This story is featured in the fall 2014 issue of 360:The Magazine of San Diego State University.
The moment a high school senior clicks “send” on a college application is one of the most terrifying and pivotal in their fledgling academic careers.
That’s why Trish Hatch has made everything leading up to that click her life’s purpose.
Hatch directs the school counseling program at San Diego State University. For three decades she has provided training, grant writing, evaluation and consultation for school counselors, administrators and districts around the country.
“School counselors can make a real difference in the lives of their students,” Hatch said. “They can help students discover opportunities, find new paths and ultimately reach their goals.”
Together with assistant professor Laura Owen, who joined SDSU this fall, Hatch works to create meaningful, systematic change within the school counseling profession—change they both agree is long overdue.
This year, their tireless efforts brought a White House initiative straight to the Mesa.
Changing the language
President Barack Obama’s College Opportunity Agenda was designed to improve access to higher education, remove barriers to innovation and competition and ensure that student debt remains affordable.
An important initiative, Hatch said, but lacking recognition of what inspires students to reach for higher education.
“There was no mention of school counselors or the important role they play in helping students to access higher education,” Hatch said. “Laura and I knew we had to change this so we reached out to the U.S. Department of Education.”
Shortly afterwards, First Lady Michelle Obama announced her Reach Higher Initiative, which aims to inspire every student in America to earn a college degree.
This initiative did include support for high school counselors, acknowledging their role in helping students get there.
When senior White House staff convened a session on school counseling, they invited Hatch and Owen to discuss current challenges and opportunities facing counselors as they strive to support students’ college aspirations.
Hatch and Owen saw it as a prelude to a larger conversation.
“We know school counselors need training in the college application and financial aid processes and guidance on how to educate students to navigate the transition into higher education,” Owen said.
But counselors can do more than just advise; They can become students’ champions, Hatch added.
“What they also need are the tools to become leaders, advocates and change agents,” she said. “We have to educate and empower them to resolve the access and opportunity gaps that exist.”
Next stop: SDSU
A July 2014 meeting at Harvard moved the agenda forward, and the White House asked for volunteers to host a follow-up session in November.
Owen and Hatch seized the opportunity and this week, SDSU hosted the West Coast convening of leaders and advocates for the school counseling profession, joined by representatives from the White House.
“The next steps in the conversation aligned perfectly with what we knew needed to happen,” said Hatch, “and that was to incorporate a social justice mission similar to the one in SDSU’s school counseling program. There was strong support for this from our department, chair, dean, provost and president, so we thought, ‘Why not us? Why not bring these leaders and commitment makers to SDSU?’”
Centered around President Obama’s “North Star” goal—that by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world—White House officials and education leaders created measurable action plans for improving school counseling preparation, programs and practices that will increase college access for all students.
So when high school seniors click “send” on their college applications,they can feel confident of a future in higher education and beyond.