May 31, 2024 - News

Utah's critical shortage of guidance counselors

Choropleth map showing the U.S. student to school counselor ratio in K-12 public education during the 2022-2023 school year. The state with the highest rate  was Arizona, with 667 students for one counselor. Vermont had the least, with 177 students per one counselor. The U.S. average was 385. The suggested ratio, according to the American School Counselor Association, is 250 students per one counselor.
Data: American School Counselor Association; Map: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

Utah has one of the nation's highest ratios of students to school guidance counselors.

Why it matters: State officials have focused heavily on controversial social media restrictions as a remedy for youth mental health problems, while school counseling services remain under-resourced compared to other states.

By the numbers: Each guidance counselor in Utah serves nearly 500 students on average, according to the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA) analysis of federal data.

  • That's the sixth-highest of any state — and double the ASCA-suggested ratio of 250.
  • That's even after Utah took steps in recent years to boost funding for in-school mental health services.

The intrigue: Some lawmakers here joined a multistate push to allow volunteer religious chaplains in public schools — purportedly to supplement guidance counselors.

  • The bill failed in Utah after the Satanic Temple promised to supply volunteers to minister to students.

Zoom out: The American West and Midwest led the U.S. with the biggest student loads per counselor.

  • Arizona had the most overloaded counselors, with a ratio of 667. Michigan and Minnesota rounded out the top three.

The big picture: Experts say the disparity of counselor access disproportionately hurts students of color seeking mental health help or advice in applying to college in a post-affirmative action era.

  • Schools in the West and Midwest also have some of the highest rates of racial resegregation over the last 30 years.

Stunning stat: Nationally, there are an estimated 8 million students without access to a counselor, according to The Education Trust.

  • Of those students, 1.7 million attend a school with police but no counselor on campus, suggesting a focus on policing over mental health or college preparedness.

What they're saying: "Having fewer school counselors prohibits students from being identified or being seen," Eric Sparks, ASCA deputy executive director, told Axios.

  • "Unfortunately, when [the ratio] gets too high, it increases the likelihood that a student is going to fall through the cracks."

My thought bubble: Just this week my 11-year-old predicted that her guidance counselor's office would be overrun with crying children on the last day of school.

avatar

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Salt Lake City.

More Salt Lake City stories