Wednesday, August 22, 2018

New Ratios Show Counselors Overworked in Most States

By: Patrick O'Connor PhD

School counselors have long known that they have more work to do than they have time in the day to do it, and a recent report from the American School Counselor Association offers a clear reason for this.  ASCA released its annual graphic report of the Student-to-School Counselor Ratios yesterday, showing that the national average caseload is 464 to 1 for 2015-16.  

This is the last year the ratios were reported by all states, and represents a drop from the average of 482 from 2014-15, but few counselors are rejoicing at this news.  The primary reason for the drop in the national average is a drop in the ratio in California, where new investments in school counselors led to a caseload decrease of over 50 students.  Most other states showed modest gains or declines, with Arizona once again having the highest ratio, at 903 students per counselor. Since ASCA recommends counselors work with caseloads of 250 students, the progress some states are experiencing is promising, but still suggests counselors as a whole aren’t able to fully meet the needs of their students. 

Since the national average is based on the number of counselors in all grades, it doesn’t tell the whole picture.  Many states have few, if any , elementary counselors, still leaving counselors in middle and high schools with caseloads well above the posted average.  At the same time, that means many younger students have access to no school counselor at all—and even with that consideration, 21 % of all high school students have no counselor either, according to a report by Ed Trust.

It’s also bracing to realize that a counselor with a caseload reflecting the national average, working a seven hour day, would have 464 back-to-back meetings, each lasting 55 seconds, in order to see every student on their caseload every day, a number that includes no breaks and no time for lunch.  Arguments that all students don’t need counseling services every day are rebuffed by the rise in services school counselors have taken on in the last year alone, as issues including safe schools, social-emotional learning, opioid addiction, financial literacy, cyberbullying, and major changes in college and career advising have been added to the already existing array of services 

The ASCA release comes only a few weeks after a research report from Penn State University identifies a significant lack in college and career training for most school counselors.  In one of the first comprehensive reviews of the state of school counselors and college advising, the report includes the absence of training in college counseling as one of the key voids that needs to be filled, plainly stating “school counselors rarely receive training in college readiness counseling during their master’s program in school counseling.”

Combined with the high ratios reported by ASCA, the lack of preparation in college readiness counseling leaves most counselors ill-prepared to provide quality postsecondary planning, a factor that can affect students’ and parents’ perceptions of the ability of their counselor to be of help with any counseling issue, including those affiliated with creating a safe school environment.  This is one of the reasons a recommendation to create a block grant program for states to hire more counselors has been forwarded, and favorably reviewed, by the federal government’s Safe Schools Commission.  Built on a successful counseling initiative in Colorado that saved the state $300 million, this proposal would offer lower ratios and better training for counselors, leading to safer schools, and advancing the goal of making sure all students understand the full array of postsecondary options available to them.