Burnout and Technical College Counselors Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

The assumption here is that counselor burnout may be heightened as a result of the diversity of students who attend post secondary educational institutions, and the variety of services the 2-year postsecondary counselors must provide to these students. This assumption is congruent with the findings of a study by Wilkerson and Bellini (2006) who advise, "Professional school counselors are asked to perform multiple duties as part of their daily work. Some of these duties match the descriptions set forth by national standards for school counseling programs, whereas others do not" (p. 440).

Consequently, school counselors are required to formulate decisions on a daily basis concerning the best way to perform their jobs (Wilkerson & Bellini). Not surprisingly, many school counselors are overwhelmed by these constantly changing working conditions and requirements, and a number of counselors experience high levels of stress as a result. Because the connection between high levels of stress in the workplace and burnout are well documented, these findings represent issues of special concern because of the potential adverse impact on counselors' mental and physical well-being. Moreover, stress has also been associated with burnout (Wilkerson & Bellini). Consequently, heightened levels of stress and burnout can result in ineffective job performance, exhaustion, physical complaints, anxiety, depression, and even increased incidences of substance abuse (Wilkerson & Bellini). There is concern, too, that as stress increases, not only do school counselors experience negative consequences, so too do those with whom they work and the students they counsel.

Background

The literature on postsecondary education counselors indicates that people who become counselors typically enter the profession due to an intrinsic desire to help people through academic, social, and personal issues, and usually believe that their work is meaningful and helpful Murray, 1987, and Maslach, 2003). New counselors are often enthusiastic and come with innovative ideas and an abundance of energy, however, after twenty years, and sometimes with in 5 or 10 years of providing counseling services to large numbers of diverse and demanding students, many counselors find themselves with little tolerance for routine and exhausting work with students (Gmelch, Wilke, and Lovrich, 1983). The level of service and/or the role the counselor performs is contingent upon the nature and size of the educational institution in which they are employed (Dean, 2000).

Counselors' primary duties within 2-year colleges include providing career counseling and academic advising; they may also perform crisis intervention, personal counseling (Craig and Norton, 2000) other miscellaneous tasks. These services are provided to a student population that quite often includes students who may be academically unprepared with a history of academic failures. Students may also be returning to college after many years, with or without a high school diploma or equivalent credential. Many of these students are first-generation, ethnic minorities, and initially lack the academic support system necessary to succeed (Davis and Humphrey, 2000; Ray and Altekruse, 2000).

The aforementioned is especially relevant to counselors working at 2-year colleges because fifty percent of students enrolled in higher education attend two-year community colleges (Durodoye, Harris, & Bolden, 2000). For instance, Kim (2002) emphasizes that, "Community colleges enroll almost one half of all undergraduates in the United States each fall. Not surprisingly, students attend community colleges to pursue a variety of educational objectives, including academic transfer, vocational-technical education, remedial and continuing education, and community service" (p. 75).

Moreover, about 50% of all African-American, Native-American, and Hispanic college students enroll at community colleges and the student population in these 2-year institutions are typically comprised of commuter students, of which a significant number attend on a part-time basis (Kim). In addition, nearly one-half (46%) of first-time students in community colleges enroll on a part-time basis; by contrast, just 11% of first-time students attending public four-year institutions enroll on a part-time basis (Kim). Beyond these fundamental differences between students in 2-year and 4-year educational institutions, more than a third (35%) of first-time enrollees in community colleges work full time while just 11% of their counterparts enrolling in four-year institutions do so (Kim). The increase in the percentages of part-time students entering community colleges can be attributed to many factors, including the increase in students who are employed, the increase in women attending college, and a decrease in the number of 18-year-old students in recent years; as a result, just under half (46%) of the community college student population in the United States is 25 years of age or older, and the average student age in the community college is 29 years (Kim). Taken together, it is apparent that community colleges in the United States provide access to higher education to a broader range of students than would be found at most four-year educational institutions today (Kim).

Like many other professions that involve stressful working conditions, it is clear how school counselors can become physically and mentally exhausted or "burned out" upon examination of their extensive work responsibilities, diverse student population and work environment (Maslach, 2003). According to Heath and Sheen (2005), "Every profession has some degree of stress. Deadlines for projects, daily demands, personal and professional responsibilities, conflicts with coworkers, and an increasing emphasis on accountability all add to an individual's stress" (p. 152). Furthermore, while this construct of burnout is not a new term; however, it is layered with complexities, nuances of application or interpretation that makes its precise use difficult in some cases. The condition of burnout in general, though, can spell the difference between successful and effective college counselors and those that either leave the educational field altogether or become increasingly ineffective while they remain in the counseling profession. On the one hand, community college counselors must be aware of the unique needs of the increasingly diverse population they serve and provide them with broad range of tools that they can use to help students negotiate their complex circumstances (Kim, 2002); on the other hand, these challenges have assumed some truly formidable levels in recent years and these issues are discussed further below.

Statement of the Problem

Burnout has been examined in other counseling professions such as school counselors (Butler and Constantine, 2005), rehabilitation counselors (Layne, Hohenshil, & Singh, 2004), school psychologists (Miles & Chittooraan, 2001), and mental health and substance abuse counselors (Osborne, 2004), there has yet to be a study dedicated to counselors in a technical colleges. Therefore, by understanding the specific aspects of burnout that occur in counselors in the technical colleges in general and those in the Wisconsin Technical College System in particular, it will be possible to guide the counseling supervisors in identifying and supporting appropriate professional development opportunities for intervention and prevention of burnout, which can be reasonably expected to lead to improved service to the students.

Community and technical college counseling environments promote more of a risk of burnout than other college or university environments (Durodoye, Harris, & Bolden, 2000). This study will gather more information about the prevalence of burnout experienced by certified counselors in the Wisconsin Technical College System; the relationship between selected demographics (age, gender, level of education, years of counseling experience, average number of hours per week worked above contracted hours and the number of professional development activities completed per year) and burnout among this population; the most frequently identified stress related issue(s) or situation(s) experienced by this group; and, the relationship between their own perception of their counseling role and level of burnout. Finding the answers to these questions will allow for a clearer picture of prevalence and impact of burnout has on these counselors working in the Wisconsin Technical College System. However, if this topic is not studied the literature on burnout as it relates to counselors in all educational settings would continue to be incomplete. Also, counseling services in the Wisconsin Technical College System may not obtain the necessary information for counseling supervisors to develop professional development strategies in order to prevent and intervene with those counselors experiencing burnout. Lastly, without the information this study could provide students may receive less than adequate counseling services because of an impaired counselor.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is threefold; first, to determine the prevalence of burnout experienced by certified counselors in the WTCS; second, to determine the most frequently occurring stressful issues or situations experienced by certified counselors in the WTCS; and third, to examine the relationship between selected demographics and perceived levels of burnout. The ability to identify and quantify these characteristics is important for the technical colleges because of the role the counselor performs. In most cases, counselors are the first contact for new students and a frequent contact for continuing students. Therefore, given the consequences of burnout, counselors who are experiencing burnout are at risk of providing less than quality services to students (Renjilian, Baum, & Landry 1998; Renjilian & Stites, 2002). By conducting this study, the discoveries may identify characteristics that could be used to develop interventions to help combat counselor burnout and possibly prevent impaired service.…

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