Student-school counselor ratios are improving. Is it enough?

There were about 385 students for every school counselor in the 2022-23 school year, a sizeable improvement from the previous year. Meanwhile, schools are still battling an ongoing mental health crisis.

Since the pandemic, school leaders have doubled down efforts to ensure the emotional well-being of their students. Recent federal data revealed shocking truths surrounding COVID-19’s impact on student mental health. This time last year, for instance, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disclosed that nearly three in five teen girls felt “persistently sad or hopeless” in 2021, a nearly 60% increase and the highest level report over the past decade.

The good news, however, is that schools are now leveraging school counselors more than ever—one for every 385 students in the 2022-23 school year, to be exact. That’s a sizeable improvement compared to the previous school year when the ratio was 408:1. But is it enough?

This data comes from the American School Counselor Association, which has been tracking student-to-school-counselor ratios since 1986. Using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics state nonfiscal public elementary/secondary education survey, the researchers can provide the latest snapshot of school counselor deployment in K12 schools.

While margins continue to narrow over time, ASCA argues that we’re still well over its recommended ratio of 250 students per school counselor.

“Multiple research studies have shown that lower student-to-school-counselor ratios support student success,” Jill Cook, CAE, ASCA executive director, said in a statement. “Although the newest national student-to-school-counselor ratio data remains higher than the ASCA recommended ratio of 250:1, the year-over-year improvement is significant.”

The research also points to several states that are leading the charge in the effort to improve student emotional well-being, like New York, which is the “most-improved” state as it decreased student-to-school-counselor ratios from 460:1 to 331:1, an overall improvement of 28%. Other states, like Washington and the District of Columbia, were mentioned too for improving ratios by 11% and 25% respectively.

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Some states, however, lost school counselors during the 2022-23 school year. North Carolina’s ratios worsened from 316:1 to 343:1, a nearly 9% change. Arizona, Louisiana and Oklahoma, too, witnessed a 3%, 2% and 2% change respectively.

On average, among states that report elementary/middle school counselors and high school counselors separately (37) states, the researchers conclude that the average student-counselor ratio among pre-K8 school counselors is about 737:1 and 232:1 for 9-12 school counselors.

“Ensuring every student has access to a school counselor must be a national priority,” Cook said. “Today’s students are tomorrow’s families, workforce and leaders. School counselors play a pivotal role in helping students succeed in school and in life.”

Supporting a national mental health crisis

Last summer, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy testified before a Senate Health, Labor and Pensions Panel expressing his fears surrounding social media and how it’s driving depression among youth, which he described as “the defining public health issue of our time.”

Meanwhile, K12 school districts have joined forces in a legal battle against social media companies like Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, for its alleged impact on young students.

Seattle Public Schools, for instance, became the first school district in the country to sue social media platforms in January 2023. The district argued that social media companies ought to be held accountable for the ongoing student mental health crisis and that they knowingly produce addictive products.

As a result, SPS is asking for changes to “intentional and harmful” business practices and money to help schools pay for increased mental health services, KUOW reports.

“By marketing to and targeting young people, the companies who own these social media platforms have created digital environments that can negatively affect the mental and emotional health of our students,” the district said in a news release last year. “We believe that the companies should be held responsible for their actions and the harm they are causing by contributing to the increasing costs that school districts now bear in response to the increasing mental and emotional health needs of students.”

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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