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Counselors: Parents should plan for college costs

Randall Chase, Associated Press

DOVER, Del. (AP) -- Delaware parents need to be more involved when it comes to planning for their children to go to college, high school counselors said Monday at a round-table discussion hosted by U.S. Rep. John Carney on the soaring costs of higher education.

Earlier communication with students and their families about college planning, starting in middle school, also was among the recommendations from participants in Monday's meeting.

"It is a daunting task, and I'm probably one of the most involved parents there is," said Yvonne Johnson, president of the Delaware PTA. "... It's a full-time job to get your kid into college."

But parents of potential college students are not the only ones facing challenges. Guidance counselors say they get little time and virtually no training for helping students navigate the college application process.

"The biggest drag on our time is data collection," said Karen Sundquist, a counselor at Milford High School.

Sundquist said high school counselors must try to develop data showing that what they do is positively affecting students, even though they have no classroom input or control over what a student is learning.

"It's this kind of crazy game," she said.

Joel Lang, a guidance counselor at Salesianum School, a Catholic high school in Wilmington, said a person can get a master's degree in school counseling and learn next to nothing about counseling students for college.

"They know how to work with emotional issues, things of that nature. Nothing about college," he said.

Jennifer Davis, the lone senior class counselor at Smyrna High School and president of the Delaware School Counselors Association, said she and her colleagues juggle a host of tasks, and trying to get financial aid information to parents can be a challenge.

"Being in the regular public school setting, I can't get parents involved," added Davis, saying that an evening event on financial aid or applying for college for a senior class of about 300 students might draw 30 parents "if I'm lucky."

Sundquist also expressed frustration at the lack of parental involvement.

"I have maybe 10 percent, maybe, of parental participation in anything," she said.

Mary Maslar, a college counselor at the Charter School of Wilmington, suggested that the college application and financial aid process could be just too intimidating for some parents.

"This whole thing promotes fear," she said.

"I would like to see more transparency on the part of colleges, especially with financial aid," Maslar added.

Panel participants noted that the sticker price offered by a college or university often bears little resemblance to the actual bill that families pay, and that the financial aid process is confusing and can vary from school to school.

"You really need to know what your financial landscape is," said Amanda Gonye, a Delaware PTA board member and parent of a Wilmington Charter graduate who is now a rising sophomore at the University of Richmond.

Carney said Monday's meeting is one in a series of discussions with various stakeholders regarding the high cost of higher education, which he said is squeezing the middle class and "crushing" those at the lower end of the economic scale.