When enrolled and even when graduated, students continue to interact with the staff regarding counseling assistance. Having a good customer service department in a college is very important as many a times it develops and shapes up a student's idea and perception regarding the institution. If there is no department which can aid the student and help him with the problem or confusion that he faces, then this will worsen the view that he would have initially had for that particular college. This can also be a reason for him to decide not to graduate from there and get a transfer to some other college which has such services and can be beneficial for the student. It is of essential importance that customer service departments should be present in colleges. It should be there to provide them with academic and career advice and what subjects to enroll for among many other functions.
CUSTOMER SERVICE AND PEER COUNSELORS
Students require help at college regarding a lot of things and they need someone to discuss these with and achieve a conclusion to their problems. Customer service at college helps students in various fields that may include campus problems, housing problems or other personal problems. A student might face problems and difficulties with his roommate and thus might require changing his room. Customer service is always out there to help student with such problems. Customer service also informs the student about resources available at the college in addition to the campus policies and procedures. They are there to help students with what courses to register for and help them explore different career options. One such program that help student achieve this is performed by peer counselors.
Peer counselors are the senior students who are selected and trained, due to the desire they have within them to help and assist new student in their academic performance, interpersonal skills and to give them a know how about college student life. Most of such selected students are leaders in other campus organizations. Once they are put through a training program, their role function is to "help you schedule your fall classes, and help support your transition from high school to college life." (University of Pittsburg)
Peer counselors do not have extended professional training and are thus under the category of paraprofessionals. However they do perform certain functions that normally are carried out by professionals. Using the services of a peer counselor rather than a professional is also beneficial to the college in terms that peer counselors cost less than professionals. Peer counselors on the other hand benefit from the training that they are put through and the opportunity they receive to help others which adds up to their own personal growth and development.
Through research it has been established that when nonprofessionals are put through a limited training of about 20 to 40 hours, they can be as effective and beneficial, in some fields, as other professionals and they bring out a positive change in their customers (Scott, S.H., and R.W. Warner p.228-331). Due to such researches the role of peer counselors is now widely being accepted and more student turn to their peers for help regarding a wide range of difficulties or problems that they might be facing.
Researches have also examined the differences in the selection and training of the paraprofessionals as compared to the professionals. This sort of research is to bring out the effectiveness of peer counseling. Student that are chosen for peer counseling are those that have high confidence level and are sympathetic towards others especially their peers. In addition to this they should also be open to a wide range of values that differ from their own. This is because they will deal with a number of people belonging to different ethnic backgrounds who come from a completely different culture. Peer counselor training programs thus train the students in skills that are related to direct helping relationships. On the other hand professional counselors are selected based on their intellectual abilities strictly and the professional training programs consist of a blend of various fields like research, science and arts. They however spend little time to polish the interpersonal and facilitative skills (Brown p.257-263). Interestingly, previously professional associations made policies regarding the paraprofessional teams describing the role to be restricted to clerical activities. However today they recognize the ability of such paraprofessionals and their interpersonal skills, thus warning that good use should be made out of such abilities and they should not be indulged in clerical activities.
'Perhaps the most outstanding practical recommendation to come from this study is that faculty and administrators should recognize the importance of students in influencing the attitudes of other students. Programs and rituals, in which older students help the neophyte to fit with the group and to make a commitment to a particular institution should help reduce attrition." (J. P. Bean, p.61).
The whole idea of peer counseling is to provide help and assistance to students from people amongst themselves. As a result the first step in their selection process begins with the recruiting of candidate from amongst the students. Advertisements are used to inform people about the recruiting and prerequisites are defined. These prerequisites include the commitment and devotion that one might be willing to give to their peers, realizing that they come from a number of different backgrounds and cultures. They should believe in the confidentiality of information and should not divert any information regarding their client to anyone else thus showing respect for others. They should also be genuinely sympathetic towards others.
The second step in their selection comes through an assessment of the candidate. The potential in a candidate to actually benefit from the training that he will receive is assessed. Any candidate that does not have a potential to learn and apply what he is trained to do is filtered and thus cannot be made a part of the paraprofessional team. This evaluation is carried out by a brief training parallel with pre-training and post-training tests regarding their interpersonal skill levels. This system of testing and filtering is based on the principle that those who do benefit from a little training will definitely benefit from the entire training program (U. Delworth and M. Moore, p. 428-433)
Once the people are selected while ensuring that the best are recruited, they are put through a training program. They are informed about the policies, procedures and organization of the programs which include the legal and ethical aspects being establishing a support network, confidentiality, signs which would help identify a student's need for professional help and the procedure for referrals. They are given their job description that requires them to provide academic tutoring, advising, career guidance and even group counseling if required. After this their interpersonal skills are developed.
At times experienced peer counselors adopt the role of trainers and train the new candidates in the training program. This is however done under the supervision of the professionals. The beneficial point of this method is that the experienced peer counselors get an opportunity to develop new skills. The most effective step to carry out this method is to train the peer counselors to be trainers via both didactic and experiential techniques which are carried out in a four-step order. The first step includes the identifying and defining the skill in behavioral terms. The following step includes the demonstration of both effective and ineffective examples of the skill. Further they are to practice the skill under supervision and feedback until a defined minimum competence is attained. The last step involves the practicing the skill with supervision in real counseling situations.
Peer counselors are given an ethical code which helps them realize the importance of their obligations as a peer counselor. They should understand that they are being held to standards that reflect their responsibility to be a role model for other students. They should realize that they are to promote the health, safety and welfare of the people surrounding them. They should respect the right to privacy, speak the truth and fully disclose all relevant information that would help a fellow student. Moreover they should know that they are required to adhere to college policies and the state and federal law. It is highly important to teach a peer counselor not to discriminate on the bases of race, color, creed, national origin, religious affiliation, gender, disability or sexual orientation. They are prohibited to obtain alcohol or consume alcohol with the first year students. Moreover a peer counselor should be trained to be able to recognize any physical harm that a student might cause to himself or someone else and it is the counselor's duty to inform this to the professional staff. No student information should be used for any non-counseling purposes. Most importantly a peer counselor should know and realize that he is not a professional and should thus discuss serious problems with professional rather than trying to deal with them on…