Hello. My name is Cheryl Baunbach-Caplan. I have been a part-time counselor at College of DuPage for almost 19 years and am president of the College of DuPage Adjuncts Association.
I was a first-generation college student raised in a working-class family on the south side of Chicago who received a full scholarship to attend the University of Illinois. My gratitude for that educational opportunity inspired me to work for 40 years in higher education helping others achieve their academic goals and career dreams.
Tonight, you will also hear comments from some of my colleagues. We are 18 part-time counselors and 8 part-time program advisors who have worked at COD between 4 – 18 years and have been told the College will eliminate our positions.
Our longevity at the College – particularly when the Board packet often features employee resignations after less than a year – is testimony to our dedication, experience, and professionalism. And yet the College seems not to value this.
The College wants to employ a case management model to improve student success. But case management does not necessitate FT advisors only. If the administration collaborated with our department, we could develop a comprehensive model to improve retention and graduation around the existing departmental structure, utilizing the expertise of counselors and advisors already in place. Yet, they have never asked us to work with them to develop such a model.
In fact, with many populations, we already employ case management. Jessica Dyrek and I work with the UIUC Engineering Pathways students. Since we joined the Pathways team, the success rate has increased significantly. The need for emotional support and counseling for these students is high given the pressures of carrying 16-19 credits of difficult STEM courses each semester. And although not all Pathways students make it to UIUC, the overwhelming majority transfer somewhere.
If the College eliminates all part-time counselor positions it will cut our department’s counseling staff by more than half in full time equivalents. We believe this an unwise and dangerous decision when, according to the American College Health Association, over three-quarters of college students in 2022 experienced moderate to serious psychological distress.
I ask the Board, the administration, and the public to listen to our narrative tonight.
Collaboratively, with the leadership of our administrators and our expertise in helping many thousands of students achieve their academic dreams, we can craft a model for student success that addresses the unique and diverse needs of all our students.
Collaboration matters. Thank you.
My name is Michelle Molina and I am a licensed clinical professional counselor. I have worked at College of Dupage for 5 years and have been a counselor in the community college setting for over 10 years. I am also a community member and have two junior high children in COD’s 502 district.
The counselors and advisors call on the Board of Trustees to require the College to conduct an analysis of the impact related to eliminating part-time counseling and advising positions and creating full-time advising positions only. We are asking for specific details about how management’s plan will benefit students and improve student retention and graduation rates.
Strategic Planning Matters
In response to the COVID pandemic, the College implemented multiple teaching modalities and other innovative initiatives to address the diverse ways students want to learn. What the pandemic taught us is one-size does not fit all. Why then does the College believe a one-size approach to providing counseling and advising fits our diverse student body?
Diversity and Equity Matters
The pandemic had a profound impact on the junior high, high school and College learning experience across the country and in our community. Students who enter COD in fall 2024 started high school in a COVID environment. We don’t know what impact this might have on their need for additional guidance and support. What we do know is that a large number of students talk to us about the negative impact the pandemic had on their academic preparation and personal well-being. Administrators collaborated with district 502 superintendents about mental health issues in their elementary, junior high, and high school to help COD prepare for the challenges that lie ahead.
Recent data suggests that student mental health is declining. During the 2020-2021 academic year, more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health issue, according to the Healthy Minds Study, which collected data from 373 campuses nationwide. Why would College of DuPage students be different? With gun violence on the rise nationwide, including on college campuses, what danger is posed by not having robust mental health support on campus?
Reviewing data provided by the College, in 2021, 5887 students changed their program of study. In the first three months of this year, 1289 students changed their program of study. In order to receive financial aid, a student must declare degree intent. This results in students often choosing a degree that comes to mind first but is not necessarily their intent. Counselors and advisors estimate close to half of the students we meet with are undecided based on what they tell us. And yet the College believes we have only about 2000 undecided students and has presented no plan on how FT advisors, aligned with Pathways, will support undecided students.
Collectively, the 28 part-time counselors and advisors represent 211 years of experience in counseling and advising, not to mention our additional experience in higher education management, teaching, and other areas.
Experience and Expertise Matters
The responsible and ethical choice for the College of Dupage is to keep our part-time counselors and advisors.
Counseling and Advising DOES Matter
My name is Christine Jandak and I am the Program Advisor for both the Education and Early Childhood Education and Care Programs here at College of DuPage. I am also a resident of district 502. I have worked at COD for 10 years and 5 have been in my current role in counseling and advising. I, like many of my part time counselors and advisors have had the honor of being nominated by students as Advisor of the year. To say that I love my job is an understatement.
We as program advisors are housed in the same offices as our full time faculty members. We participate in discipline meetings, advising sessions, articulation meetings, and transfer meetings and specialized college events which suit our programs. We are experts in our respective areas. COD has 8 program advisors Tara and Lynn cover all areas of health sciences. We have Peter in Business and Technology, Nazia in Computer information Systems and Computer internetworking Systems, Anika in Business, Kelly in Human Services, and Lisa in Interior Design, Fashion Studies, and Cosmetology. We are relationship builders, problem solvers, and course planners, for our students and faculty in our areas. We prepare students for completion of Associates in Applied Science degrees and Associates of Arts or Science. We help students plan for employment opportunities, transfer options, prerequisites and more. We provide information to students in areas like Hesi exams, differences in computer languages, Education licensure requirement with Illinois State Board of Education, DCFS, and Gateways, and how to earn certificates in our areas as well. We are built in support systems.
Our programs do not have a typical student. Some are right out of high school, some have some college, some have completed degrees. Our students are full-time, part-time, half time or one at a time and we support them all in navigating their schedules and lives both in and out of Cod. In my programs, especially on Mondays, students have the opportunity to see the collaboration between Program Advisor and faculty. We strategically plan and talk through questions and concerns together with the student in ways we would not be able to if we were not sharing an office suite. The expertise in our areas that we have developed over the years, as well as our collaboration with program faculty and staff, allows us to provide excellent student service.
However, not all of us are able to work full-time. Much of this expertise will be lost, and long established relationships destroyed, if the College eliminates our positions. Our programs are growing and are successful with a blend of both full and part time employees. Instead of moving ahead with the elimination of all part-time positions, we ask that the College work in collaboration with those of us in Counseling and Advising to develop a model to improve student success that allows dedicated program advisors to continue in their jobs, whether full time or part time, and remain with the faculty in the departments that they work with.
Part time employees matter.
My name is Alison Greene, and I am a part-time counselor. I have worked at this college in a few different roles for over 20 years, and it is like my second home. I am a first generation student and community college alumni myself.
I choose to work part-time because my husband has healthcare benefits and it allows me to volunteer and give back to my community outside of work.
I don’t understand why the college wants to eliminate part-time counselor and advisor positions. Caseloads could easily be calculated by how many hours are worked. And, if we do go by a caseload model centered on Pathways, not all programs will have the same number of students. Part-time employees would be able to fill in by covering those partial caseloads.
I am very supportive of academic success and open to changes that benefit students, but I don’t think enough research has been done to identify the needs of our students at College of DuPage.
Our students are more complex than academic career pathways and academic plans. This college has a lot of diversity, and many of our students come to us for guidance in various ways.
Over the years, I have met many first-generation immigrants, returning adults, and students with special needs. More than half of the students I see are undecided. These students don’t walk in the door ready to enter an academic program. For some students, this decision takes time, and it takes trying things out and talking to someone about their options. In fact, most of us meet with approximately 10 students per month for whom Academic Program change requests are processed.
We also see a lot of students on academic probation or suspension due to failing grades that are often caused by personal events in their lives. These students need even more guidance and support to return to school and succeed.
Without understanding what we do, you might think that advising and counseling should be separated. But if you met with students, listened to them, and respected them, you would realize that achieving student success takes more than just choosing courses and hounding them to stay on task. Many are working, in relationships, raising families, paying bills, and balancing multiple issues. By blending counseling and advising, we can best serve the whole student.
It surprises me that the college would consider the inhumanity of removing counseling from advising when mental health issues are so high among our college student population. When counselors advise, they effectively serve the whole student, particularly when working with special populations, probation, and undecided students who need more attention than those with a designated career pathway.
Please consider developing a comprehensive plan that allows us to work part-time or full-time to serve our students in the best way possible.
Support systems matter.
Thank you for your time.
My name is Kyle Cosentino and I have been a part time counselor at the College of DuPage for the past 9 years. I also work as therapist in private practice where I specialize working with trauma utilizing EMDR. I feel very passionate about counseling and believe in the mental wellness of the students who go to this school.
Over the years, I have worked with many students at COD who have been struggling with mental health issues. Some of the issues include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD to name a few. In my experience, these issues can lead a student to not be able to attend class, get their homework completed on time, make friends, and in some cases be of harm to themselves. It is because of these reasons and more that I believe in maintaining the counseling department at COD.
While I have had many significant experiences with students here, there is one interaction I have had that I will never forget. A few years ago, I started to see a student here for personal counseling. This student had multiple health issues and was severely depressed. One day, this student was brought over to our department by a teacher because she was in crisis. The student met with Michelle Molina, Erin Fabrizio, and me. Upon conversing with this student, we came to the determination that she needed to be hospitalized because the student was actively suicidal. Fortunately, because of the actions we took that day I am happy to report that the student made it safely to the hospital and received the treatment she needed. A few weeks later, that student sent us a thank you card that I found incredibly meaningful. She wrote:
“Thank you guys so much for helping me through my time of need. I appreciate your rapid response and the support that was given to me. Words cannot fully describe just how grateful and lucky I am to have such amazing resources and a safe place to go to in a time of need. Starting next week, I will be in a PHP program to help me gain more strength and skills. Thank you, thank you, thank you”
With the elimination of part time counselors, I would feel very concerned for the safety and wellbeing of students as advisors cannot fulfill this role. I would highly encourage administration to collaborate with our department so that we may keep this essential service for our student population. Mental Health Matters at COD. Thank you for your time.
My name is Erin Fabrizio and I am a part-time counselor. I have a Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and am a licensed professional counselor of 13 years eligible for clinical licensure. Currently, I am one of three designated counselors who work with the athletes here at COD, specifically, I advise and counsel the m/w cross country & track teams (National Champs!), m/w volleyball (National Champs!), and the newly added m/w lacrosse teams. Between me and my athletic counselor colleagues Sue Brodie and Dr. Dana Thompson, we have 53 years of experience in advising and 63 years in counseling. Sue Brodie and I also participated in collegiate athletic programs, she at DePaul and I at the University of Illinois.
Like all college students, athletes are challenged with academic rigor, tests, homework, etc. Many of them have jobs outside of school. Some athletes need academic accommodations. Some have international student status. Many are first-generation. But athletes have unique challenges as well. The existence of their daily practice and game and travel schedules requires them to level-up the efficiency of their time management and study skills because NJCAA eligibility rules require credits and grades at a certain quantity and quality. Their social lives are on the court or field because there is little time during a season to add this luxury to their calendar. Those who have played a sport know the pressure that comes with representing your school in such a visible format, and so many times, their challenges are silently held, in a competitive I-can-do-this-on-my-own type of attitude because unfortunately there is still a stigma to seeking mental health services, especially in sports where vulnerability is considered weak.
Dana, Sue, and I talk to these athletes about their classes, yes. But because of the rapport we have built with them, they also open up to us about their relationships, their home life, their career aspirations. We are currently working a successful holistic case management model. We counsel them personally, we advise them academically, and we help put them on a path to become successful once their collegiate athletic journey is over. Given the capacity to do all three of these functions, the college has already positioned us to provide the best service to these athletes, no matter their academic pathway.
Did you know that athletes in season must be enrolled fulltime by the 15th calendar day of a regular 16-week semester to participate this Spring, but starting in Fall it is the 18th calendar day? There are so many nuances to credits and eligibility that it is unreasonable to expect every pathway advisor to know these NJCAA rules in and out. Just as it is unreasonable for a students-first institution to ask these students to add more touch points into their impossibly busy schedules. And finally, it is inefficient to disregard the passion and years of experience that my athletics colleagues and I have by asking us to no longer perform functions for the many students who are asking us for help in these areas. Athletics Matters. Thank you.
My name is Amanda Noel; I have worked as a part-time Student Success Counselor for 9 years. I have been a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor for the past 15 years, taught Career Management and Psychology classes at another university, and served a 1-year term as President of the Illinois Career Development Association. I came to the college with extensive experience and passion for career and personal counseling, SEEING how both areas impact a student’s academic pathway, coursework, and success. Providing ALL of these services allows me to see the WHOLE student and serve the WHOLE student.
On March 9th, Dr. DelRosario and Dr. Curtis-Chavez joined our Counseling meeting. Administration claimed that students do not have a person, and case management was the solution. Their solution is to separate academic advising from career and personal counseling. I want to give you examples of our holistic approach to Counseling.
I met a student at a New Student Advising and Registration session. He met with me 13 times and sent many emails. As an undecided student in each advising session, I incorporated career development strategies to help him develop his path. When Logan faced personal obstacles, he reached out to me. “I know I can trust you.” With the proposed model, I would have needed to refer him for career and personal counseling. Instead, I saw him as a whole person. I was his GO-TO for career, personal, and academic counseling, and he graduated!
I met with a student who enrolled at COD to be close to his dying mother. We met 8 times, including academic and personal counseling, as he processed the grief after her death. He was scheduled with another counselor for personal counseling and returned to me saying, “You know me. I don’t have to start over.” Through personal AND academic counseling, he had a person who helped him process his grief, achieve his education goal, and successfully transfer.
41% of my appointments this month were with students who requested to meet specifically with me. This is documented in our scheduling system. Yet, administration does not believe our students have a person. I want to know where that data is coming from.
Board of Trustees, I beg you to ask those questions and dig deeper into their answers. Visit our department. Talk to the students that actually SEE US!
GOOD EVENING–Thank you all for being here, and for your commitment to COD.
My name is Danice and I am a Licensed Professional counselor.
I’ve worked at COD for 12 years. and I’m here to share my concerns about the plan for our department.
Part-time counselors and program advisors will be replaced with Advisors who are assigned to a specific academic pathway.
Our current structure gives ALL students access to a credentialed counselor who can provide academic, career, and personal counseling and we pair these services with our talented program advisors, who are experts in various academic areas. This is an essential capability for our department. Academic, Career, and Personal needs are not silos that exist independently. Virtually every conversation I have with a student touches on all three.
So when does academic advising become personal counseling? It’s not black and white. It’s in the nuance of every appointment we have with students. AND this makes perfect sense because a student’s academic life is significantly impacted by their personal life and vice-versa.
Yet, the line between academic advising and personal counseling will be starkly drawn under the model. One can argue that the academic advisor will only need to refer a student to a credentialed counselor. In theory, that makes sense. But it’s not that simple.
A referral is a conversation stopper at the very moment the student may feel comfortable opening up. A referral is an additional step for the student to take.
A referral is a rather cold and unsympathetic approach to a student who may want to talk about what they are feeling at that moment. Worse, who will we refer to when we lose 18 counselors?
This model, centered on Academic Pathways ALSO ignores the fact that many of our students come to COD not knowing what they want to study or change their minds while they are here. Many students CHOOSE COD specifically because they want to explore academic interests before committing to a career or four-year institution.
A student may come to COD with plans to study psychology but change their mind after taking an elective culinary course. Under this model, students change advisors when they change pathways; if they change pathways again, they are assigned yet another advisor.
Many of their peers at four-year universities aren’t required to declare their major until sophomore year. Why are we setting different expectations for our students?
COD is full of opportunity. We owe it to our students to offer counseling and advising resources that are experts on the full breadth of what COD has to offer. COD is full of opportunity. Assigning students by academic pathways SIMPLY does not work for so many of our students.
This team – that I am so proud to be a part of – is valuable because we possess a wide variety of expertise. We take a holistic approach, which is what our students deserve.
Can we improve? Yes, Always – but PLEASE let’s work together to make improvements that will REALLY benefit our incredible students at COD.
UNDECIDED STUDENTS MATTER.