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‘Social Capital’ and College Counseling

If college counseling for underrepresented students does not become a crucial part of education reform, then reform will not bear nearly enough fruit.

So writes Omari Scott Simmons in a forthcoming article in the Notre Dame Law Review. Mr. Simmons, an associate professor at Wake Forest University’s School of Law, argues that policy makers must do more to account for “social-capital deficits” among low-income, minority, and first-generation students in public schools. Generally, “social capital” is a term used to describe the benefits one accumulates based on his or her relationships with other people.

“Vulnerable students overwhelmingly lack access to social networks that provide valuable information to navigate the complex college admissions and financial-aid processes,” writes Mr. Simmons, who is also director of the Simmons Memorial Foundation, a North Carolina nonprofit group that helps prepare under-privileged students for college. “Yet the nation’s public schools exacerbate the problem by not providing adequate college counseling support to their most needy students, particularly successful students who demonstrate college potential.”

In this broad look at the college-counseling crunch, Mr. Simmons argues that college access is not just a matter of improving K-12 academic preparation, or giving needy students more money for college. He calls for a “more expansive vision of schools as social networking stations where students receive ancillary services such as college counseling alongside academic instruction.”

Mr. Simmons’s proposals for building a better counseling system will surely draw a hearty “Amen” from many of those in the admissions profession. Others might reasonably note that all this is easier said than done, especially in this time of broken piggy banks. And some education-reform junkies will have heard many similar ideas before.

Still, this article offers a good reminder that going to college isn’t just a matter of who’s rich and who’s poor, who’s prepared and who’s not. The calculus of access is more complicated than that, and so, too, is the definition of good college counseling. And the students who need it the most are the least likely to get it.

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