One of the biggest challenges that schools in America face today is to prepare students for career, social and academic challenges. This goal can only be achieved if students have the right training and direction from a very early age. While delivering the academic curriculum is extremely important, students also need support in other areas, including career advice, educational challenges, mental health issues etc. However, schools struggle to provide these services because there are not enough school counselors to meet student needs. This is especially true during the pandemic as many schools have struggled to provide their students with support and assistance. 

What do student counselors do?

Student counselors interact and communicate with students to discuss and address various problems and issues, including social challenges, mental health illness, academic difficulties etc. If the issues relate to a group of students, counselors can address these problems through group sessions. In some cases, counselors may even involve parents when the student's progress is related to their home environment or are family-related. Student counselors have access to a wide range of resources to assist students in and out of the school. They can assist with career advice, educational challenges and mental health issues. School counselors work with students of all ages – from kindergarten through to college.

Shortage of school counselors

Counselors can help mitigate many issues that students have at school. However, there is a severe shortage of these professionals at all levels of the educational system. This shortage is more acute in rural schools compared to inner cities, but all schools require more support in this area.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one school counselor to every 250 students, but the current ratio sits at around 430:1. In Arizona, it's an incredible 905 students to one counselor.

Many schools have more security staff than student counselors. While ensuring safety and security is an important goal for students to deal with acute situations like violence, trespassing, protecting staff and teachers, monitoring CCTV, and responding to emergencies, the need for student counselors is much more important as they can play an important role in guiding students in the right direction. In fact, if more student counselors were employed by schools, the need for excessive security staff may go down because counselors can help prevent certain situations from worsening and from happening in the first place. 

Need for diversity

Not only are schools suffering from a shortage of counselors, but they are also dealing with the problem of a lack of diversity among those who provide these services. Data shows that 70% of U.S. school counselors are white. Black, Hispanic and immigrant students face unique challenges that white counselors may not understand or adequately address. There is overwhelming evidence that many non-white students feel that they do not receive appropriate counseling because of cultural and racial barriers.

How can we address the shortage of school counselors?

  • Both local and state governments need to allocate more funding to schools to hire more counselors. The hiring process takes time as the qualifications and experience of each applicant have to be verified. Also, most states require school counselors to be licensed and possess a valid certificate as this is essential for people working with children and youth.
  • Invest in upskilling counselors. School counselors must have a Bachelor's degree, preferably in social sciences, psychology, and other related fields and should ideally have a Master's in professional school counseling. Acquiring additional skills through additional courses in mental health counseling, psychology, community health, cultural differences in healthcare, etc., can further increase the credibility and qualification of school counselors. Most universities offer a 2-year full-time degree program for school counselors. Some states require 1-2 years of working experience as either a teacher or counselor when evaluating applications for school counselors. School counselors also require several soft skills such as patience, empathy, compassion and interpersonal skills. It is a profession that deals actively with other people, and having good communication skills (both speaking and listening) is crucial. Most degree programs provide this type of training to graduates to be effective at their job.
  • Schools need to support and invest in school counselors as they are a vital component of the educational process. Counselors should be given better pay, good benefits, and additional training.

School counselors are valuable staff members for any educational institute. They not only provide support to students dealing with academic, mental or social challenges, but they can also play an important role in preventing emergencies and crises. However, school counselors are often overlooked, and the important role they can play for the betterment of students is not completely recognized. With the right type of educational qualification, on-the-job training and the right pay and opportunities, school counselors can make a big difference in how students address problems and issues in school and college.

 

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How can we address the shortage of school counselors?