The CollegeBound Foundation is asking the Baltimore school system to make room in its $1.3 billion operating budget to fund a college and career adviser at every city high school.
Cassie Motz, executive director of the Baltimore-based nonprofit, said the presence of such an adviser translates into more students applying and attending college, as well as earning financial aid. After 30 years of operating in the city, she said, CollegeBound has a proven record of providing those kinds of results.
Motz made her pitch to the city school board Tuesday night during a community feedback hearing on the district's budget proposal. She was flanked by two high school seniors who recently committed to four-year colleges with the help of their CollegeBound advisers.
"In the 21st century, almost all jobs require some sort of training beyond high school," Motz said. "It's important for us as a city to prepare students for the world — whether that's going straight to work, doing a certificate program or going to a two or four-year college. We want to make sure we're giving our students a road-map on how to succeed beyond high school."
CollegeBound currently sends advisers into 18 high schools. They want to extend to 15 more programs, giving them a presence in every city high school. To do that, they're asking the district for $1.3 million annually and a four-year funding commitment.
Some school board members appeared receptive. They are scheduled to vote on the budget May 8.
"To me, this is a no-brainer," said school board vice chair Peter Kannam. "The idea that we have high schools without college and career advisers is unacceptable."
But others questioned how the district would afford the expense, and whether it would be fair to fund these positions out of the district's central office. The district gives principals a large level of autonomy over how they spend their annual budget allocations. Some commissioners said they weren't sure whether they should mandate how principals should use their already too-scarce dollars.
"It comes down to: The pie isn't big enough to do all the things we want to do for our kids," said school board chair Cheryl Casciani.
Still, the idea has the backing of the Baltimore City Council, which passed a resolution last month calling for the expansion of CollegeBound.
"Children in Baltimore often face disadvantages beyond their control, and we need to give them every opportunity and resource possible to go to and through college," said Councilman Zeke Cohen, chairman of the council's Education and Youth Committee. "CollegeBound is a great, evidence-based program that's moving the ball down the field for our kids."
The program launched in 1988, as a partnership between then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, and the Greater Baltimore Committee.
Last school year, CollegeBound advisers met with about 2,650 students one-on-one to discuss their college options. They hosted numerous college fairs, allowing more than 5,800 students to talk with representatives from more than three dozen schools. And they helped nearly 1,100 seniors submit scholarship applications, generating more than $50 million worth of awards.
This push comes as Baltimore schools deal with a sharp decline in the number of guidance counselors. The district currently has 84 positions, compared to about 120 during the 2014-15 school year.
The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250-to-1. In Maryland, the average is 369-to-1, while Baltimore's ratio comes out to more than 900 students per counselor.
CollegeBound advisers work hand-in-hand with guidance counselors, allowing them to divvy up more of their caseloads. Guidance counselors' duties extend far beyond college preparation. They must often act as social workers, and ensure students are meeting high school graduation requirements.
"School counselors have a lot of responsibilities beyond college," Motz said. "We're focused full-time on college for those who are interested."
Cohen said the City Council believes now is the right time for the expansion. Mayor Catherine Pugh launched a program earlier this year that offers all city high school graduates tuition-free community college.
Coppin State University officials then followed up, pledging free tuition to graduates of city public high schools who then earn associate degrees from Baltimore City Community College.
"Expanding CollegeBound," Cohen said, "is critical to our overall strategy of getting more children to and through college."