Access to College for Lower-Income Students:
A Pre-college Counseling Education Program for Rural High School Counselors of New Mexico
Including a Needs Assessment, Rationale, Program Design, and Evaluation

The majority of high school students in rural northern New Mexico are lower income and Hispanic and/or Native American. Only a small percentage of the state's rural lower-income students go on to college, particularly to four-year institutions. High school counselors are an important potential source of information on postsecondary opportunities for these students, who typically cannot rely on peers and parents. Rural counselors, however, usually receive little to no formal education in graduate school on pre-college counseling. In New Mexico, while there are agencies or organizations whose mission is to increase the number of students going on to postsecondary institutions, few of these are an active presence in rural high schools. In addition, none of these programs directly serve the professional skill development needs of rural high school counselors, the individuals who can have a great deal of influence on their students' postsecondary plans.

This research documents and assesses the need for a pre-college counseling education program for rural counselors in New Mexico, based on the thirty high schools of the Northern New Mexico Network for Rural Education. A rationale for a pilot program design and evaluation is presented, arising from a review of the literature pertaining to pre-college counseling of lower-income students (with a focus on Hispanics and Native Americans), as well as a review of selected effective national model programs. Using Elliot Eisner's connoisseurship-critic model, a case study is provided of a year-long pilot program at Chamiza High School, one of the Network's members. A refined program design for a pre-college counseling education program is then offered, based on the Chamiza pilot and extensive site observations at other Network High Schools, and on the results from questionnaires and interviews of counselors, students, and parents at Chamiza and other Network high schools. This program can be replicated for all schools that serve lower-income students.

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