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Staffed Up: Higher ed partnerships shine light on school mental health workforce solutions

By Anna Merod and published by k12dive.com


Even if every school district in the country committed to hiring one school counselor per 250 students — the ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association — there likely wouldn’t be enough people available to fill those positions.

“We would then be in a dire personnel shortage,” said Amanda Fitzgerald, assistant deputy executive director of ASCA.

That’s because there simply aren’t enough qualified personnel or candidates in the pipeline to fill the need for K-12 school counselors.

Though still far from ASCA’s recommendation, the student-to-counselor ratio reached its lowest point in over three decades when it dropped to 408:1 in the 2021-22 school year, according to ASCA. Just a year before, the ratio was 415:1, ASCA said.


National student-to-counselor ratio reaches lowest level in 35-year period


The improvement came as the pandemic heightened a mental health crisis among students of all ages. In an attempt to meet that crisis, more investment is flooding in to support the school mental health workforce of counselors, psychologists and social workers.

One of the more significant financial supports emerged in October, when the U.S. Department of Education opened applications for two school mental health programs totaling $280 million. The funding comes from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and FY 2022 appropriations.

One program — Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grants — encourages innovative partnerships between districts and higher education institutions to train providers to work in schools and districts.

ASCA will be closely watching the grantees for best practices that can be launched or scaled up elsewhere, Fitzgerald said. The goal is “to continue getting more qualified candidates into the field without starting from scratch,” she said.

This is also a moment for universities to expand into communities where they aren’t physically located through remote instruction, Fitzgerald said.

“There’s a big opportunity for universities to really think outside the box, expand some of these innovative ways to get the training and qualifications to people that might not be physically going to a classroom,” Fitzgerald said.

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