Oct 21, 2009

Public School Counseling Caseloads Continue to Rise

Today, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) published a report telling us what we already know: the caseloads of public school counselors are steadily increasing. According to NACAC’s 2009 State of College Admission report, nearly half of the public schools surveyed reported rising counselor caseloads this year with the average increase exceeding 53 students. And with the additional students, counselors reported increased work demands, not the least of which directly relate to the fact that 22% of last year’s high school seniors applied to seven or more colleges.

To illustrate the public school counseling crisis, the NACAC report uses counselor-to-student ratios. Among the states with the highest ratios are California (986 students per counselor), Minnesota (799 students per counselor), and Utah (720 students per counselor). Since the American School Counselor Association recommends the ratio of students to counselors not exceed 250:1, it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how schools are reaching a breaking point in the quality of counseling available to students.

But caseloads are not the only problems counselors face, as the increasingly complex world of today’s high school forces them to wear a number of unrelated hats. They are test coordinators, schedulers, social/emotional/personal counselors, career advisors, and college counselors. In her 2005 report on “Counseling and College Counseling in America’s High Schools," Dr. Patricia McDonough reports the average high school student receives approximately 38 minutes per year from a school counselor on college advising. And, that’s the average. Suppose your counselor had a caseload along the lines of those found in California or Utah?

So what are school systems doing to fix this problem? Instead of loosening the purse strings and building stronger more personalized programs, schools are increasingly turning to automated systems such as Naviance or Family Connections to provide front line counseling services. The computerized counseling packages have it all: scattergrams, fill-in-the blank counselor recommendation forms, as well as college lists generated and handicapped by mysterious algorithms based on some mix of GPA and past performance. They are efficient, save time, and make it possible for schools to cut counselors and increase caseloads without sacrificing quality of service. Or do they?

The NACAC report should be a warning for parents, students and counselors. If the trend continues, personalized in-school counseling services will simply go away.

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