What is this measure, and why is this measure important?
This measure provides the student-to-counselor and student-to-college-counselor ratios. The student-to-counselor ratio identifies the potential access a student may have to the counseling services provided in a particular school, district or state. The student-to-college-counselor ratio describes the access a student may have to an individual who is responsible for providing college counseling. These college counselors include those who are solely responsible for providing college counseling and those who provide college counseling among other counseling responsibilities.
What are the policy issues associated with this measure?
While counselors work in schools across the nation, many of the state-level student-to-counselor ratios suggest that school counselors are overloaded with the number of students to whom they must provide college counseling services. Overburdened counselors may not be able to effectively implement a comprehensive college and career counseling program. States should adopt policies that move toward reducing the number of students who are assigned to a counselor. Attention should be paid also to increasing the number of school counselors in a school, district or state to meet the recommended student-to-counselor ratio. Some schools are trying to increase student access to college counseling by hiring counselors who are only responsible for helping the students complete college admission paperwork in high school. By not providing students with college counseling in middle school, students may be limited in their access to an academic trajectory necessary to attend the college of their choice. For example, if a student does not take Algebra I by eighth grade, he or she will not have access to a calculus course in high school, which is desired by many colleges for students who want to major in science, technology, engineering or mathematics fields.
Where are we now?
On average, each counselor in the United States was responsible for 454 students in 2010 (Figure 2.1a). This is the lowest student-to-counselor ratio for the nation since 1998; however, it is nearly two times the recommended ratio from the American School Counselor Association of 250:1. Wyoming, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia have less than the recommended ratio (Figure 2.1b). Arizona, California, Minnesota, Utah and Michigan are among the states with the highest student-to-counselor ratios.
The average student-to-college-counselor ratio trend decreases between 2005 and 2007 (Figure 2.1c). Between 2007 and 2009 the student-to-college-counselor ratio has increased, and is now 333:1. The trend for public schools is somewhat different from the trend for private schools. The public school student-to-college counselor ratio trend decreases from 383:1 in 2005 to 338:1 in 2010; however, the 2010 ratio represents an increase compared to 2009 (325:1). The student-to-college-counselor ratio trend for private schools fluctuates between 214:1 and 310:1. The student-to-college-counselor ratio trend for private schools slightly decreases between 2006 and 2008, but the latest ratio is at its highest since 2005 at 310:1.
When interpreting this measure, what should be kept in mind?
The student-to-counselor ratio data include all school counselors and do not identify how much time, if any, they spend providing college counseling to students. It is important that all students receive college and career counseling early, particularly by middle school. Middle school is a critical point at which they must begin taking the necessary academic trajectory to prepare for college. School and college counselors are essential to students because the counselors improve student access to information about college and career options. The student-to-college-counseling ratio is based on both the number of counselors who solely provide college counseling services and those who provide college counseling services among other services, thus it overestimates the focus on college counseling. The data for the student-to-college-counselor ratio are from an annual survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). As with data from any survey, responses are requested from a sample of the population, and of those from whom responses are solicited, only a small percentage respond to the request. The sample for the 2009 NACAC Counseling Trends Survey is somewhat unique in that private, nonparochial schools are overrepresented and private parochial schools are underrepresented.