." Counselors also often encounter unclear or
incomplete expectations which are described as "role ambiguity." Consequently,
they find themselves constantly negotiating their roles.
Role theory is very prevalent in studies of community college counselors.
Bernard Ancheta (1983) wrote a review of the studies on the role of community
college counselors that had been conducted in the general time period between
1965 and 1975. The majority of these studies were either dissertations or articles
that evolved from dissertations. The function of the college counselor was one
issue that was addressed. Several studies indicated that counselors thought that
their most important function was to address personal adjustment problems, while
at the same time, other campus groups considered academic functions to be more
important (Pepinsky & Meara, 1973; Resnick & Gelso, 1971, as cited in Ancheta,
1983). Other studies found that counselors did not understand and agree on their
own role (Bentley, 1968; Crosby, 1976; Rippee, Hanvey & Parker, 1965, as cited
in Ancheta, 1983). Several researchers reported that counselors' failure to
communicate their role had contributed to role conflict for the group (Bentley,
1968; Crosby, 1976; DeVolder, 1968; Mozee, 1972; Palmer, 1973; Shertzer &
Stone, 1963; Winderman, 1964, as cited in Ancheta, 1983). Smdies during this
period also cited disagreement among campus groups as a contributor to role
conflict for counselors (Bentley, 1968; Crosby, 1976; Forsythe, 1971; Herrick,
1968, as cited in Ancheta, 1983).
More recently, Kenneth Coll has conducted numerous studies utilizing role
theory to examine the counselor's role. In a study of counselor role congruence
and job satisfaction. Coll (1989) administered a questionnaire and utilizing a
stepwise multiple regression analysis, found that experience in the counseling
profession, positive perception of leadership decision making, a full-time
faculty/staff development specialist on campus, and professional definition as an
educator/counselor, and a peer counseling program were all associated with high
counselor role congruence. In another study, he found that role conflict and role
ambiguity were a problem for Oregon community college counselors (Coll &
House, 1991). Coll and Rice (1993) in a study of the relationship between
conmiunity college counselor role conflict and such variables as organizational
policies, management style, counselor-worker cooperation, and leadership found
that rigid organizational policies contributed to role conflict, and counselors could
benefit from more agreement among themselves.
Other authors have also recently studied the role of conununity college
counselors. Olsen and Matkin (1992) examined whether differences existed
between smdents' and counselors' perceptions of work activities and found that
students did not believe that counselors were actually performing the majority of
tasks commonly and ideally associated with career counseling services.
Drakulich (1992) studied the role and function of New Jersey community
college counselors and found that they prefer to do less individual advising,
administrative work, and transfer counseling. Counselors in his study wanted to
focus more on personal concerns counseling and group counseling. They were
also concerned about the professional qualifications and ethical standards.
The studies that I have described in this section used the concepts of role
theory to study community college counselors. In addition to these studies, there
are even more articles and reports that describe the role conflict and role ambiguity
of counselors, but do not systematically provide research on this issue(Cvancara,
1997, Gilbert, 1989, Robbins, 1983). These studies and reports describe and
pinpoint where the areas of conflict occur and what the conflicts are, but they
generally do not discuss the possible sources of role conflict and role ambiguity.
However, a recent study by Kenneth Coll (1993b) does begin to answer this
question. He studied role conflict of counselors in accredited versus nonaccredited
counseling centers. Only eleven out 250 community college counseling centers in
the United States are accredited by the International Association of Counseling
Services. Coll makes an assumption that these accredited counseling centers
maintain a higher level of professionalism and thus the counselors would
experience lower levels of role conflict. His study found that counselors from
accredited counseling centers experienced significantly less role conflict in the
areas of resources and support, multiple demands and working with campus
constituencies with divergent expectations.
Coil's study was the only one that I found in the literature that takes the
issue of the role of the counselor and relates it to counselors' professional status.
He explores the lack of professionalization as a possible source of role conflict,
and professionalization is an issue that I explore in this study. So, I now turn to an
examination of professionalization.
From a traditional and historical perspective, the growth of
professionalization can be attributed to three phenomena (Cullen, 1978). First, the
growth of science and technology after the Civil War demanded that workers have
greater knowledge and more expertise (Metzger, 1989, Jencks and Riesman,
1977). Second, value systems have evolved that support increasing scientific
knowledge, and using that knowledge to obtain the valued ends. Third,
occupations have simply chosen the best means to attain their chosen ends. Cullen
refers to these historical explanations as the "process of rationalization."
The proponents of a historical and traditional explanation of
professionalization also theorize that occupations develop professionalism's
elements because of intrinsic qualities such as intellectually complex tasks and
work with people (Cullen, 1978). Cullen, 1978, refers to this proclivity as the
"exchange-structural" explanation, which further characterizes professions as
having long training periods, ethical codes, licensure, high income and high
In summary, historical and traditional explanations state that professions are
distinguished from the lesser occupations by a set of central attributes: possession
of theoretically based knowledge, altruistic ideals of service, and the right to
autonomy in the workplace (Hoffman, 1989, Metzger, 1987, Freidson, 1973).
The professionalization of the counseling field has primarily been explained
in the literature by using theories based on historical and traditional interpretations.
Coil's (1993) study of accredited versus nonaccredited counseling centers, which I
presented in the previous section, utilizes this type of explanation of
professionalization. Although this bent to historical and traditional interpretation
can be enlightening, it is incomplete in its analysis. As Cullen, 1978, s t a t e s , . .
the study of professionalization has been largely a theoretical or historical
exercise—legitimate in its own right, but only a segment of the entire picture."
The alternative theoretical explanation to exchange-structuralism is power
orientation (Cullen, 1978). In this framework, power is the underlying motivator
for increased professionalization. Professional groups are considered to be
monopolies whose actions are based on occupational self-interest. The profession
mobilizes its resources and uses its power and influence in order to maintain high
income and prestige (Cullen, 1978, Hirt, 1991).
The power orientation was brought out in the 1960s and 70s when several
sociologists undertook to demythologize professionalism (Metzger, 1989). They
advanced the argument that the qualities attributed to the professions are not
objective descriptions, but ideological commercials, designed to promote the
interests of their members. A shift in values in which the practitioner becomes less
concerned with the opinion of laymen, and becomes more concerned with the
opinion of his fellow practitioners is also characteristic of the power orientation
The power orientation does not see professionalism as purely noble and
beneficial to society. Hoffman, 1989, summarizes the power orientation
Knowledge and expertise are not the neutral scientific elements emphasized
by traditional theory but political resources in the battle for power and
stams, constructed and advanced by occupations and segments within
occupations to forward collective aims.
The power orientation described by Cullen and others provide an
explanation that is not explored in research and discussions of college counseling.
It provides additional insight into the role of community college counselors,
specifically the ongoing political negotiation of their status on campus.
Street-Level Bureaucracy
As I have described, most studies of community college counselors utilize
role theory. It provides a useful, but limited view. Professionalization theory
offers another angle that allows us to consider alternative interpretations and
understandings of role conflict and role confusion for counselors. The third
analytical framework that guides my research is Michael Lipsky's street-level
bureaucracy (Lipsky, 1980). This concept provides a deeper analysis for the issues
of professional counselors. 1 use street-level bureaucracy as a spotlight that
illuminates what I am seeing in my research (Maxwell, 1996). This type of
spotlight theory draws your attention to particular events or phenomena and sheds
light on relationships that might otherwise go unnoticed or be misunderstood
(Maxwell, 1996).
Community colleges and counselors fit Lipsky's definition with some
limitations. Lipsky defines street-level bureaucrats as public service workers who
interact directly with citizens in the course of their job and who have substantial
discretion in the execution of their work. Community college counselors match
this definition in that they work direcdy with clients/students and they have
substantial discretion over their work. Lipsky's conditions for a street-level
bureaucracy are described below. Each condition has a following statement that
describes the parallel, or lack thereof, with community colleges.
(1) has chronically inadequate resources relative to the tasks to be
performed—The typical public community college is fighting for adequate
(2) the demand for services tends to increase to meet the supply—
Community colleges with easy, open access will attract students that might
not otherwise be attending college.
(3) ambiguous, conflicting, vague goal expectations—This pertains to the
conmiunity college mission but more strongly to the goals of counseling
departments specifically.
(4) difficult to measure goals—It is difficult to measure success in
community colleges as well as within counseling departments.
(5) clients are typically nonvoluntary—This applies only partially. College
is optional, but for many students, the local community college may be their
only option for higher education. Accessing counseling services is also
Street-level bureaucracy is similar to the first two theories in that it does
consider roles within an organization and issues of professional status. But Lipsky
adds the dimension of the bureaucratic institution and its effect. In bureaucracies.
professionals and other service workers struggle to reach an accommodation
between their seemingly limitless responsibilities for making decisions about their
client's problems and their clearly limited capacity to affect resolutions (Gambrill,
1997). In their struggle for accommodation, street-level bureaucrats find ways to
cope with the situation and they fmd ways to circumvent the bureaucracy. By their
everyday actions and the setting of priorities, street-level bureaucrats often create
institutional policy. This spotlight theory, street-level bureaucracy, helps me to
take my analysis one step further and consider not only the role and functions of
the community college counselor, but the organizational interactions and their
Lipsky uses three patterns of practice to illuminate the interactions of
street-level bureaucrats. He describes these patterns thus:
First, they develop patterns of practice that tend to limit demand, maximize
the utilization of available resources, and obtain client compliance over and
above the procedures developed by their agencies. They organize their
work to derive a solution within the resource constraints they encounter.
Second, they modify their concept of their jobs, so as to lower or otherwise
restrict their objectives and thus reduce the gap between available resources
and achieving objectives. Third, they modify their concept of the raw
materials with which they work—their clients—so as to make more
acceptable the gap between accomplishments and objectives.
Interestingly, Collison and Garfield (1996, p. 15), in describing the
counseling field, say that "people are best suited for counseling and human
services careers if they can be satisfied to (a) know they have done the best they
can do, (b) judge their jobs for themselves, © be patient with outcomes, and (d)
work in situations they cannot control." They see these tendencies as inherent. On
the other hand, Lipsky sees these tendencies as behaviors that have the potential to
produce or impact policy.
Lipsky's theory of street-level bureacracy precipitates me to examine the
role of community college counselors at a different level. Not only will I examine
whether their role is ambiguous and conflictual, and not only will I consider the
influence of their professional status, but I will examine and consider the
implications of their attempts to cope with their role within a bureaucracy.
My preliminary interviews and review of the literature revealed that the
concept of the professional counselor role is both complex and specific to its
context. In other words, counselors at a conmiunity college have very different
experiences than counselors in other settings. I chose to conduct my study in the
setting of a community college. And because of the complexity of the topic, the
significance of context and the depth of human emotions and perspectives
involved, qualitative research methods were chosen. I wanted my research to
connect with counselors' experience of everyday realities. Bolster suggests that a
qualitative approach emphasizes the perspective of the worker and the
understanding of particular settings, and has much potential for informing policy
decisions and future worker roles (as cited in Maxwell, 1996).
This is a case study of community college counselors. My goal is to
understand counselors and their roles by studying a particular case (Stake, 1995).
The extent to which counselors at RCC reflect the feelings and attimdes of
counselors at other institutions probably varies according to institutional
Personal interviews with counselors were chosen as the primary source of
data. This rich data provided insight into the meaning of the counseling role. I
chose to study counselors at a local community college, allowing me to conduct
interviews over a period of time when it was convenient for the counselors.
Rogers Community College has five different campuses. The context of
those campuses varies significantly. Table 1 offers some basic data on the
counseUng departments of each RCC campus.
Table 1 - Basic data by campus.
Dean, Student
Counseling^^dvising Supervisor
# of Full-time
/ 'hi
# of Parttime
Campus *
*Headcount figures based on 95/96 Factbook. FTE figures based on 96/97 Student
All of the campuses offer general education and transfer courses. Campus 1, 2, 3
and 5 also offer vocational programs and campus 4 offers nontraditional courses as
well as noncredit courses. Each campus has a unique counseling philosophy and
structure. The campus presidents and the deans set the tone for the counseling
departments. There is no executive-level student development officer;
consequently, there is not a strong district-wide directive for counseling
department structures.
I had previously conducted research and worked part-time at Rogers
Community College in the student development area. My previous work was not
in the counseling field, but in other areas of student development. This allowed
me to be seen as a friendly and familiar face with an objective and sympathetic
agenda in regards to community college counselors.
I chose not to obtain an official sanction from the administration, but
instead approached each campus individually, working with the Deans of Student
Development to obtain permission to interview counselors. I thought a sanction or
introduction from the college administration might give the impression that I was
out to discover and report on some negative aspect of counseling.
I sent a memorandum to each counselor briefly describing my research and
indicating that I would be taping and transcribing each interview verbatim.
Appointments were made through the receptionists at two of the campuses. This
arrangement proved to be problematic much of the time. Counselors often
canceled appointments, were not there, or were unaware that they had an
appointment when I arrived. I made appointments with individual counselors at
the other campuses and although it was often difficult to make the initial contact, it
proved to be more efficient.
Document analysis was used as a secondary source of data. I had plarmed
to compare actual counselor activities with job descriptions. However, the only
existing job descriptions were over ten years old and were only available from two
of the campuses. I was able to conduct a content analysis on these documents, but
I was not able to use them in a comparison of daily counselor activities. I also
obtained and analyzed three other documents that were mentioned during
interviews: Counseling Program Review, 1995, Counseling Department-Campus
Annual Report, 96/97 and RCC Counselor's Handbook, 1990.
Data Collection
There are twenty-one full-time counselors at RCC. I was able to interview
all counselors at the three smaller campuses. The largest campus has eight
counselors in the student development department and four academic division
counselors. Of these counselors, I interviewed four student development
counselors and two division counselors. The second-largest campus has four fulltime counselors of which three were interviewed. In addition, I interviewed three
of the five part-time counselors. The total number of counselor interviews was
seventeen. I had well-rounded representation from all campuses, ail types of
counselors, as well as newer counselors and seasoned counselors.
I also interviewed administrators and supervisors. Each campus has a dean
of student development and the two larger campuses have an associate dean. I
considered these positions to be administrative. They are not involved with daily
operations. Each campus also had a supervisor that managed the daily operations
of the counseUng and advising departments. These supervisors often assisted in
providing services to students. I visited with deans at four of the campuses. In
addition, I met with one of the associate deans and two of the counseling/advising
supervisors for a total of seven interviews out of ten total
I used a semi-structured interview approach to help me elicit information in
response to my research questions. The questions and interview schedule were
tested and refined through two pilot interviews. The interview questions were
formatted into a checklist that enabled me to have greater consistency during an
interview and to focus on the interviewee, rather than fumbUng through my notes
(see Appendix A). The interview questions for administrators were developed
after conducting several counselor interviews. This enabled me to include
questions that addressed current counselor concerns (see Appendix B).
For the most part, counselors were interested in my study and were content
to give me an hour of time for the interview. The interviews were held in the
counselors' offices and were usually uninterrupted. I did not ask every single
question of every counselor. Rather, I tried to allow the counselor to answer a
question and naturally move into another subject when possible. I did check my
question list occasionally to see if most of the topics had been covered and if
possible I attempted to incorporate those questions that had not been covered. But,
I was most concerned with following the interviewee's personal concerns and
Data Analysis
I began the data analysis by transcribing each interview. Then, the
interviews were analyzed using a categorizing strategy (Maxwell, 1996). I read
through the transcripts highlighting words, phrases and sentences that provided
answers or insight to the research questions. The highlighted portions were then
categorized according to themes. I grouped the themes according to the relating
research question.
In order to sort the data, I assigned a numeric code to each theme or
concept. With the coding system in place, I scrutinized every line of text, deleting
superfluous information and assigning codes to the rest. Consequently, each
transcript was condensed into a shorter, more workable form and no words, or
their order, were changed. Each transcript was saved in its original form and in a
second form which contained only the coded information. This coding system
continued to grow and change as I continued to examine the data from each
interview (see Appendix C).
After all the interviews had been coded, I compiled the coded documents
and sorted the data using a word processor. At this point, I could examine the data
for trends and relationships. I developed a form for use with individual topics, in
which I noted what each counselor had said (see Appendix D). This allowed me to
see any differences or trends by campus, or by type of counselor. Figure 1 is an
example of an original block of data from Counselor hi.
Figure 1 - Example of original block of text.
Interviewer; What type of students do you see most of the time and what type
of issues do they come in with?
Counselor b2;
It is pretty well distributed, I think. I would say there is one
type, I do a certain a percentage of career counseling, which
is several sessions if it is done thoroughly or appropriately.
I do get a lot of referrals for personal issues, stress related
stuff from whatever that source is. Instructors. Some of it-the other part of it is educational planning—what are my
goals. If they know their goals, but don't know how to get
there, kind of figuring out what classes they need, and that
kind of thing, it's more on the advising. But I don't—I
would say I'm pretty holistic—so advising is a narrow way
to define what I'll do with somebody who knows what they
want even.
This response from Counselor b2 was then coded and categorized. This particular
passage was relevant for several different categories as Figure 2 shows.
Figure 2 - Original block of text with relevant coding notations.
50100 b2
It is pretty well distributed. I think I would say there is not one
{Answers the direct question about types of student problems.)
10502 b2
I do a certain a percentage of career counseling, which is several
sessions if it is done thoroughly or appropriately.
(Insights about career counseling)
10501 b2
I do get a lot of referrals for personal issues, stress related stuff
from whatever that source is. Instructors.
(Insights about personal counseling)
10503 b2
the other part of it is educational planning—what are my goals. If
they know their goals but don't know how to get there, kind of
figuring out what classes they need, and that kind of thing, it's
more on the advising. But I don't—I would say I'm pretty holistic-so advising is narrow way to define what I'll do with somebody
who knows what they want even.
(Insights about academic advising)
10900 b2
the other part of it is educational planning—what are my goals. If
they know their goals but don't know how to get there, kind of
figuring out what classes they need, and that kind of thing, it's
more on the advising. But I don't—I would say I'm pretty holistic-so advising is narrow way to define what I'll do with somebody
who knows what they want even.
(Insights about the difference between counseling and advising)
The Uterature on the role of community college counselors indicates that
counselors struggle with role conflict due to receiving multiple and inconsistent
requests from different groups (Coll, 1993b). Before addressing why these
conflicts occur and how counselors cope with them, I had to determine whether
role conflict was an issue for RCC counselors and to what extent.
How RCC Counselors Perceive Their Roles
The most common definition of the role of a community college counselor
is a person who provides personal, academic and career counseling to students. I
made an assumption that counselors would describe their role in those terms. But,
this was not the case at RCC. Counselors described their roles in a broader set of
categories than the formal roles that are traditionally defined by official function
and job assigrunents. Counselors seemed to define and create their own roles,
individually. The counselors' responses about their role ranged from calming
people down, to being an expert in college skills, to being a companion. I initially
received 30 different types of responses describing the counselor role. Because I
received such a wide range of responses, I condensed some of the responses into
five broader categories (see Appendix E).
(1) Support
The most often used category was "support." Four counselors specifically
mentioned it and five others used similar language. Counselor al said, "A
counselor's role is that of support. I see it not only as a support for the student, but
(it) should (also) be to the faculty, (and) to the campus community." Some
counselors did not specifically say "support" but used similar language. Counselor
bl described the counselor role as being like a cheerleader. And counselor d2 said,
"You know, we make ourselves companions to the students, and they choose to
walk with us and so we're not their guide through life, through (their) time here,
through whatever, but we're companions."
(2) Educator
The next most conraionly used descriptor was the counselor as an educator.
Counselor d3 suggested:
I think the role of the college counselor is varied, in that the college
counselor is a professional educator and I think the work of the college
counselor has to be looked at as more than one-on-one meetings with
students, but has to look, be looked (at), as more of integrating the
educational process for the student and the institution. So, I think as
teaching, as working with special populations, special retention groups,
special committees, and meeting with students individually, it's a real
eclectic role.
Some counselors described the educator role in a slightly different way. Counselor
d2 said, "(I might say to a student,) let me help you look at the world a little
differently than you have before. I have some training, some knowledge, some
book learning, and some time on the planet. Maybe I have some ideas you haven't
thought of." And, counselor d4 described the educator role as "showing them how
college fits into the bigger picture."
(3) Helping and Guiding
The third most commonly used category was helping and guiding the
student. Some counselors used the words "help" and "guide." Other counselors
used the analogy of solving a problem or puzzle. Counselor d2 said, "Students
bump into a lot of frustrations and things, but boy, a lot of us work our damdest to
get them out of those frustrating situations. And, that's a real goal around here."
(4) Goal Development and Academic Success
Helping students set and attain goals and be successful in college was
another category of responses. For example Counselor a3 said, "I'd say first and
foremost (my job is) to help people succeed in their academic and career goals and
whatever it takes to do that."
(5) Institutional Support
Some counselors mentioned ways that the counselor role supported the
institution and institutional goals. Counselor d4 said, "I think a counselor also has
a responsibility to the institution to promote the policies of the code of conduct,
academic disqualification, and satisfactory progress, that type of thing. I think the
counselor needs to be involved in that or has a duty to represent not only student
issues but also the institutional issues as well." Counselor dl spoke of supporting
the educational process. He/she said, "I see our role as support to the primary
purpose of the college which is to educate the student, and to provide support
services to make that educational process comfortable. ...Counseling is a support to
the academic growth of the student."
The data that I have presented indicates that the counselors do not espouse a
concrete role definition. There are many themes that most counselors touched upon
and many of their comments overlapped one another, but there was not a
consistent, unifying theme about the counselor role that tied it all together. A
newer counselor had this to say:
When I was first hired, as a counselor, counselors that had worked here for
15 or 20 years were saying, "We need to define our role. It's never been
defined." And I thought, if you've been here 15 or 20 years, you'll probably
never define it. Some counselors in the district, they feel like it's not
defined, but I like to define my own role. It's clear in my mind. Whether or
not it's in line with what the administration wants, but it's clear in my mind
as to what I do as a counselor and what my mission is here. But it could
contradict what the institution defines as a counselor. No one has ever
really told me what counselors should be. So I have come up with my own
definition. I'll define my own role.
Another counselor agreed partly with the above statement by saying, "The
institution has yet to really understand how to best use us. In the absence of them
not doing that then we have to create our own definitions and our own roles, and
we need to be pro-active about it."
As I stated earlier, I thought counselors would describe their role as being
primarily that of counseling. Yet only one of the counselors I spoke to talked
about counseling as their role: "(The role) is basically counseling students, in areas
such as their academic life, career counseling, personal and social counseling,
crisis counseling aimed at helping students be successful in college and in their
lives." This counselor happens to be one of two counselors who has a bachelors
and masters degree in psychology, rather than in educational counseling.
How Outsiders Perceive Their Role
In light of the many roles reported by the RCC counselors, it is not
surprising that counselors indicate there is a lack of understanding amongst
faculty, staff, administrators and students about what a counselor does. This issue
is also reported in the literature as contributing to role conflict (Ancheta, 1983;
Gulp, 1995; Thurston, 1983). RCC counselors were in general agreement that
there was a lack of understanding about their role.
Counselor b2 was frustrated by misunderstandings about the counselor role:
We are still struggling to be understood about what we do and I feel that it's
a constant marketing job in a way. We have friendly administrators and
friendly faculty. They've bought it. Still a lot of people don't know about
us, I think, or what we do, or understand it. It's getting kind of boring
talking about our worth again and again.
This concept of needing to "market" the counseling role was expressed by other
counselors. For example Counselor d4 said:
(There is a) stereotype that was created maybe 15 years ago or 20 years ago
about what counselors do that still exists and the counselors now, even
though they may not be anything close to that stereotype, haven't done
anything to, well I shouldn't say haven't done anything, maybe haven't
done enough, to reverse that image that other people hold in their minds
about what counselors do.
Similarly, Counselor e1 added that the counselors have a reputation for
complaining, but not for seeking changes in their role. He said:
We're in a unique position where we see students. We know first hand
what the student problems are. ...So we're very valuable to the institution,
but the institution has yet to really understand how to best use us. In the
absence of them not doing that then we have to create our own definitions
and our own roles, and we need to be pro-active about it. Not complaining
but be pro-active. Do the things that we like to and that can create changes
within the system.
Other counselors saw the mental health characteristics of the counseling
role as contributing to the lack of understanding. Counselor d3 said, "I think it's a
carry over from mental health in that it's a deficit model and not a wellness model,
that their must be something wrong with you if you're going for any kind of
counseling in the community or if you're seeing a psychologist, then you must be
messed up." And, other counselors felt that administrators, in particular, were not
in tune with the needs of students because they did not have a mental health
background. Counselor a4 said:
I think they think counselors probably do academic advising and career. I
don't think they're tuned in at all to the stresses that people have in their
lives. And that's a very generalized statement because I haven't really
discussed it with them. But I don't think they come from a counseling
standpoint. I think if you come from a mental health background, you have
an awareness of what people's needs are.
The counselors felt like those faculty who worked closely with the
counseling department were supportive of their role and understood it. The
counseling supervisors and administrators who had an educational background in
counseling were also considered to be sympathetic.
Counselor d3 noted that there was a lack of understanding about counseling
because for many years the counseling departments were physically removed from
the advising area on the main floor. This due in part to privacy concerns. He/she
It's kind of the out of sight out of mind thing. If I was out of sight I must be
goofmg off and sitting in my office reading comic books. I just think
there's a real schism of professional trust in, and it's pretty toxic I think to
be perfectly honest. ...I'm not necessarily saying that (it's coming from
administration,) I'm saying it can come from different venues. It can come
from administration, it can come from one's colleagues—that if you're not
right in their same approximate location you must not be doing your work.
It's a competitiveness or something. I don't believe it comes from my
counseling colleagues; I believe it comes from advisement colleagues.
The above quotation ends with a statement about advisors and their response to the
counselor role. There is a definite quandary about the differences between
counselors and advisors at RCC, consequently I was surprised that there were not
more comments about how advisors perceive the counselor's role.
The Multiple Roles of RCC Coimselors
The literature also indicates that multiple roles lead to role conflict among
community college counselors (Coll & House, 1991; Coll & Rice, 1993; Matson,
1983). Again, RCC counselors coincided with the research literature. Most of the
counselors told about multiple roles that they performed. The most commonly
reported "other role" was serving on committees. Some counselors mentioned this
casually. Some offered an explanation as to why counselors serve on so many
committees. Counselor a3 said:
(Counselors are asked to be on committees) because they are good
committee people. Because they present, from my point of view anyway—I
always see it as a personal mission to bring a humanistic view into
committees. They also look around for representation from student services
and there (are) fewer of us than instructional faculty so we get landed with
that stuff more frequenUy than some of the instructional people.
Several counselors stated that there was too much committee work. "There's days
when there's only 1 or maybe 2 hours in my day where it's acmal student contact.
And the rest is a meeting with the dean, a counselor meeting that we have every
Friday, meetings at the district."
The other multiple roles mentioned included working with a cooperative
education program, developing retention programs, career testing for community
groups, and event planning. With the exception of committee work, most
counselors spoke fondly of their multiple roles. Those counselors who were doing
projects and other duties of their own choosing were quite satisfied with multiple
roles. This satisfaction is a subtle departure from the research literature worthy of
noting. Yes, RCC counselors have multiple roles, and yes, that may add to their
role conflict issues, but these multiple roles are not distressing to them. Quite the
opposite is true; they find the variety of roles stimulating and beneficial. Only one
counselor pointed out a negative aspect of multiple roles: "We've kind of become
a dumping ground for other duties as assigned. That distracts (counselors) from
their primary purpose."
The Counselor's Preferred Role
The Counselor as a Therapist
The multiple roles issue is congruent to the next issue that I address, which
is the counselor's desire to provide more personal counseling. Multiple roles often
reduces the amount of time that a counselor can spend doing personal counseling,
and the research literature reports that counselors are dissatisfied with the amount
of personal counseling that they are allowed to pursue. For example. Gulp, 1995,
stated that counselors wanted to spend at least fifty percent of their time providing
personal counseling to individual students. When I asked RCC counselors which
of the three counselors functions (personal, career, and academic) was most
important, they agreed with one another that these three functions could not really
be separated. They used the words "intermingled" and "intertwined" to describe
the three functions. Counselor dl said, "I feel that they are so interrelated that they
can't even be separated because in most counseling sessions I may touch upon all
Contrary to the research Uterature, personal counseling was never
mentioned as being the most important function. Neither did counselors assert that
they wanted more time to do personal counseling. Several counselors stated that
personal counseling was the least important and the least used of the three
functions. Counselors did say that personal counseling was necessary primarily for
crisis situations. That was the one area where their expertise was unquestionable.
The Counselor as an Academic Advisor
Counselors described academic advising as more of a clerical function, such
as helping students decipher a degree plan, checking their status towards a degree,
or figuring out a semester schedule. Some of the terms used to describe the
advising function were, "hit it and get it," "getting people quick answers," and "cut
and dry stuff." None of the counselors complained or were professionally opposed
to providing advising assistance. But, there was a subtle condescending tone to
references of academic advising. For example Counselor a5 said, "A true
advisor's going to pick classes. I don't mind doing that. I find that interesting only
because it keeps me up on all the programs at the different colleges in the state. If
I didn't do advising, there's so much information that changes constantly, I would
lose that information. And the rules change constantiy."
The Counselor as a Career Advisor
Several counselors expressed a preference for career counseling:
Counselor b4 said, "I prefer the career/personal slant more than the
Counselor dl said, "That's my special interest."
And Counselor el said, "I really enjoy the career counseling component."
Counselor dl made a good argument for doing career counseling:
The great majority of students that come to RCC are here for practical
reasons. We have very few students who have the luxury of just majoring
in something abstract for the love of learning. Most people, and I'm
stereotyping, there are some that do that, but most of them come here
because they want to develop a career. So I think that's a very integral part
of our services.
The Counselor as a Referral Agent
I now turn to an issue that is not addressed in the literature, but that I
thought would conUibute to role conflict for RCC counselors. This issue is a result
of an administrative policy requiring counselors to limit their counseling sessions
and to refer students to community and private agencies for long-term counsehng.
I thought counselors would find this pohcy to run counter to their formal training
because counselors are trained to work with individuals and groups to help them
resolve difficulties and deal with life problems. (Pietrofesa, Leonard, & Van
Hoose, 1978) They are taught to use a variety of theories based on psychology and
human development in counseling relationships which last ten sessions and longer.
In addition counselors have been educated about ending the counsehng
relationship with a client and how there are many factors to be considered, such as
anger and betrayal, a sense of loss, and guilt on the part of the counselor (Delaney
& Eisenberg, 1972). And yet, at RCC and in many community college settings,
students are referred out soon after a counseling relationship has been formed.
Counselors at RCC are comfortable with this policy of referring students to
outside agencies for long-term counseling. Many counselors were emphatic that
they were not therapists and long-term counseling was not their goal with smdents.
Below are their comments about providing long-term therapy:
Counselor a4 "I'm not a therapist. I'm not a psychiatrist. I can't prescribe.
I can't cure."
Counselor hi
"I guess I've been pretty...quick to see that it is not
appropriate for me to keep seeing someone here."
Counselor b3
"...I really believe in referring them out."
Counselor cl "I'm not here to be a diagnostician."
Counselor dl
"...I'm not really a clinician."
Counselor d2
"We are not psychotherapists..."
Counselor d4
"I'm not necessarily trained to do in-depth therapy."
The educational background of the counselors led me to believe that they
would have a strong desire to be providing therapeutic counseling for individuals
and groups. Sixteen of the counselors have masters degrees in counseling, two of
them from a psychology major, and the other fourteen from an education major. I
reviewed course requirements of accredited master level counseling programs in
education and found that these programs generally include basic program
requirements in counseling theories, diagnosis, and treatment plans (ASU Division
of Psychology in Education, 1998). However, none of the counselors expressed
concern or remorse that they were not doing the type of therapy that they had been
trained to do.
There was definite agreement that their role was to provide short-term
counseling and to refer out for long-term counseling. In fact, the counselors see
themselves more as referral agents. They used terms such as "intermediary," "the
(person) with the resources," and "liaison." As counselor d4 said, "...The key
phrase has been stabilize and refer." Counselor c1 gives a good explanation of
how a determination is made to make a referral:
If it's social, Uke "how do I get along with my roommate," we can go down
that (road). If it's motivational we (can) go into that. But again I say that
it's just manifestations. There's really a big rooted problem. When you
know that you're getting close to that rooted problem you cut off all those
little branches. That's when I say, "let's refer you out for a semester of
Although counselors were in agreement about the appropriateness of the
referral policy, they were not in agreement about where the policy came from or
exactly what the policy declared. Two counselors referred to the Counselor
Handbook as the source of the policy. Counselor a3 stated that the handbook
directed them to see students no more than six times (which is what the Handbook
actually says). However Counselor b3 remembered the policy in the Handbook as
being a maximum of four visits. Some counselors, like Counselor d3, felt that it
was an inferred policy. He/she said, "I don't know if it's written anywhere. It's
not a policy. It's a directive, shall I say, that people do short-term, you know,
The number of times that a student could be seen for personal counseling
varied. Some counselors said that there was no official Umit on the number of
times that a student could be seen for personal counseling. One counselor said the
limit on counseling sessions was two. Three sessions was the limit given by two
other counselors. Another two counselors said the limit was four sessions. And
finally, six sessions was the limit offered by two other counselors. And finally,
some counselors saw this decision as one where they were free to use their
professional discretion to make a decision.
All of the counselors said they made referrals and five specifically
mentioned a directory of community resources that is supplied to the counselors
and used to locate appropriate referrals. There was more consistency and apparent
use of this document than of the Counselor Handbook.
The were only a few concems aired about the policy to refer students for
long-term counseling. Two counselors expressed a concern that some students
could not afford services to which they were referred. Another concern of the
counselors was inadequate follow-up after a referral was made. Some counselors
made an effort to follow-up on their referrals. Others said that it was impossible to
know what happened to students that were referred out.
To conclude on the issue of the referral policy, counselors are comfortable
with the administration's directive. And even though this is somewhat of a
discrepancy from their formal training, it does not appear to add to the role conflict
with which they struggle.
RCC Counselors are satisfied with most aspects of their assigned functions
in the workplace. They described their role in an eclectic fashion that included
supporting, educating and helping students, promoting academic success, and
supporting the institution. They were seemingly deliberate about not mentioning
personal counseling or mental health as a part of their general role. This is
different from previous studies on counselor satisfaction which tend to report that
counselors prefer to do a majority of personal counseling and that they have very
concrete ideas about how they should spend their time.
Multiple roles were reported by RCC counselors which is consistent with
other counselor satisfaction smdies. They described how multiple roles lead to
confusion among outsiders about what counselors do and their importance in the
college. However, they were not distressed by multiple roles. In fact, they
conveyed that they enjoyed multiple roles and the variety that is inherent in their
Overall, RCC counselors demonstrate a profile that is significandy different
from previous studies on counselor role satisfaction. Further study is needed to
determine whedier this different profile is unique to RCC or whether previous
smdies are several years old and are not reflecting a changing role in the
counselor's position on campus.
In this era of public accountability, it has to be immediately evident how the
activities of a department fulfill or support the mission of the college. There is not
much tolerance for programs and activities that only seem to support the mission
which in a community college is focussed on supporting students in their
educational and career efforts. Managers want to see activities and outcomes that
clearly support instructional goals and it is difficult to ascertain what part
counselors play in recruiting, retaining and matriculating students. The interview
data have already shown us that RCC counselors think they play a significant role
in these processes, but do other campus groups see them as essential or peripheral?
As established in the previous chapter, counselors engage in a wide variety
of activities. When they provide academic counseling and career counseling, their
contribution to the institutional mission is quite clear; they are helping students to
decipher the bureaucracy, become a better students, or set career goals. However,
when they provide personal counseling, their contribution is a little fuzzy. It may
not be clear to outsiders how this activity indirectly supports the institutional
mission. This becomes a dilemma for counseling departments that have
traditionally provided confidential personal counseling services that take place on
a one-to-one basis.
There have been periods at RCC where counselors have provided more
personal counseling than academic or career advice, and this history is seen by
some counselors as having contributed to the misinterpreted role of counselors.
Counselor d4 said:
The history of the campus is that there were many counselors (in the) mid
70s, late 70s, early 80s, who were much more involved in therapy in their
offices, and that's kind of caught up with counselors. Now that image is
still in adminisUrators' minds. They think, even though that may not be
accurate, that's still how they perceive counselors.
Counselor a3 also brought this up, "I do think that there was an emphasis on
personal counsehng in the early days, primarily because of the influence of the
60s." This is an accurate account of counselors' history at RCC. There was a
period between approximately 1975 and 1985 when there was a heavier emphasis
on personal counseling. Today, however, records show that counselors spend
more time providing academic advising than any other activity. Nevertheless, some
people still see them in that historical context.
But, there are also other reasons why the influence of the counselor's role is
questioned. In any setting, the effects of counseling are difficult to measure and
understand. It is even more difficult in an academic setting where education is the
primary goal and counseling indirectly serves to facilitate the success of that goal.
RCC counselors indicated that people questioned their role because they just do
not understand the counseling process and its relation to education. Counselor d3
explained how some people don't understand the counseling relationship, "I had a
campus President tell me once, well what happens when you shut that door what
do you talk about? Kind of like it was some mystery because of the
confidentiality." And, Counselor dl said, "I think some probably don't (hold us in
very high esteem). Some just think that we may just fool around and just talk to
people a lot and they don't know what it's about."
Similarly, some people don't understand the counseling relationship
because you cannot see it. There are no diplomas, no graded papers to see.
Counselor dl told about being relocated to a more visible area and was told, "now
(that) you're here, you're going to have to really work. It's kind of the 'out-ofsight, out-of-mind' thing. If I was out of sight, I must be goofing off and sitting in
my office reading comic books." And Administrator cbl pointed this out:
Those that utilize the service, refer a problem student, a student that's
having problems, to a counselor and see the change in the student, think it's
excellent. Those faculty who do not see the value do not refer therefore
they wonder what do you do all day? Why are you even dealing with
student problems?
For the most part, administrators and counselors see a mixed reaction on the part
of faculty, as noted in the above quotation. Faculty who have occasion to either
refer a student, or experience the counseling/advising process first-hand are more
likely to be supportive than those who do not. Below are some examples:
Counselor a5:
They sometimes make referrals to counseling, if they're
having a problem with a student. I think it is
respected. But I think maybe they also don't
understand exactly sometimes what we do here. But
lots of times students confide in their teacher, and the
teacher says, "Oh my God, I can't deal with this, so I'll
send them over (to counseling)."
Counselor a4:
I think a lot of the faculty that come here to advise
empathize with us, and realize what is going on, what
kind of help we offer, what kind of information we
offer. And the people who come in here and work
with us, and have sat with students and know what we
go through, they think we do a decent job. I think
faculty that don't come in here ... don't know what's
going on.
Admin. db2: I think it's almost individual in nature rather than necessarily
collective. ... Many people think we are a joke, that we don't
earn our bread. And others think that we are essential because
we do something very important—we bring a certain spirit to
the task that they want to emulate. So I think that—
collectively, I'm not sure that they think of us collectively—I
think they think of us as individuals and I think they define
our tasks very differently and I think that's one of the
Admin. db3: I think it's a mixed bag. I think there are some who have no
idea what we do or why we are here. But then the other half
who have had a emotionally disruptive smdent in their class
or doesn't know how to get someone back into their
classroom who've used the help of a counselor will find them
invaluable cause they don't want to do it, and they are just
happy someone's there to do it. So those who have
encountered counselors, I think see the importance. But those
who have never seen the importance probably could care less.
Counselors attribute another reason for why their influence is questioned to
the informal organizational principle that some people will always goof off but
everyone will be held accountable. For example Counselor cl said, "I'm sure in
every profession, in every little department you're gonna have slackers. You're
going to have slackers and so I think that is kind of a poor judgement. I think you
should not get rid of counseling totally, cause there are some excellent counselors
here." Counselor bl echoed this sentiment, "There are people screwing off like
every place, I'm sure. But, they tend to have this 'we discovered one segment of
people screwing off, so we wipe out the whole situation' (attimde)." Counselor d2
also noted this attitude, "I think some administrators have that perception of some
counselors. I think there's some people who sort of take advantage of every
The administrators also discussed the reputation of counselors.
Administrator bbl said, "I think that some will say that maybe (counselors) don't
work as hard as faculty in the classroom. Those are traditional things that get
bounced around." Administrator db2 sheds more light on this perception,
. . . in counseling, you can choose not to [have a lot of energy]. You can
skate a lot, because there is no demand to show up for a class at a certain
time to address 30 students every day. You have to create that yourself.
And that's the difference. And if you don't create it, people notice.
Administrator db3 added this, "I've seen it from the inside, you know. There are
those that are so dedicated that it's just a few that aren't that give the others a bad
Even though some faculty and administrators have negative images of
counselors, there was no indication that the administration was ready to cut the
counseling departments as Administrator abl indicated:
For the most part the counselors are full time. Their salaries are paid.
They're in the budget. I don't see that as the primary issue. I see the
effectiveness of their work as the primary issue. What benefits are students
really getting from their efforts and the time that they do spend?
Many of the issues that I have brought out in this chapter £ire related to the
visibility of the counselor. When they take a traditional approach to counseling,
whether it is personal, academic or career, it generally means meeting with a
student in an office, one-to-one. The influence of this type of interaction is
difficult for faculty and other campus constituents to discern. In addition, it is
difficult for counselors and their administrators to measure the outcomes of their
activities so that they might be promoted. Meeting with students on an individual
basis was a quandary for counselors and administrators and this developed as a
topic of interest in most of the interviews.
Counselors and administrators alike are confused about what type of
interaction they want to take place between counselors and students. Counselors
spoke primarily of meeting with students in their offices, either by appointments or
as walk-in smdents. But a few of the counselors spoke of getting out of the office
to meet and interact with students. Counselor b 1 said,
I probably spend about a third of the time out of this office. I'm ail over the
place, cause that's where I get to see people. It's amazing the positive things
that generate from that—sliding into the cafeteria—going up to the library
and things like that. I do as much walk up counseling I think in a year as I
do sit down counseling. Just running into someone, "Hey, what's
happening?" Those kinds of things.
And Counselor al also felt like counseling should be conducted in an informal
setting where students are more comfortable; "I don't feel (in the office) is where
the counselors should be.... I have a problem with being here in our office,
isolated.. .. Not all students are compatible with how we (offer services)."
But it was Counselor d4 who best described the quandary counselors face
about whether to stay in their offices and be continuously available for students, or
whether to seek students out:
Well, it's interesting. One of the ways that we can (promote counseling
skills) is by leaving our offices and interacting in the classroom. However,
more so it seems that we're being told that we have to stay in this general
vicinity. It's "yes you can, but no you can't" type of thing. So as soon as
there are students lined up here to see somebody suddenly we're not either
here or it's being perceived that we are not working as hard. And if we're
not there to see students then people get upset.
The confusion described in the above quotation is mirrored in the comments
from the administrators. Some administrators make clear pronouncements that
they think counselors should be out of their offices interacting with individual
students as well as doing projects that involve numerous students. Other
administrators call for more accountability for counselors being in their offices.
These divergent views are not held on different campuses, but are often found on
the same campus. For example Administrator cbl describes how he/she would
approach counseling activities:
I would get out in the classroom. I would show them how to come in and
see me. I'd be in the hallway where they could come and talk to me just
about little things. That's the kind of intervention that I'd like to see
counselors be more (involved in). Be more active, proactive, go out there
and see people, be visible.
Administrator ab2 agrees:
We can't stay in an office with a closed door and wait for people to come
and see us anymore, like we have in the past. We must be out in the
instructional area. We must be out in the classrooms. We must be out in
the high school area, cause that's what people want, for better or for worse,
whether we like it or not, whether we think we're trained that way. ... (Be)
somewhere outside where we're available to students all day long, and they
don't have to come over to this area that's so segregated.
And Administrator db2 states:
Well what they should be doing is having a greater larger impact and not
doing so much personal counseling.... (They need) to be able to maximize
their effect on populations by doing some thing that affects large numbers
of students you cannot be effective doing one on one interventions
anymore. Not that that's ever going to be less important but you've gotta
also mix that with several large activities each year as a counselor or you
not maximizing your effectiveness.
On the other hand. Administrator db3 said:
I think the way administration is heading (is) that the counselors are going
to do less, not be on so many committees and not spend so much time off
campus preparing for the classes. But they will be here with students, still
teaching but working their prep into their day and focusing more on the
students. That's where it's headed and I know that's tough for the
counselors that have been here awhile with a little more freedom, but I think
it's better for the students.
And Administrator abl spoke about counselors doing high school outreach and felt
like "that was and inefficient use of their time. ... That has since changed. The
counselors for the most part, remain on the campuses to meet with our students."
Counselors are receiving mixed messages here. It is not at all clear whether
the focus of the administration is for counselors to do traditional counseling and
advising in their offices or to be proactively and creatively serving students in the
classrooms and common areas. Counselors are frustrated by a lack of
administrative direction in this area.
The services of counselors are extremely intangible. There are some ways
to measure and track the effects of counseling services, such as documenting
encounters and conducting longitudinal studies on students that receive counseling
services. There is currently some effort at RCC to track encounters with students,
but there are no other outcomes being measured that would demonstrate the
effectiveness of counseling services.
Another way to counter the perception of counselor's ineffectiveness is to
promote activities that provide visibility for the role, in a positive light. I would
surmise that the administrators and counselors that are promoting more
nontraditional counseling activities may be doing so as a way to provide more
visibility for counselors. If counselors can provide services to students in a way
that is more distinct to the faculty, they may be able to alleviate some of the
negative impressions which they now hold.
My initial review of the literature on the role of counselors led me to
believe that the counselors at RCC would be concerned with doing more personal
counseling and less noncounseling tasks and roles. This was not the case at RCC.
Although, they had some concerns with the issues above, most interviewees
seemed to wander into the area of professional status and position within the
college. I did not originally intend to cover these topics in depth. However, they
were obviously very important to the counselors at that point in time, and thus
dominated much of the interview time.
There were several events that were occurring at RCC that brought these
issues of professionalization to the forefront. There had been a recent
advertisement for a counselor/advisor position, which combined the two positions
and did not require a masters degree. Counselors were upset and angry over this
new classification that seemed to come out of nowhere.
RCC was under the direction of
new chancellor, hired the previous year.
He came from another state known to use a system where counselors have
professional status rather than faculty status. Counselors were concerned that the
new chancellor would push to initiate such a system at RCC.
There was also a change taking place in the structure and title of the
counseling supervisor. This structure has changed many times throughout RCC's
history, but most recently, counselors were being supervised by a coordinator that
also supervised advising. During the interview time period, the counseling and
advising departments were in the process of electing a department chairperson to
serve as the supervisor for counseling and advising. This structure mirrors the
structure in the academic units and as you will see in the data, is an attempt to
regain status in the institution.
Lastly, there were two changes taking place in the structure and teaching of
human development education (HDE) courses which had been taught primarily by
counselors on staff at RCC. In the past, HDE courses had been developed,
supervised and taught by the counseling departments at the two largest campuses.
But, the administration of the HDE courses was being transferred to academic
departments. In addition, there was a movement on the part of the administration
to have someone other than counselors teaching the HDE courses.
The issue of teaching is important in a discussion of power and status
because teaching is the basis of faculty status and faculty stams maintains a higher
rung on the ladder of power and prestige at conmiunity colleges than that of staff
status. Professional and faculty status are issues not just at RCC, but in other parts
of the country. For example, in Earl Seidman's, 1985, study of community college
faculty, he found that counselors were very sensitive to their status, or lack of
status, when compared to instructional faculty. Moreover, when I queried a
national college counseling listserve about counselors having faculty status, I
received e-mail responses from Maryland, New York, Illinois and Puerto Rico.
The response from Maryland conveyed this message:
After about thirty-plus years as a community college student personnel
person and the last five, titled counselor, I am firmly convinced that faculty
rank and all that goes with it is important for all student personnel services
professionals, particularly counselors, student activities professionals, and
professional advisors... . And it seems only fair to be treated the same as
others when you do much of the same thing only in different settings.
So in this setting of organizational and personnel changes, RCC counselors
are struggling to define their professional role and maintain their professional
status. Traditional definitions of professional status suggest that in order for an
occupation to be a true professional group, it must meet certain criteria, such as
requiring formal training, espousing a unique theoretical background, being
proficient in a technical body of knowledge, professional associations and a code
of ethics, and certification requirements (Vacc & Loesch, 1994). In addition,
professional workers are generally thought to perform their work with a high level
of autonomy and discretion. These are the types of issues that I expected to hear
about from a group that was concerned about their professional status.
RCC counselors considered their formal training to be very important.
They spoke about their formal degrees and training at length. I will have to
describe for you how the counselors responded to this question, because the details
in the interview data would provide information about each respondent that would
make them identifiable. For the majority of the counselors, it was their longest
response. They usually described in detail what types of degrees they held and
where they were from. That was usually followed by a commentary about other
places that they had worked and what had led them to a position at RCC. Many
counselors started out as k-12 teachers and after going back to school for a
master's degree in guidance and counseling ended up in a college setting. A few
counselors told about specific incidents that lead them into the counseling field.
For example Counselor d3 recounted:
At the time that I was teaching [I had an upset child], and I had no idea
what to do for this child. . . and so I thought I don't have the skills to deal
with all the emotional issues these children are bringing into the classroom
and that was the segway [into counseling] for me.
They also pointed out how important formal training was to be an effective
counselor. Counselors a3, dl, and d2 all talked about the importance of having a
masters degree to do counseling. Similarly, Counselor a5 said, 'The minimal
person who should be doing counseling, according to the State of Arizona, is
somebody with a master's degree—the minimum person—a master's degree in
counseling or social work, not a master's degree in English." Although they spoke
at length about having and needing formal degrees, they did not speak about
particular theories or a body of knowledge that they bring to their counseling
positions. The key appeared to be a level of certification in a relevant field, rather
than any set of professional skills and knowledge.
Other criteria for professional status include the use of discretion and
having autonomy in the workplace. Most counselors felt like they were able to use
their professional discretion, but within certain parameters. They did not feel like
they were constantly supervised in their interactions with students. Counselor a5
said, "I make my own decisions. No one checks up on me." And Counselor b 1
also said, "I don't have a sense of restrictions in (doing personal counseling) at all,
within the limits of the six meetings. I have enormous support for how 1 do that,
as well. I don't have to look over my shoulder to make any of those decisions."
However, Counselor a3 and others did acknowledge that they felt pressure to limit
the length of a counseling session, and how many times they met with an
individual student: "That kind of pressure (to limit personal counseling) has made
my discretion kind of on the side of lesser sessions rather than more." This
pressure to limit counseling sessions is present in most community college settings
and is due, in part, to the bureaucratic setting. This issue will be discussed in
Chapter 7, Coping with Bureaucracy.
Counselors reported having much autonomy in choosing projects and
scheduUng meetings. The one area where they were required to account for their
time was in providing direct services to students, either by appointment or on a
walk-in basis. Every counselor at each campus has specific time periods when
they must be available to work with walk-in students and specific time periods
when the are available for appointments and these time frames are arranged and
monitored by a supervisor. It is interesting to note that the supervisors need to
monitor the counselors' direct contact time with students to ensure that they put in
enough hours. If RCC mirrored the research Uterature, you might expect to fmd
that the supervisors had to monitor whether counselors were serving on enough
committees and taking on enough special projects. This aspect reinforces the idea
that RCC counselors are not chomping-at-the-bit to do personal counseling and
that they are comfortable with the balance of required and elective activities within
their jobs. The managers and administrators agreed that they did not concern
themselves with monitoring counseling sessions as represented here by manager
db3, "I think (the number of counseling sessions) is up to the counselor and it's
based on the referral they give them and how much they encourage them. It's not
monitored. I don't (say) haven't you seen this student ten times? What's going on
here? We don't do that." So, even though counselors are monitored to ensure that
they are available to work with walk-in students, they are not monitored on
whether they make a follow-up appointments or how many times they see an
individual student.
Issues like formal training, autonomy, and discretion are functionalist
criteria for determining professional status. An altemative explanation for
professionalization is focussed on the attainment of power and status for an
occupational group. Interestingly, these latter concerns were prevalent throughout
the interviews and were expressed compassionately by the counselors.
How RCC Counselors See Their Own Profession
Counselors concern themselves with their status as a helping occupation—
compared to psychologists, social workers, etc., and counselors concern
themselves with their stams in the institution. Let me fu^st present the counselors'
general concerns about the status of the counseling profession. Counselor b4 said,
"I have a real concern about counseling as a profession. ... The whole area is
going through a pretty difficult time. I think that's reflected in community
colleges. (Administrators are contemplating) who's really going to be filling
(counselor) positions, what's needed, what (the) requirements are going to be and
what the role is."
Counselor el expressed how community college counseling fits into the
hierarchy of professional counseling, as a whole:
My perception is if you compared yourself to other counseling professions,
if you compared yourself to a high school counselor, I would say that they
basically do a lot of graduation checks and they are pencil pushers, paper
pushers. They do a lot of written or routine work, but they are also
expected to handle cases and scholarships and all of that. I see them doing
less counseling and more routine matters. If I compared a RCC college
counselor to a university counselor I think they would see us in that form
cause a university counselor does a lot of personal (counseling) and 1 guess
they do therapy work. But they do a lot of real counseling—personal
counseling. No doubt they're dedicated to that. That's their role. So (our
role is) very different from all the other ones. And then of course an agency
counselor—again I think they do a lot more personal counseling—therapy
work. So I don't see us fitting anyone of those modes.
The hierarchy that the above counselor described starts at the bottom with
the high school counselor, moves up through the university counselor, and ends
with the agency counselor. I suspect he/she might have placed the private practice
therapist at the very top. He/she indicates that the conmiunity college counselor
does not fit into this scenario. But, based on my research, I would place it between
the high school counselor and the university counselor. This research shows
counselors being a lot like those high school counselors, and a little like a
professional program coordinator.
How RCC Counselors See Their Own Status in the Institution
Counselors also concern themselves with their status in die institution.
Bureaucracies typically have many groups of professionals working to achieve
institutional goals and tasks. When there are two or more categories of
professionals at work in an organization, it can sometimes lead to inter­
professional tensions which can weaken job satisfaction (Katan, 1984). Katan's
(1984) research on professionals in human service organizations outlines the
factors contributing to role formation for various professionals within a single
organization. In his study psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and
psychiatric nurses are often struggling to define their roles which are constantly
overlapping and often duplicating one another. A similar situation occurs at RCC
with advisors' jobs overlapping into counselors' jobs and counselors' jobs
overlapping into classroom instruction.
The Importance of Faculty Status
One professional group within the organization will often be viewed as the
dominant profession (Katan, 1984). The instructional faculty are seen to have the
primary role and expertise, and therefore are viewed as the dominant profession at
a community college. Counselors, like librarians and curriculum specialists, have
faculty status, but they are distinguished from the academic and vocational
instructors and put into the category of educational support faculty, an arrangement
very common at community colleges.
Counselors end up in an uncertain station. And faculty, as well as other
college constituents, question the appropriateness of faculty status for counselors.
The counselors, managers and administrators verified this belief, and it was
explained by administrators db2 who said:
Within an institutional and environmental culture of an institution, you have
classes of people, you have a hierarchy of people and based on your
position in the hierarchy, your ideas are listened to more strongly or less
strongly. In this hierarchy of RCC, the most powerful group is faculty.
They have the most clout. Administrators are a close second, but they
really, in a sense, don't have the most clout in terms of ideas and
philosophy. They have the most clout in terms of authority and resource
and manipulation of resources, but in terms of philosophy and ideals and
ideas, the instmctional and education support faculty have the most clout.
Two counselors characterized this hierarchy as a "caste system." "I hate to say
this, (but) counselors get a little more respect because they are faculty. And as far
as I'm concerned, it's almost like a caste system. I'd as soon do without it—let all
just be employees, you know," Counselor d2 said. He/she also agreed that having
faculty status apparently gives you more influence in the organization by saying,
'There's some people, higher up, who look right over you, or right through you, if
you're not faculty level." And manager bb2 pointed out that community college
counselors have "spent our life fighting for people to acknowledge student
development." He/she went on to say:
Anytime that you do anything that looks like you're going to diminish die
status we already have, you're foolish. It's just totally foolish. If
(counselors) teach, they should be faculty, you know. I don't know the
reason to turn (counselors) into professional staff other than to have more
slave labor...It makes is easy for management. It's a management
perspective. But, (counselors) are diminished in the eyes of the other
faculty. They will no longer be seen as colleagues and consultants ... the
whole thing will be diminished. They will all be seen as registration clerks.
That's the way it is."
And, being a registration clerk or some other staff position at RCC is not a high
status job. Other counselors similarly indicated that they need to maintain their
faculty status because administration has little respect for staff-level employees.
Counselor el said, "The most important rank to have is faculty. If you don't have
it then you're staff, and staff is seen as a step child in this institution. You're not
as a important as faculty." administrator db2 concurred stating, "If you change
(counselors) to being staff people, part of that clout is lost. They're not listened to
on the same level. We do not listen to staff people in this institution the same way
we listen to faculty. We do not treat staff people the same way we treat faculty."
Another manager said that staff were "treated like dirt" at RCC.
The Distinction Between Advisors and Coimselors
This may be the reason why counselors are fervent about separating
themselves from academic advisors, since academic advisors at RCC are
categorized as staff. Counselors felt the need to clearly establish how their work
was more complex and at a more professional level than that of academic advisors.
They did this by describing how the role of the advisor was rather limited in its
scope. Counselor a4 gave an example:
The counselors are the ones that do the career counseling. The advisors, if
they do get people that are interested in checking out careers, they'll refer
them to us. And, of course, the advisors don't do personal counseling
either. They just do pretty much academic advising, which is what we do,
also. (But) the counselors pick up the other two portions.
These counselors also emphasized that advisors were not qualified to do
counseling and could easily get in over their heads, or could fall short of providing
the student with everything they needed. Counselor bl gave an example of how
counselors might handle a situation differently than an advisor:
(The student) had a print-out like this of things [incompleted coursework]
she hasn't got done. An advisor might have known to ask her, "OK, this is
what you got from the past, what do you want to do now?" What I said to
her was, "I think you've got two choices. I'm going to take this green
marker and we're going to hit everything that worked. Look at that. There's
43 credits. I bet you didn't even know you had 43 credits. All you were
looking at was the junk, weren't you?" She says, "Yeah." And I said.
"How do you feel?" She said, "Different. I didn't know that." I don't think
an advisor is going to have that approach. I said to her, "When you walk
out of this door, you're going to meet one of two kinds of people. One who
knows how to believe that positive things can happen, or one who is still
mired in what has happened." [Speaking the interviewer, now] That's the
best kind of example I know how to share with you. That's what I'm paid
for, in my opinion. I do that all the time.
These counselors also felt that there should be a clear distinction between
advisors and counselors. It annoyed or concerned them that students and
administrators did not always understand the differences in their roles. Attempts
have been made through flyers, pamphlets and presentations to educate students as
to the differences between counselors and advisors and what each group has to
offer. At some of the campuses when students sign-in at the reception area, they
are handed a checklist of needs and/or concerns so that the receptionist can do a
type of triage to determine whether a student should see a counselor or an advisor.
A smaller group of counselors did not see clear distinctions between
advisors and counselors. When counselors were supposed to be acting in a strict
advising role, they found themselves gradually, and naturally slipping into a
counseling role. Counselor b2 said:
(When I'm doing) educational planning (with a student)...and, they know
their goals but don't know how to get there (and they are) kind of figuring
out what classes they need, and that kind of thing, it's more on the advising.
But I don't—I would say I'm pretty holistic—so advising is a narrow way
to define what I'll do with somebody who knows what they want, even.
This blurring of the counselor and advisor roles is further exacerbated by
the fact that a large portion of academic advisors either hold masters degrees in
counseling-related fields, or are working on such degrees. And yet, they are
directed to only perform pure advising duties and make referrals to the counseling
staff when students have personal issues that are impeding their success. Again,
this poUcy is in the form of an implied directive from the administration that warns
advisors that the college insurance would not cover them if they provided
counseUng services, even though they may have counseling degrees from
accredited institutions.
Some of the campuses do however encourage and expect advisors to take
on other job duties, like program development, which are more in line with what a
counselor does. Counselor cl had this to say;
Our advisors work their butts off and I think that sometimes it's inequitable
pay. I think it needs to be, like not a merit base pay, but if you come in as a
generalist and we have all these specifics set up for you as far as your
degree, then you get this lump of pay, but it's not because we tagged you as
a counselor, or that we tagged you as this.... I think they need to look at
the pay.
One-third of the counselors were concemed that more academic advisors
and fewer counseling services is becoming the trend here at RCC and across the
nation. They feel like administrators compare counseling and advising without
understanding the subtle differences. Counselor d4 explained:
I think there is a real misunderstanding of the difference between academic
advising and academic counseling. I see them as related but not the same,
and I think too many people throw that all into the same pot. And well gee,
this one got finished in fifteen minutes why couldn't you do that? They saw
four people and you only saw one! Clear misunderstanding.
Counselor el also felt strongly about this shift in emphasis:
I feel frustrated that the instimtion—the campus and the instimtion—
probably doesn't value counseling as much as they should. I have a sense
that this institution is moving more to valuing advising rather than
counseling. There's a sense that advising pays the bills. And when I say
advising, I strictly interpret the course selection stuff, advising course
selection (and) registration. I mean that this whole college is moving that
way. Counseling is being set back a lot.
Counselor d4 noted that the administration began tying budget allocations
to student contacts about four years ago and that has "pitted" advisors and
counselors against each other. This animosity was obvious when he/she said,
"There are people, say in advising, who somebody comes in and asks for the
bathroom and (they) say, okay, that's a contact and they mark them down. We just
don't buy into that."
Counselors were careful to point out the differences between them and
academic advisors. They perform many of the same duties: helping students work
out a schedule, helping students decipher degree plans, helping students explore
career options, and helping students plan transfer strategies. But counselors are
qualified to delve deeper and to tackle personal problems that may be hindering the
student in pursuing academic success. However, there are severe limitations on
how much personal counseling can be conducted. And because of these
limitations, it is difficult for counselors to point to their counseling expertise as a
major reason why they have a distinct professional status, apart from academic
Crisis Counseling
Consequently, counselors point to an area where they have a distinguished
level of expertise over advisors. This area is crisis counseling and not only does it
require a certain level of expertise, but it is something that administrators and
faculty do not want to handle. This was expressed by Counselor dl:
. . . somebody has to see (a) crisis and if it's not the counselor then who
would it be? I think that (administrators) recognize the fact that we have
many counseling crises that occur in an institution this large and I think they
know that someone with training needs to work with that student. I don't
imagine that they think there's any other possible way, unless that student
would be coming into their offices all the time. I don't think that most of
them would have the time to deal with that. I think that they would, I would
guess, rather that we deal with it.
A comparable comment was made by Counselor a3:
And while the administration seems to want to move us away from that
personal counseling, in my experience, crises exist. I am aware of the
number of crises that have come in over the last year. And that's really a
big need, to help people solve immediate problems. It's imminently linked
with retention.
Counselor a5, in responding to suppositions about counselors being replaced by
advisors said:
If I was permitted to make changes, or make suggestions to other people I
work with, to the head honchos of committees, I would say do not try to
change the smdent services, because there are people out there who do need
help. There are suicidal people out there. One of the counselors is dealing
with somebody right now who's suicidal yesterday, and she had her come
in. Don't change it. Leave it, let it be. In fact, not only let it be, allow the
counselor to have a situation that gives them more time with the student
than an advisor.
Not only did counselors state that their positions were essential for dealing
with crises, but they gave many detailed examples of crises. One counselor gave
this example:
The personal issues, that's where you can really just—you never know what
to expect. I had a student walk in and his presenting issue was wanting to
start a club. I go, oh, I can guide him on that. So I brought him in and well
it turns out he wanted to start a club for out-of-state students—like what a
great idea. Why do you have that interest? "Well cause I'm lonely. I'm so
lonely I bought a gun yesterday." And then went into the suicide issue.
Counselor b3 also shared an example of a crisis:
Last week I had a crisis where a student just broke down in class and started
crying and the instructor brought her over and I spent a little over an hour to
calm her down and to get her going. You know, to get her transportation so
that she could leave and be somewhere safe.
The administrators also confirmed that counselors were being discouraged
from doing personal counseling, but that they were essential for dealing with
crises. Administrator db2 stated: "They want counselors when they need them,
when they have someone who is freaking out in the hallway, crying. But they
don't want that personal counseling at other times." And Administrator ab2 said:
We can't afford to be liable for what we say in a counseling office anymore,
and there's so many resources out in the community that we will probably
want counselors to refer out. But even at this time, right now, what we
really want to do is take care of a problem. We don't want someone to
jump off a building. Take care of the immediate need, and then refer them
Administrator cbl also confirmed this perception, but did not see it as an
appropriate purpose for counselors:
All I know is when there is a crisis on campus, they look for an
administrator and if it's a personal problem they look for a counselor. So
counselors are as important as the latest emergency. That's not a good
approach. Counselors need to be seen more as professionals who assist
students in all walks of life as well as faculty and staff to resolve problems
and not create more problems.
Faculty Status Equals Classroom Teaching
The data has shown that counselors do not want to be in the same category
as advisors; they do not want to be staff employees. They are careful to separate
themselves from advisors. But, the distinction between advisors and counselors is
still rather weak. It is teaching and faculty status that provide counselors with the
most power and status. Faculty status assures a certain level of pay, input into
policy decisions, and tenure. And the basis for having faculty status is, of course,
the teaching role. And, the teaching role for counselors at RCC is being reassessed
by the administration. Counselors have traditionally taught the human
development education courses, such as study skills, math anxiety, self-esteem,
etc. In 199?, the counselors successfully lobbied the administration for a formula
that balanced their teaching time, preparation time, and time spent doing other
counseling activities. The formula stipulated that for every hour spent in the
classroom, counselors would receive two hours of release time for classroom
preparation and record-keeping. This formula is now at the crux of the
counseling/teaching dilemma.
From the administrative viewpoint, they can not afford to have counselors
unavailable. One administrator said:
When we are criticized in student development for not having our
counselors in the counseling center and then at the same time they teach a
class and they are gone for six or nine hours per week. Those two things
don't add up. We need to do something to keep the perception very positive
that these people are doing something positive and they are actually doing
counseling. And yet at the same time balance that time away from the
counseling center. That needs to be worked on.
According to the administration, one solution would be to allow counselors
to teach only after hours and receive adjunct faculty pay. The counselors did not
immediately dismiss this idea, but they saw major drawbacks. Even though they
were very committed to teaching human development education, working extra
hours, even with pay, was not an appealing option for many counselors. Counselor
bl said, "I think everyone of us that is teaching HDE now is very committed to
that....But, you pull my four hours release time away from the two hours I'm
teaching, I'll tell you very honestly, I will look at that again."
If counselors do not teach HDE courses, then adjunct faculty would be
hired in their place. Several counselors saw this solution as having a negative
impact. Counselor b2 said:
Teaching HDE (as an) adjunct isn't like teaching anthropology (as an)
adjunct. You are really connected with the student experience and you
can't just come and go, I feel, to be the most effective. You have to be
connected to what is going on—to the programs and on the campus—be able
to apply what you're teaching.
And, counselor dl concurred saying, "The HDE classes, for the most part, should
be taught by those of us who are here full-time and know the college well, because
we can provide all the support services to students that really surface while
teaching those classes."
Another solution that was discussed in the interviews, but not officially
being considered, was to allow counselors to teach without release time. This idea
invoked mixed reactions. Counselor b3 was wilUng to teach without release time,
but pointed out several compUcations. First of all, such an arrangement would be
against current policy, so the policy would have to be changed at the beginning of
an academic year before teaching without release time could be allowed. Second,
it would give the impression that HDE courses were not at a professional level if
they could be taught without release time. Finally, it could erode the entire
academic structure by giving administrators the rationalization that if "we have a
group teaching without released accountability, why can't the other faculty do it, as
In spite of the administrative concerns about using counselors' time as
teachers, counselors are convinced that they are best suited for teaching HDE
courses. Counselor hi pointed out one reason why.
I feel teaching is so much a part of our expertise and role, and there is a
symbiotic relationship between what we do with individuals and what we
do in the classroom. We find out about topics in the classroom through
individual counseling and we take topics from the classroom and fuse it into
the individual counseUng. And that is how we stay cutting edge on a lot of
things. We are an educational instimtion. If we are not in the classroom
then I think we are practically nothing. I'm not kidding. If we're just in
our little offices, I think that is a mistake and not using us as resources.
Professionally it would be a big mistake for the college to limit us to these
appointments—in poor use of resources.
Other counselors felt they should teach because they are inherently good
teachers. As counselor el said, "Most faculty members can only teach. Most
counselors can teach and they can teach different disciplines. And not only can
they teach, most of them are very good teachers because we're process oriented
and that's what you need to be a good teacher...! think we have more skills than
most faculty members do, period." And counselor b3 said, "As counselors, we
know a lot about teaching, more than regular faculty members."
The field of counseling has struggled with furthering their professional
stams since the middle of this century. RCC counselors bring this predicament as
an emerging profession to their institution. They feel Uke they must constantly
explain what it is they do and its importance for students' success. In addition,
there were several events occurring at RCC that influenced the interviewees' need
to discuss professionalization. It is difficult to ascertain whether these
professionalization issues would have been as strong, if not for the current issues
that were threatening the counseling department.
RCC counselors spent very little time talking about traditional measures of
professional status, such as the theoretical body of knowledge that guides their
profession, or their formal training and licensing. They spent much more time
talking about their status within the organization. They see themselves in a class
society within the organization, with faculty being the highest class and staff being
the lowest. Since counselors fulfill duties in both of these areas, they are very
careful to accentuate the duties and characteristics that mirror the instructional
role. They emphasize their superior abilities as teachers in general, and
specifically as teachers of human development courses.
At the same time, counselors emphasize their expertise and separateness
from the staff advisor role. They give examples of how they are able to expand on
routine advising sessions and deal with issues that are beyond the scope of
bachelor-level advisors. In addition, they strongly emphasize their ability to
handle crisis situations, which again, advisors are not qualified to handle.
In conclusion, RCC counselors are preoccupied with their professional
status. They want to maintain their faculty status which comprises higher prestige,
higher pay, less administrative accountability and a nine-month contract. They
emphasize their teaching role and teaching credentials to substantiate their faculty
status. And they continually fight the perception that they are at the bottom of the
totem pole (Seidman, 1985).
Counselors at RCC and other community colleges are taking on heavier
caseloads and asked to shorten their appointments with individual students. The
goals of the institution and of the counseling department are ambiguous and
conflicting and reflect ongoing political debates within higher education. In
addition, the performance of counselors and their impact on the institution are
difficult to measure. These elements definitely fit Michael Lipsky's definition of a
bureaucracy. The conditions of counselors' work in a bureaucracy place them in a
dilemma. They are given discretion to treat clients using their judgements. But, at
the same time, they are expected to carry out policies of standardization and
efficiency that disregard their own professional training.
Frustrations Inherent to Bureaucracies
As I have already described, on a professional level, counselors are at odds
with the instructional faculty. At the organizational level, however, they align with
the instructional faculty, and are at odds with the administration. Comments of the
counselors reflect their frustrations about the inherent problems of a bureaucracy
and particularly of their conflicts with the administration. Counselor a3 said, "It's
a bind. I really do feel a tug of war between the students that I serve and the
institutional requirements." Counselor d3 expressed how the administration does
not have the same goals in mind as they do.
I think at times people in administration lose sight of the individual students
and become more involved in kind of building power bases—the
competitiveness between departments and campuses, (like) "we saw this
many students," and "we're doing (this)," competing for dollars, competing
for prestige and power. I think maybe that's the personality type that goes
into administration. I don't know. That's a guess. I don't know.
Counselor d4 agreed, "Serving smdents is what administrators tell us all the time.
That gets frustrating after awhile, simply because they've abused that."
More specifically, counselors feel like they are not involved in the decisions
that are made that directly affect them and the students that they serve. They
commented repeatedly about not knowing why or how major policy decisions were
made. Counselors were unsure about how decisions effecting their teaching status
were being made:
Counselor b3:
We never really know who (questions our role). All
we hear is the scuttlebutt. We don't know if it's the
president, the chancellor level, or which level it really
starts at.
Counselor b4:
If that (new policy regarding the administration of
HDE courses) were going to happen, I would like to
see it happen as a result of everyone getting together
and deciding by some kind of consensus that was the
best thing. I haven't seen that that has happened. I
think for me it is more the process by which that kind
of decision would get made, that I'm concerned about.
Counselors are also frustrated about policy effecting the direction of the
counseling department as evidenced below by Counselor a3:
A lot is unclear, the administrative expectations for one thing. You know,
we have this handbook that says one thing and then I mentioned over the
years that the administrators keep sajdng some other things and there are all
these pressures for us to (do things like) to focus on careers. Where is this
policy established? Who pulls it out of the air?
And Counselor d4 speculates more deeply and considers why counselors are not
included in administrative decisions:
I don't approve of what administrators do as far as the budget. Number
one, we never see the budget. They don't share that with us and I think if
they really wanted to get us on the bandwagon that's all they'd have to do.
at least for me—if I could be shown the budget sometimes and see what
decisions they make. That's kind of disrespectful to me when they don't do
that.... Information is power and administrators need—people who go into
administration—this is a stereotype, but I think that people going into
administration not only want to be managers but I think there is a desire for
a little bit more authority, a little bit more power and it kind of comes with
the territory. So if they give up budgetary information they are giving up
some of their power, and they want to be the ones to make decisions.
Giving the budget information to me might prompt me to give them some
feedback and maybe they don't want to handle that.
Counselors were also concerned about the informal way that decisions were
made and the manner in which decisions were conveyed. For example. Counselor
a3 said, "It's not like I hear (that the referral policy has changed from six to three)
at one time. It's like I hear my dean refer to it as three and I hear other deans refer
to it as three, and to my knowledge, nothing has officially changed."
Moreover, Counselor a5 conveyed frustration with how often changes are
made, "And the rules change constantly. I think somebody sits around and says,
ok now it's time to change everything and screw everything up." Not only are
these problems frustrating, but they also consume valuable time. Counselor b3
It's very overwhelming, especially when issues come up like department
chair issues and a few weeks ago there was a job announcement. I'm sure
you've heard about it, that came out with counseling/advisor. On E-mail
every day I'd get like 10 messages. A lot of energy was taken up. You
walk out into the hall and everyone is talking about this. I find that
Several counselors also felt like administrators made decisions without
adequate input. For example. Counselor bl said, "I keep getting the feeling there's
people making decisions without all the information. I'm just not sure what it is
going to come to." Counselor b2 concurred.
If you were going to make a hierarchy of removedness, I would have to say
(administrators) are pretty far removed from counseling but I think they are
also far removed from what happens in the classroom and what a
department chair has to do to manage a department. They really don't have
a clue or they don't act like they have a clue.
Organizational Directives
There was a clear consensus amongst the counselors that they were not
involved in administrative decisions and that they did not understand how and why
policy decisions were made. The decisions made by administrators ultimately lead
to organizational directives. Whether or not the counselors agree with these
directives, they still must find ways to cope with the results.
There were three major organizational directives that surfaced repeatedly in
the interviews: the focus on number crunching, the focus on academic counseling,
and the focus on counselors as generalists. I will discuss how each of these
directives were presented and then consider how counselors are coping with the
The Focus on Number Crunching
The focus on number crunching is the administrative concern with serving
as many students as possible. Administrator db3 explained the management
We'll have some counselor who thinks they should sit with the students as
long as they need and they will take an hour and a half (to) two hours. And
that's tough on my side—from the management issue of "but there is
another student waiting." We need to be brief, get them back later, or get
them to a community organization.
And Administrator ab2 was even more succinct, "It's the responsibility of
administrators to look at numbers and people that are served."
Other administrators described how the college was like a business. "We're
like a business and if we don't keep up with the business we're going to fall by the
wayside. And it is a business. We don't have a bottom line but we have a product
and an obligation," said Administrator db4. Administrator ab2 described some
frustration with this issue, "When I try to streamline things, people are interpreting
this as something against the counseling area, which it's not. I'm just trying to be
efficient because I'm a businessman."
The counselors expressed concerns about the administrative focus on
numbers. Counselor d4 said, "... they just want as much FTSE as they can and
anything that will support that.... The thing with money is always on the back of
administration's mind."
The administrative focus has a consumer orientation. Administrators are
more likely to see smdents as consumers who want services "quicker, better and
cheaper (Bumphus, 1996)." Wimbish, Bumphus, and Helfgot (1995) also suggest
that smdents are "acting more like consumers than ever before" (p. 26).
This consumer orientation troubles the counselors as expressed by
Counselor d2,
(Administration keeps us open longer hours so as) not to loose any students.
But I think quality is the issue that needs to be stressed, and not quantity.
So that bothers me a little bit, that it's almost a frantic thing to grab every
student who we can and hold them.
And Counselor d3 had similar concerns, "I think that happens (students get rushed
out the door) sometimes in the quest to get those numbers up on how many
smdents we see. I'm not willing to sacrifice what the student needs on that behalf.
I'm not." Counselor el provided even more insight.
Even if you care about the student, inside here [referring to his/her
emotions] tells you "I got to hurry up and get the next one," cause I don't
want the next student waiting too long either. So I think the institution puts
you in a real, real bad environment. So you kind of try to fit into that
environment, try to do the best job you can, knowing, back here, that this is
not really the best way of doing things. So that's the instimtion part of it.
They do that because enrollment nationwide is going down and they are
trying to grab every piece of FTSE they can, and the only way to do it is to
move people in and out as quickly as possible and bring more in, and more
in. And we're the pipeline. We're the mechanism by which that is being
done. We are the tool that moves students from the streets of the
community into the institution. And so we're the ones who are being
molded to do all this. That's my version of all this.
The question now is, how do counselors cope with the administrative focus
on number crunching? In the quotation below. Administrator db3 describes how
one counselor responds to the poUcy of having to enter data into a computerized
tracking system.
We had developed this counseling and advising tracking system that all the
campuses have access to. I know that (one of the other campuses) uses it. I
see their numbers sometimes. But we just started using it a couple years
ago. So everybody's not using it probably as much as they should have.
But to me that's the best way that I know. It tells us basically how many
smdents did this counselor see during the month. Then I total for the year
and how much did we all see for the total for the year. It's not totally
accurate, you know. You'll forget to put in some students. We have one
counselor who, he/she's philosophically opposed to inputting (notes about
the counseling session). He/she thinks it's a privacy issue. And no one
really wants to make the policy to force him/her to do that, so that I don't
know. As administrator I see that hurts the other counselors cause it makes
our numbers look smaller, that we're not helping as many as we really are.
The counselor who refused to enter data in the above quotation is an overt example
of noncooperation when workers' interests differ from the interests of those at
higher levels (Lipsky, 1980). Counselor d2 also acknowledged that he/she had not
entered data.
It bugs me that we have to keep count of how many people we see.
They've been trying to get me to do that for 12 years, so now I guess I have
to get serious about it.... I don't ask them to show me how many people
they've dealt with every day. I'm not a business man. What it comes down
to ultimately is they say, "well this campus has this many students and this
many counselors and then they see this many people." If you think I'm
goofing off, you know, maybe I just ought to go anyway, and then of course
well so you go. So I don't want to, I love the job.
Other counselors had fewer overt ways of dealing with having to identify
how many students were being served. They relied on professional ethics as a
reason for their noncompliance. It was not that they did not want to account for
their actions, but that this computerized tracking system would infringe upon the
privacy rights of their clients. Many counselors initially refused to participate, but
most have come around and will enter information about whom they saw, but they
will not comment on the actual interaction. For example Counselor dl said.
We do enter our stats. I don't know whether you've asked anyone this
question, but on (this) campus, we enter our stats into a counseling
program, where with each student I will enter the social security number. I
guess we need to be accountable in some way and that's probably as good a
way as any. Now we don't put real personal data though. There is a section
where we can put a note, but I think most people would use very good
discretion and might just say, referred to psychiatrist, referred to a mental
health center, something like that. I don't think anyone would put any
particular intimate details of a session in there.
By not writing much about the interaction, it allows counselors to hold on to some
of their professional discretion. Not only does it make it more difficult for
administrators to track the specific nature of counseling sessions, but it allows
counselors to keep the counseling session shrouded in a professional aura.
The computerized tracking system also allows counselors to cope in another
way as described by Counselor a5,
No one writes anything. We've discussed that amongst ourselves. We just
leave it blank. This whole thing first started a couple of years ago and I was
writing "personal." Then I talked to the secretary and she said "Don't even
write that." It's a statistics thing. I don't have to make a comment every
time. What I tend to enter is if I have somebody who is belligerent and I'm
advising them one way and they're insisting they have to do something else-
~I don't want to be liable for their mistake. In that sense, I think it's good.
But other than that, I think it is ridiculous.
So the tracking system does get utilized to the full extent when the counselor wants
to protect their own actions. The counselor is using his/her discretion to determine
whether or not to officially track a particular student and those students being
tracked are the ones that the counselor considers to be belligerent. So an unwritten
policy, that problem students are tracked, is in place due to the discretionary
actions of the counselors.
There are other ways that counselors ration their services or attempt to limit
the demand (Lipsky, 1980). When they are scheduled to take forty-five minute
appointments, and a client takes only fifteen minutes, the counselor has to decide
whether to take additional walk-in students, or take care of other tasks. Several
counselors pointed out how they are very conscientious about taking additional
students when they have down time in between appointments. For example
Counselor b2 said:
I'll go back—I'm just that dumb—I'll go back and take walk-ins if I get
finish with an hour appointment before the hours up. The people out there,
we're supposed to take care of. That's one of the things coming from a
business background, that I just see it that way. And not every body in the
office does that.
During these short periods in-between appointments, counselors are able to serve
more students or take care of administrative and other tasks. The counselor above
makes it clear that many counselors choose to take care of other tasks. Counselors
are "faced with unpredictable surges in work load and attempt to secure safe time
that they can deploy if necessary, time that usually functions to cushion the work
day(Lipsky, 1980, p. 126)."
In bureaucracies, clients are almost always required to wait for services.
Lipsky (1980) describes the sociology of waiting:
When clients are forced to wait they are implicitly asked to accept the
assumptions of rationing: that the costs they are bearing are necessary
because the resources of the agency are fixed. They are also controlled by
the social pressures exerted by others who wait. This is one of the functions
of the line, waiting room, and other social structures that make it evident
that other share the burden of waiting for service.
Administrators are very distressed when students complain about having to
wait. As I have already mentioned, administrators see their programs through
more of consumer orientation. Counselors not only have the discretion to pace
their appointments in order to handle multiple tasks, but they also rationaUze
"waiting" as something that is positive as verbalized here by Counselor d4:
Administrators don't like lines. Although they don't understand the value
of waiting. There is a psychology to waiting that helps students gather their
thoughts and administrators may know that but they don't want to see it. I
think they're so system oriented if they see what they see as a bottleneck,
then the system isn't working and the people who are involved in the
system are doing something wrong or they are not working fast enough or
The Focus on Academic Counseling
The second directive of the administration is the focus on academic
counseling. For many years community college counselors fulfilled the traditional
functions of providing personal, academic and career counseling. And, diuing the
period between 1975 and 1985, there was a great deal of personal counseling being
provided. But, since that time period, there has been a push by the administration
to move away from personal counseling and to focus on academic counseling.
Administrator bbl described this focus, 'The primary focus is on getting the
student or prospective student on track academically. It's not to resolve the
personal problems." Another administrator described how counseling and
advising are not separate functions, "There's one department—Academic Advising
and Counseling. And we really—I'm Urying to call it the Welcome Center so we
can get away from those (separate missions of advising and counseling)."
Counselor el had this to say about the academic counseling directive,
I would say the administration probably evaluates the academic and career
counselor over the personal counselor. Again I think it's just a personal
thing. I don't have any information to base it on, just intuition... .There's a
sense that advising pays the bills. ... I think that more and more they are
leaning towards making counselors do more advising cause that's where the
productivity is and so I've also noticed like a lot of counseling positions are
not being replaced, they just aren't.
At one campus where advising and counseUng had been in separate areas of
a building, administration recently combined the two departments. This was seen
by some counselors as a move to lessen the distinction between advising and
counseling. Counselor d4 said.
Well, on the first floor of this building it's not necessarily environmentally a
place smdents feel like they can come and unburden themselves. We used
to be on the second floor and when you're a litde further removed from (the
people traffic) there is a sense of being removed from other people. The
energy is different down here as far as stimulating. Upstairs, when we were
there, it was a much smaller office, but students I think felt a little bit more
comfortable about oh, just sharing more of their problems. And it still
happens here, but that may not be the main reason they come in.
When counselors are faced with this new definition of their work which
threatens their professional status, how do they cope? One way is by modifying
the objectives of service to make them attainable (Lipsky, 1980). If, as a
counselor, I cannot provide personal counseling, I either develop other ways to
provide similar services or adjust my thinking to accept this limited role. I think
RCC counselors have done both. They have developed the concept of
"supporting" the client rather than "counseling" the client. I have already covered
how the term "support" was used to describe the role of a counselor. RCC
counselors have reassured themselves that "support" is an adequate substitute for
personal counseling, in this setting. Below are comments from several counselors
describing their "supportive" role.
Counselor b2:
I see (our role as) a partner in supporting our students
in their success. We are experts in their college
success skills—how to manage their stress in this
process—and all of those things that support students
Counselor dl:
Sometimes I'll be working with the student on one
thing then refer them into the community. Let's say a
student is a substance abuser, or a student is working
on severe depression, and may be medicated by a
psychiatrist in town, and they're being seen by a
therapist, I may be seeing that same student on some
academic or career issues and just be kind of a support
to that student, but not be dealing with the more
personal issues. So that is often the combination that I
receive as well.
Counselor al:
The students that I have seen who I feel (need a) longterm thing— it's about support. I'm not sure, to me,
the students who are successful find somewhere where
they find a mentor, a support kind of situation. I'm not
sure our adding extra whatever time or sessions, will
actually take care of that. I think it's a whole
community kind of thing. The students who make it—
it's a mind set. It's a long term empowerment process
and I'm not sure if I saw students three times a week
for an hour, that would resolve anything. There has to
be something that the person embraces.
This last quotation demonstrates another way that counselors cope with their
limited role—they "attribute the cause of clients' situations to the individuals
themselves without considering the role of social and environmental contexts
(Lipsky, 1980, p. 153)." It is ultimately the student's fault if they do not succeed.
Another way to circumvent the personal counseling issue is to find other
ways to provide personal counseling, like in a group setting. Counselor b2
I try to steer people into HDE (classes)—not that—that is education, too.
But we can in more depth—get into some issues like counselor-dependency
or stress management that is like too intensive to do on a one-on-one thing.
But I used to. There are certain people who I would see every other week.
I would see them eight times, in the past. I don't do that any more.
Counselor d4 makes a similar suggestion:
The reason that I like (teaching HDE) is in the classroom, education is
what's going on. And I don't have to worry about the bureaucracy. We can
filter that out when we're in the classroom. I'm sitting here in this office—
there is staffing issues—there's how we take appointment issues. And we
field students, bring them in, (then) there's timing issues—scheduling
issues. And if those aren't managed well, it kind of interferes with what
can be done here.... In the classroom, maybe it's a control thing, I don't
know, but there, I can focus direcdy on what students need and in here I can
do that too but not as productively, not as positively, because in the
classroom I promote growth and responsibility and I can't always do that
Administrators also suggest the classroom as an alternative to the individual
counseling appointment. "When you have dwindling resources and cutbacks in
your counseling (department), I believe the counselors can have more contact
through groups (like) they have in their human development classes—than if they
try to reach each one on a one-to-one basis."
A final way that I see counselors modifying the concept of their job is to
broaden the scope of what counseling is considered to be. Counselor c 1 said:
It's kind of funny that I'm called counselor here because that is probably the
least that I get to do. It's all right, it's ok because I think the counseling
thing was gonna run through anything I do hopefully, you know? So I can
use those skills. It's not like I have to divorce the skills to do a different
job. It's fine.
The Focus on Counselors as Generalists
The third administrative directive is the focus on counselors as generalists.
The term generalist impUes that a worker is very flexible and able to provide a
wide array of services. This type of worker is very useful to an administrator as
described here by Administrator db3:
I think it's excellent that we had folks who were specialists in the divisions,
which is wonderful. But now they are sort of being forced to come learn to
become generalists again.... Administratively it's wonderful. We'll have
more hands that can do more things. I see growth for them even though
they see it maybe as a step backwards. "I'm just so deep in my specialty. I
don't want to learn all these general things." I see it as a good thing.
Administrator ab2 also shared a similar position:
I know that they deal with cases that are highly problematic, but that's not
what colleges are looking for right now. We're looking for people who can
do everything. Who can deal with a very simple question of what time does
that class start? Or what do I do if I want a refund? What do I do if I'm on
academic alert? Who do I need to see? That kind of stuff.
Counselors at RCC agreed that they were generalists. However, they
accepted this status in varying degrees. The majority of the counselors
emphatically agreed that they were generalists. Several of the counselors agreed
that they were generalists, but also specialists, in some way. Counselor b4 said,
"Well both, a generalist in terms of counseling, and being able to be able to do a
whole range of different kinds of counseling. I think a specialist, cause I think,
working with students and doing student counseling is it's own specialty."
But, as I talked with counselors about the students that they worked with
and what type of problems students had, I began to find that counselors did seem
to have specialties even though they espoused something different. Below are
some examples (Since the examples are very specific, I have omitted the
counselor's identifier to protect anonymity):
Example 1:
Being one of the very few Latino counselors, I tend to see a
high number of Hispanic students and women of color:
African American and especially Latino, Native American
students. Most of my appointments are referrals from other
students or faculty. They ask to see me. And because of the
work I've done developing programs targeting minority
women, my name gets out, and so students get to know me
and they refer others and then since the other campuses know
that I specifically want to work with those populations, they
refer students to me.
Example 2:
People know I do a lot of grief counseling. If my colleges in
the instructional faculty, many of whom I know, or in
counseling, know of someone who has gone through a
traumatic death or is involved in someone who is terminally
ill or something, they will call me.
Example 3: In the realm of academic counseling students who are
confused or need more information about transferring
gravitate towards me, usually.
Example 4: I enjoy the career issues. I teach career exploration. When
the student checks in and they say they identify a certain type
of issue, there's some of the counselors who enjoy career
more than others and they'll shoot them towards us. They
kind of know the counselors specialties even among the
generalists, a couple of our counselors are trained in grief and
loss specifically and they know to kind of route them that
So, the data indicates that even though officially counselors work as generalists,
unofficially they are able to specialize and serve particular populations. The
resulting unofficial policy that is created allows some students to receive better and
more thorough services than others. For example, if a student who is dealing with
grief issues attends a campus where a counselor specializes in grief counseling, the
student stands a good chance of being referred to that counselor and receiving
some extra attention because that counselor considers grief therapy to be his/her
specialty. If that same student is attending another campus, and seeks out a
counselor, chances are he will be referred to a community agency.
Modifying the Conception of Teaching
Aside from particular specialities like the ones discussed in the previous
example, counselors rely on their expertise in personal counseling and teaching to
justify their professional status within the organization and both of those areas of
expertise are being threatened. I have already discussed how counselors modify
their conceptions about providing personal counseling—they also modify their
conceptions about teaching. Their rationale is that the work they do with students,
providing advice and counsel, is a form of teaching. Even though it does not take
place in the classroom, it is still a form of education. Administrator db3 gives this
rationale in the example below:
It's a myth that counselors don't teach, that Ubrarians don't teach. I think
we do teach—we just teach differently.... So many of our students, being
first generation college students, they learn about college from us. They
don't leam it in the French class or an algebra class. They leam it from us.
Who teaches a fu-st generation college student what a credit hour is? Who
teaches a first generation college student how to use the library? See,
educational support faculty do that, counselors do that. So we do teach but
we teach differently and because we teach differently, it is not quite
understood. So I think the first thing that you have to redefine is what is
teaching. If teaching is providing new information that provides new
awareness that allows a student to grow and be successful, then we teach.
Counselor c 1 also shared this concept of teaching:
Every day I go out and teach. We go out and teach when we do our
orientation sessions, you're teaching about the college or teaching success
skills. When I go out for my concurrent enrollment and my high school
outreach, when I'm under those hats, I go out and I teach about RCC.
When I do the career academies for our campus in the summer, I guess we
do teach.
Other Patterns of Practice
There are also many occasions when workers develop strategies to deal with
the general antagonisms of working in a bureaucracy. All of the counseling
centers utilize screening as a way to control the use of the counselor's time.
Receptionists and student aides are hired to talk to students initially. They may be
able to answer a student's routine questions and avoid a counseling/advising
appointment all together. If they cannot answer a question, they then have the
discretion to assign the student to see a counselor or an advisor. In this way,
counselors are prevented from wasting their time with routine issues that could be
handled by an advisor. Not only does screening save time for counselors and help
them to reduce the demand on their services, but it also helps them to maintain a
clear distinction between counselors and advisors in order to sustain their
professional eliteness.
Lipsky also suggests that workers refer clients to other agencies as a way to
process clients without actually providing services. This may be true, in part, for
RCC. The administration is responsible for establishing this directive and their
motives lay more in issues of liability and costs than of the image. However, they
could mandate absolutely no personal counseling, and they have chosen not to.
And it may be a desire to not create waves amongst counselors and clients by
"providing symboUc services when actual services are not available (Lipsky, 1980,
p. 132)."
Counselors also accept this policy without reservation. This may be a way
that they "modify their conceptions" about their roles. Since diey are unable to
provide long-term counseling, they convince themselves that referring students to
outside agencies is the only appropriate option.
Working as a counselor in a bureaucracy means dealing with policies and
directives that do not always coincide with professional training. I began this
chapter by describing some of the ways that counselors are frustrated by these
discrepancies which they attribute primarily to the administrative structure within
the organization. The counselors were particularly distressed by the decision­
making processes. These processes were rarely focussed on students' needs and
rarely elicited input from counseling departments.
The counselors perceive that the administration makes policy decisions by a
process that is far removed from the actual operations of the college. There were
three major policy directives that the counselors found either frustrating or
threatening. These directives and the counselors' perceptions of them are
important and interesting, but it is their response to the directives that takes this
analysis to a deeper level. It is their response, or their subsequent actions, that
begin to tell a more complete story about the role of a counselor.
The first directive was the focus on number crunching. This directive
reflects the administrations' intention to create a business-like atmosphere where
all activities can be accounted for and linked to the mission of the college. One of
the main ways that the administration has attempted to account for counseling
services is by creating a computerized tracking system. Some counselors refused
to participate in this endeavor because they felt they were not trusted by the
administration. Others stated professional ethics as reason for their non­
compliance; placing information about counseling sessions was an invasion of
privacy for clients. Not disclosing the nature of counseling sessions enables
counselors to keep these encounters obscured by professional ethics. This makes it
more difficult for administrators to judge the worthiness of counseling services.
Subsequently, the counseling session remains rather mysterious and above
Counselors also expressed that the administration pressured them to see as
many students as possible. As a result, counselors found ways to ration students
like using time after a short session to catch on paperwork, rather than taking
another student (Lipsky, 1980).
The second directive was the focus on academic counseling or academic
advising. Again, this is seen as an attempt on the part of the administration to
create an atmosphere where students can be seen quickly and efficiently. Lipsky,
1980, suggests that street level bureaucrats modify the concepts of their jobs,
resulting in lowered personal and professional objectives. Counselors have
responded to this directive by modifying their conceptions of their jobs as it relates
to providing personal counseling or academic counseling. On the one hand, they
complain about the administration's preference for academic counseling, while at
the same time, they talk about their role as being one of support for the student and
down-playing their role as therapeutic counselors. They have accepted the fact
that their role is not one of providing primarily personal counseling. This lowering
of their expectations results in a subconscious sanction of this administrative
The third directive is the focus on counselors as generalists. This is also an
attempt on the part of the administration to economize services by having more
people prepared to provide front-line services rather than more technical,
specialized services. Again, it seems that counselors have modified their
conceptions and even promote themselves as generalist. But, in reality there is
much specializing occurring—special work with Hispanic students, with single
parents and divorced women, transfer students, career issues and grief issues.
In addition to the three directives advanced by the administration, there
were other ways that counselors contended with the bureaucracy of the
organization. They modified their conception of teaching, by describing how
teaching can and does take place anywhere, not just in the classroom. This
concept gives credence to their role as educators and assists them in justifying their
faculty status. They also participate in rationing students by employing student
aides and receptionists who screen students and appropriately funnel students to
advisors or to counselors with unsanctioned specialties. Referring students to
outside agencies is another form of rationing students.
In closing, administrators make decisions, mostly without the input of the
workers, and these decisions lead to directives for the organization. These
directives are often only implied, but the workers are able to interpret, negotiate,
and resist them. When the directives run counter to what the workers see as their
goals, they develop strategies to circumvent or just to cope with the directives.
The data indicates that counselors at RCC have employed strategies to cope with
the limits of a bureaucratic organization.
This project began with an interest in the professionalization of student
affairs. But after deciding to narrow the subject matter and concentrate on
community college counselors, I found that I was dealing with an occupational
group that was in the midst of a transition of their own. Aside from the trends and
debates in student affairs, counselors and administrators were negotiating the
current and future roles of this group. So, the goals of my study were modified,
which is characteristic of qualitative research, and I began an undertaking into the
meaning of the professional role of conmiunity college counselors.
As I began talking with key players at RCC, I found that there were no clear
definitions and no clear future directions for counselors. But, there was a sense
that change was in the air. And, there were several current events that had left
counselors feeling like their role was being threatened. There was discontent on
the part of counselors and on the part of administrators. In studying the
counselor's role at RCC, I hoped to provide some insight that would assist in
defining the future role of counseling at RCC and at other community colleges.
As is often the case with qualitative research, there were few definitive
answers to my research questions. Instead, I found patterns and relationships and
insights that helped me to understand the current role of counselors at urban
community colleges like RCC. In analyzing this data as a whole, I have observed
two major issues that tend to encompass these patterns, relationships and insights.
One issue is the nature of counseling interactions with students, and the other is the
impact and meaning of the professional status of counselors. Both of these issues
are impacting the role of community college counselors and need to be addressed
when contemplating changes in the counselor's role.
The Nature of Counseling Interactions
When counselors and administrators ponder the counselor's role and
consider changes, the changes are focussed on interactions with students: what
length of time can a counselor meet with a student, how often can they meet with a
student, can they address personal issues. In addition, the changes are based
primarily on saving money and/or time and serving more students. Administrators
think they cannot afford to continue hiring counselors to accommodate the
increasing numbers of students, many of whom have obstacles in their lives that
interfere with their college success.
But, where will it all end, and what will the result be? Lipsky (1980, p. xv)
states that "when all the 'fat' has been trimmed from agency budget and all the
'waste' eliminated," there are few choices remaining. Organizations like
community colleges can choose to continue automating and systematizing
interactions between students and counselors, they can drift with the times and
continue reducing services, or they can "restore the importance of human
interactions in services that require discretionary intervention (Lipsky, 1980, p.
xv)." Instead of just reviewing schedules and dividing tasks, administrators and
counselors need to consider the actual human interaction with students and how
those interactions improve and/or advance a student's chance of success.
Providing services quickly and efficiently is a trend happening in other
areas of student services as well as other types of organizations. Matheson,
Morrman and Winbum (1997) noticed this trend in academic advising and have
termed it the "McDonaldization" of advising. Many people see quicker and more
efficient services as an improvement and assume that quality remains constant.
But, that is not always the case. And, even if quality appears to remain the same,
there may be counter measures taking place as workers attempt to adjust, that
consciously or unconsciously sabotage services. According, to Lipsky (1980), this
occurs most with street level bureaucrats who are most likely to find themselves
wedged between bureaucratic efficiency measures and providing services to
human beings.
RCC counselors have found ways to limit the demands of their practice like
pacing the timing of their appointments and by not taking more appointments than
they are required to take. They have found ways to modify their conceptions of
their work in order to make their jobs accomplishable like accepting the policy of
referring students to outside agencies. The problem with adjusting work habits
and attitudes is that "ultimately these adjustments permit acceptance of the view
that clients receive the best that can be provided under prevailing circumstances
(Lipsky, 1980, p. xii)."
It is not just the administrators in this scenario that are leading the trend
towards speed and efficiency. Society, in general, has accepted this trend. Barbara
Gutek (1995) has written a book about social interaction that distinguishes
between bureaucratic encounters and personal relationships. Bureaucratic
encounters provide a service where the interaction is complete and terminal.
Customers as well as providers are interchangeable meaning that because no
relationship is formed, it does not matter who is providing the service or who is
accepting it. Relationships, on the other hand, consist of an "on going series of
transactions" where the provider and customer know each other and expect the
relationship to continue. Gutek contends that most public social interaction is now
based on bureaucratic encounters. This is certainly the situation with student
services, in general, and with RCC counseling services, specifically.
Gutek expounds on the problems inherent with the increasing trend towards
encounters rather than relationships. One problem is that there is no incentive for
providers of a service to strive for quality. When the provider is "on-call" for a
specific duty, there is little chance that they will ever interact with the same
customers in the future. This happens at RCC when counselors and advisors are
providing "walk-in" services. Students are screened at the front desk, and when it
is determined that they have a quick (less than fifteen minutes) question they are
signed in to see an advisor or counselor who is on "walk-in" duty. The
counselor/advisor meets with the student and generally provides a quick solution
and sends the student on their way, knowing that they will most likely never see
that student again. In this situation, it is only natural that the counselor/advisor
would be less concerned about quality when there is no expectation for future
The customers, or students, in this simation have come to expect services
that are provided through encounters rather than a relationships. As a result, they
have no incentive to be polite or positive because they will most likely never
interact with this person again. Students may come in with a demanding and
confrontational attitude in part because it is easier to get away with in an
encounter, but also because they anticipate getting cursory and abrupt services.
Another problem with encounters is that the provider and the customer tend
to stereotype one another because they will not have the opportunity to get to know
one another and move past those stereotypes. This issue profoundly effects
counseling and advising where acceptance of diversity is a goal.
Gutek also points out that encounters produce cynicism on the part of
customers who are then less likely to complain about services. What incentive is
there for a student to complain to a counselor/advisor when they likely will never
see them again. The student often hopes and assumes that they will see someone
else the next time. In addition, making a complaint to a higher authority usually
entails another encounter with someone else who also has no relationship with the
student and maintains their own cynicism due to the nature of the system. This
puts the organization at a disadvantage because they are not hearing about
employees that are inept or uncaring and they are not being made aware of general
problems where services need to be improved.
The movement in community colleges to redefine the counselor's role
mirrors Gutek's theory about contemporary social interaction. Administrators
have insisted that counselors take on more advising duties, they have hired
advisors in the place of counselors and they have streamlined the counseling
sessions that still remain. Encounters are more economical and efficient, but it is
necessary to consider the human interaction and the price we will eventually pay
for ignoring the need for genuine relationships. It is this societal acquiescence to
bureaucratic encounters that counselors and administrators need to address in order
to define the role of counseling.
Counselors at RCC did express concern about the administration's focus on
number crunching, but their response was geared towards elevating their
professional status rather than on increasing the awareness of the need for human
interaction. The meaning of professional status was ultimately most important in
the work lives of these counselors.
The Meaning of Professional Status
There is very little research that looks at the community college counselor's
role in relation to their professional status as counselors. The field of counseling is
still considered to be an emerging profession (Dunlop, 1968; Vacc & Loesch,
1994). For this reason and because the faculty is perceived as the dominant
professional group in a community college, counselors may be searching for ways
to assert their expertise and status (Seidman, 1985). They spoke about traditional
indices of professional status, like the importance of their formal education and
their training. And, they described their autonomy and their use of discretion in
carrying out their duties. But, they did not talk about how or when they relied on
their professional knowledge to help students. There was no discussion about
specific theories or methods of intervention with students. However, the
counselors did talk about their expertise in handling crisis situations and in
Both of these areas of expertise serve to elevate the counselors status in the
community college. Because of their expertise in crisis situations, they are able to
separate themselves from staff-level academic advisors. Their jobs are very much
alike in all other respects, but advisors are not allowed to handle crises. And
teaching is their rationale for maintaining faculty status which is considered the top
rung of the ladder at community colleges (Seidman, 1985). Counselors are
convinced that losing their faculty status would mean losing most of their
influence and the respect of their peers.
Administrators make decisions based on efficiency. Advisors can do much
of what counselors do for about half the cost. Adjunct faculty can teach human
development classes leaving counselors fully available to work with students
during their regular work day. But, for counselors, hiring advisors and adjunct
faculty amount to an assault on their professional status in the institution. It might
be that counselors could be assured of their professional status in some other way.
If counselors and administrators could develop some clear defmitions of their role.
counselors might not be as inclined to rely on the perception of their status.
Future Directions for Community College Counselors
Counselors are negotiating their own roles because official roles are vague.
Counselors and administrators together need to develop an articulate concept of
the role and duties of counselors. Creamer (1983) has identified four counseling
perspectives: the educational generalist, the counselor/service specialist, the
educational programmer and the developmentalist. RCC counselors currently
align with the generalist and educational programmer perspectives. But, both of
these perspectives are in jeopardy. Counselors as generalists are in danger of
being replaced by less costly, but adequate advisors. Counselors as educational
programmers are in danger of being replaced by less costly adjunct faculty.
Several counselors and administrators spoke of the developmentalist perspective.
This perspective regards the counselor as a learning and development expert.
Utilizing this perspective, counselors could maintain an expertise in education and
learning styles which is more closely ahgned with faculty expertise. It also gives
them more visibility by involving them in the classroom and with instructional
faculty. Several administrators, like Administrator bb2, saw this perspective as
one that could serve as a retention tool:
I think there's lots of retention tools. I think counseling can be one of them.
I [also] think a lot of retention has to come through instruction and through
understanding learning styles and what motivates people to learn and
having an exciting classroom. Because in counseling, if people get help
they may stay in school. If people get help it may be best that they not stay
in school. So it's not—(personal counseling) can't always be the view of
retention. It's a part of it, it's just one aspect. I think it's much more
exciting to look at what happens at the classroom, to keep students in
The developmentalist role also provides for more visibility for counselors,
especially if they are no longer teaching in the classroom. Pushing for this new
role is one way that counselors are coping with the issues of intangibility.
Renowned student services administrator, Walter Bumphus (1996) also
emphasizes the need for student services personnel to work "with faculty to
effectively teach students with different learning styles." However, he cautions
that this perspective can sometimes lead to or justify the combining of student
services and instruction, which in many cases has "de-emphasized the leadership
of this area at a time when perhaps more focus and emphasis (on student services)
is gready needed."
RCC counselors' experiences do correspond to the literature in that they
feel that their roles are misunderstood by faculty, staff, administrators and
students. Others perceive that they are still seen as providing unnecessary personal
counseling. This perception could be deflected by getting out into the corrmion
areas to work with students and by being involved in the instructional areas as
specialists in learning styles. However, counselors receive mixed messages about
whether they should be available in their offices to work with students one-on-one,
or whether they should be expanding their roles outside the walls of the counseling
Counselors at a Minnesota community college have instituted a program
called "Coffee with the Counselors" where counselors are on-call in the cafeteria
to meet with students and answer questions on a more informal basis (Cvancar,
1997, p. 35). This type of program appears to reach many smdents and increases
visibility of the counselors. However, the consequences of both types of
counseling perspectives need to be carefully considered. Would having counselors
in a developmentalist role really serve more students or would it just create the
illusion of accountability? This question needs to be considered and then
administrators and counselors need to come to agreement about what type of
counseling perspective will be employed at RCC.
The results of this study provide implications for administrators and
counselors in the process of reevaluating the counselor's role. Both groups need to
consider the actual activities of counselors and their current perceptions about their
jobs. It is the actual activities that provide an indicator of the degree and quality of
relationships with students that are being formed and nurtured. Statistical reports
do not provide that information and neither do outdated perceptions about the
counselor's role.
Counselors, in particular, need to focus their energies on providing human
interaction. It does not necessarily need to be provided in the traditional form of
therapeutic counseling as it has in the past, but it does need to be grounded in
fundamental obligations of love and concern and not just in professional
Wliai is your background and iruining?
Wliy did you go into couiiscling'f
Tell Mie, siep by slep, what you did yesierday. (DescrilM: a typical day.)
Was dial your idea of an ideal day. or would you do sonielliing dit l'eienlly'.' (Dcscnlw lui ideal day.)
Sludenis: Whul lypc of problems are eliey seeking help wiih? Do ihey come volunlarily'.' Do you accept all sliideiils? How nmch
How appts made'.' Are you successful wilh all siudenls'.'
Kulerrals: how do you feel about ihal'.' Do you know what happens 10 (hose siudenls'.'
Ill whal ways are you able 10 use prol'essioiial discretion in working willi sludenis'.' Has this changed over time'/ Is il enough'.'
What is your caseload'/ How do you manage it'/
What type of studunts/pioblcms do you i»osi liku woiking will)'/
How would you descril>e the general role of a college counselor'/ Kole of a UCC counselor'/
Have there been any changes in the counseling rule while you've been here'/
What is unclear about your role here ut I'iina as u counselor'/
Which is most imponani. personal counseling, academic counseling or career counseling'/ Which do you prefer'/
Du yuu consider yourself a generalisi or a specialist'.' Is that what you want'/
How does the role of a paii-iime counselor compare to that of a full-time counselor'/ Division counselor'/
Are your goals as a counselor the same as your Jepariiiieni's goals'/ If not, how cope'/
Docs the administration thing (your goals) are iiii|)orliml'/
What does your su|)ervisor/depanment expect? The administration'/ If not, how cope'/
Is there a counselor evaluation process'/ Any incentive structures'/
Whal other duties do you have and how do you manage them'/ How do you prioritize your duties'/
Whal do you like least/most aboul your work'/
Are you completely salisl'icd wilh ibis position'/ Are there any changes that you would like to see lake plate'/
Arc other counseling departmenls experiencing these problems/dilemmas'/ Professional afPilialions'/
I low does the rest of ihe college conununiiy see the counseling depairmem'/
Do you identify wilh the faculty'/
What do think this department will look like in ten years'/
Is there anything that ilie counseling departnieni could do to improve their services to sludenis'/
What do you think the role of a college counselor should be?
Are there any differences at RCC?
Are there any differences at this campus?
Have there been changes in the role over time?
Should the role of a counselor be that of a generalist?
What is the difference between a counselor and an advisor?
Are there differences in the role of part-time counselors, division counselors?
What is the mission of the counseling department?
Are there changes that you would like to see take place in the counseling department?
How do students get referred to counseling services, or how do they find out about
What type of students are served by counseling services?
What makes one counselor more effective than another?
How are counselors evaluated?
What do you look for in hiring a counselor?
How are new counselors trained, socialized?
How does the rest of the college community see the counseling department?
How do you think the counseling duties should be prioritized?
Where did the policy on referrals come from and when was it established?
How is this policy conveyed to counselors?
What are the legal issues influencing counseling departments?
What are the budget issues influencing counseling departments?
10000 Coimselmg Role
10100 Background
10101 Type of education
10102 How hired
10200 Counseling characteristics
10300 General role
10301 Generalist?
10302 Lack of understanding
10303 Multiple roles
10400 History at RCC
10500 3 types of counseling
10501 Personal
10502 Career
10503 Academic
10600 Referral
10601 #of visits
10700 Like least/change
10800 Like most
10801 9 mos. contract
10802 Variety
10900 Counseling vs. Advising
11000 Types of counselors
11001 Part-time
11002 Division
11003 Nonmasters
11004 Faculty advisors
11100 Need counseling?
11101 Crises examples
11200 Changes
11300 Future
20000 Professional Issues
20100 Certification
20200 Professional resentment
20300 Discretion
20400 Faculty
20401 Identify with?
20402 Perceptions
20403 Working with
20500 Performance evaluation
20600 HDE/teaching
20700 Dumping ground
30000 Bureaucracy
30100 Coping/policy
30101 Marketing
30102 Support
30200 Structure of days
30300 Data entry program
30400 Unclear expectations
30500 Multiple campuses
30600 Technology
30700 Supervisor expectations
30701 Reported supervisor
40000 Administrative Perceptions
40100 Liability
40200 Budgets
40300 Punishing everyone for deeds
of few
40400 Reducing role
40500 Ineffective
50000 Students
50100 Problems
50101 Time spent
50200 Preferred
50300 Successful?
60000 Priorities, mission, goals
Campus I:
Campus 2:
Campus 3:
Campus 4;
Campus 5:
Psych background:
Descriptors of the counselor's role
Counselor identifying codes
empathetic listener
expert in college skills
can share the 'big' picture
Helping and Guiding
problem solvers
Goal Development and Academic Success
Institutional Support
liaison with college
supporting educational goals
representing institutional issues
Other descriptors
calm people down
never been defined
share ideas
empowering the student
facilitator (student/faculty)
student advocate
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