The student-to-counselor ratio improved last year to its lowest point in over three decades, according to calculations released Tuesday by the American School Counselor Association.
The national student-to-counselor ratio decreased to 408:1 in the 2021-22 school year, down from 415:1 the year before. That's still higher than ASCA's recommended ratio of 250:1, but much lower than the 588:1 ratio in 1986-1987 when the association began tracking this metric.
Despite remaining over double the recommended level, ratios improved in Arizona, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Utah. States such as Tennessee, Indiana and New York, however, saw significant increases in counselor caseloads.
While the number of students per counselor increased intermittently over the past three decades, by the 2020-21 school year the ratio had improved, according to a 30-year report released by ASCA this week. The organization calculates ratios based on data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.
Although the student-to-counselor ratio declined in the 2020-21 school year from the year before, that resulted from lower school enrollment and fewer counselors during the pandemic, said Jill Cook, executive director of ASCA. Student enrollment in fact dropped more steeply during that period than the number of counselors. In the 2021-22 school year, improved ratios were a result of more counselors and steady student enrollment, said Cook.
"We know there has been increased attention put on the school counselor role in schools, especially over the last couple of years," Cook said. "And as a result of the conversation — the lifting up of the role and the profession — we've seen an increase in funding availability, both federally and state. So we know that school districts have been hiring more school counselors."
Federal funding in the wake of both COVID-19 and the Uvalde school shooting, as well as regular prompts from the Education Department to increase spending for students' mental health needs, have made district investment in student counselors and psychologists more likely.
Despite this, school counselors continue to serve large numbers of students as mental health needs remain on the rise, said Cook in a statement. At the same time, counselors are carrying responsibilities outside of their roles, like coordinating Section 504 plans and statewide testing programs, Cook said.
"School counselors need the support of their districts and administrators to ensure students learn the tools they need to succeed in school and in life," Cook said in a statement.
Even before the pandemic, schools were grappling with increased counselor caseloads and limited mental health resources. However, the issue came to the forefront as students returned to in-person schooling with increased mental health issues in fallout from COVID-19, and then school firearm violence reached a new high in 2022.