Guidance counselors are a common school
resource for students navigating complicated and consequential education
choices. Christine Mulhern provides the first causal estimates of individual counselors'
effects on high schoolers, using quasi-random counselor assignment policies
in Massachusetts. She finds that counselors vary substantially in their
effectiveness at increasing students' high school graduation rates and
college attendance, selectivity and persistence. Counselor effects on
educational attainment are similar in magnitude to teachers' effects, but
they flow through improved information and direct assistance, rather than
through improved cognitive or non-cognitive skills. Counselor effectiveness
is most important for low-achieving and low-income students, perhaps
because these students are most likely to lack other sources of information
and assistance. Good counselors tend to improve all measures of educational
attainment but some specialize in improving high school behavior while
others specialize in increasing selective college attendance. Improving
access to effective counseling may be a promising way to increase
educational attainment and close socioeconomic gaps in education.
About Christine Mulhern: Christine Mulhern is a PhD Candidate in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Her research focuses on understanding how school resources, social networks and technology
influence student success in high school and postsecondary education. She
has research which documents the effects of school counselors, siblings,
and the guidance technology Naviance on educational attainment. She has
also studied online learning technologies in higher education.