At Linn-Mar High School in Marion, she is known simply as Mrs. Bass. But don’t be fooled. Sheryl Bass is more than just a name. She is one of the standouts in an expanding, statewide guidance program initiative that prepares high school juniors and seniors for life after graduation.
Although Bass has been a school counselor at Linn-Mar for the past six years, this school year, through a partnership with Kirkwood Community College, marks her first as one of Iowa’s new college and career transition counselors (CCTC). CCTCs are markedly different from general school counselors and have the distinct assignment of connecting targeted students in high school to postsecondary education or other opportunities, such as the workforce or the military. Bass and other CCTCs work with students starting in eleventh grade and have the unique potential to continue their assistance through the summer after graduation and during the student’s first year at a community college. It is an opportunity to truly help transition a student from high school to what lies next.
“Having that specific role of working with college and career readiness, I can focus conversations solely on those things,” Bass said. “I can provide more intensive support for the student and their family. I can help with things like completing a college application, FAFSA (Free Application for Financial Student Aid) and student loan applications or arranging college visits.”
CCTCs are designed to work specifically with students who may need additional support for planning beyond graduation. They often reach out to students from varied backgrounds, such as students from lower socio-economic means, first-generation students, students who report as racial or ethnic minorities, teen mothers and students with disabilities. Oftentimes, the CCTC will also keep in touch regarding college applications and financial aid deadlines with the student’s parents, who may also have very limited first-hand college experience.
“I have met with over 100 students already,” Bass said.
Together, the CCTC and student plot out a feasible college and career pathway to see what steps are needed prior to graduation. The student’s individual career and academic planning (ICAP) can be tied into these steps, too, to help determine what career possibilities may be available based on their interests and skills. The CCTC can also identify concurrent enrollment possibilities to get a jump start on college credits and career readiness or coordinate work-based learning opportunities, such as job shadows, internships or apprenticeships, that could further benefit the student’s career exploration.
At Linn-Mar, senior Kerina Powers, 18, has already met with Bass several times this year to talk about her goals after graduation. So far, the two have worked on applications to Kirkwood Community College and for various scholarships. Bass has even assisted Kerina in looking for potential apartments near the Kirkwood campus. However, there is one thing Kerina still needs to do.
“I need to get my FAFSA going,” Kerina said. “I know it’s an important piece. I was indecisive on what I wanted to do, and without Mrs. Bass, I don’t think I would be anywhere this far. Scholarships, applying to colleges, FAFSA. Those were all things I needed help with.”
With Bass’s role as CCTC, Kerina has a clearer path for her future after graduation. Although some things are still tentative, she plans to attend Kirkwood for two years and then transfer to the University of Iowa. Her ultimate occupational goal is to become a mental health therapist. Kerina is glad that during her first year at Kirkwood, Bass, through her role as CCTC, will remain her advisor.
“Having a familiar face that knows my background will be very helpful,” she said. “I’ve told her that it will be nice having someone I know while in a new place. Mrs. Bass will help me keep on track and show up to class on time. It makes me feel more ready and less scared about going to college.”
Currently, Iowa has 21 CCTC positions helping students like Kerina in various school districts, and 19 of those positions are brand new this school year. Part of the expansion of the CCTC program is due to positive data collected during the initial program’s first three years. The two schools to first use a CCTC position – Columbus High School and Louisa-Muscatine High School – both show successes that will hopefully be replicated at other schools.
For instance, both schools saw increases in the number of students who completed student loan applications. At Columbus, it increased from 61 percent of the student population to 76 percent. Similarly during the same timeframe, Louisa-Muscatine increased by seven percentage points to a total of 73 percent of the student population completing student loan applications.
“The data trends are good and support the need for the CCTC position,” said Katy Blatnick-Gagne, education consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “Columbus and Louisa-Muscatine both showed increases in the percent of students who enrolled into postsecondary education immediately after high school, which is a good indicator of success.”
In fact, Columbus grew from 51 percent to 55 percent of students who enrolled in postsecondary education immediately after graduation while Louisa-Muscatine saw an even greater jump from 60 to 66 percent.
The Iowa Department of Education supports the expansion of CCTCs across the state and has helped provide start-up costs for six positions earlier this year. Grant funding support for potentially five additional CCTC positions is now open for applications through Dec. 15. Community colleges in partnership with local school districts are encouraged to apply.
“Some students need far more intensive assistance with this planning as well as more support to help ensure follow through with the transition to postsecondary training and/or college as they enroll and start to attend,” said Jeff Gustason, principal at Linn-Mar High School. “With the CCTC position, we now have someone who can help support all of our students but is able to focus spending more critical, intensive time needed with students and parents regarding postsecondary planning, preparation and with the start of training or school.”
For Bass, she will continue this school year helping Linn-Mar and first-year Kirkwood students continue down their college and career paths. And for many students who right now may be unsure of what’s next, her assistance will provide much-needed clarity.
“They just need someone to go through the steps with them,” she said. “Once everything is set, applications are completed and they are aware of what’s to come, they feel better. They’re better prepared and less stressed.”