Our economic climate has reached all realms of our society, including the education sector. During a period when classroom size is increasing and guidance counselors have many responsibilities, education budgets are shrinking and education professionals are being asked to do more with less.
It’s no wonder when you ask school guidance counselors what their greatest struggle is today, their answer is usually lack of resources. Guidance counselors cite lack of time, manpower, and money as posing the greatest challenge to their job.
Eric Blanco, a counselor at Ernest Righetti High School in central California, says his job is a juggling act. Coordinating college information sessions, acting as a crisis intervention counselor, and balancing a number of other clerical duties, Blanco says, take away from his direct counseling time.
“I have to deal with whatever’s the most pressing,” Blanco says. “If I get a call about a student who’s suicidal I have to deal with that immediately, which means I may have to drop the letter of recommendation I’m writing for a student, which means I may not get that grade check to the student who’s at borderline, that sort of follow-through.”
That’s because Blanco is the only counselor in a school with 2,200 students, and is sometimes unable to see each student more than once throughout the year, if at all.
“One of the things that has made me step back a couple times is I’ve had students come and say, ‘We know you’re our counselor, but you’re so busy that I don’t come by,'” Blanco says. “And I always tell them if there’s something they need to talk about, I’m available to talk. But they see how overwhelmed I can be in terms of work, and it makes me feel bad that a student would say that.”
Although counselors’ case loads have decreased in recent years, the national average remains nearly twice the recommended rate set by the American Counseling Association, with each counselor seeing 471 students on average. Only two states have ratios that meet the recommended case load of 250 students for each counselor: Vermont, at 1:235, and Wyoming, at 1:200, according to data from the American School Counselor Association.
The situation is much worse in California, which at 1:1016 has the highest counselor-to-student ratio in the nation. But the numbers have spiked because California, like many other states, has no set mandate for student-to-counselor ratios.
When school districts face financial pressures due to state budget cuts, flexible jobs such as librarians, nurses, and school counselors are often on the chopping block, according to Art Terrazas, the grass-roots advocacy coordinator for the American Counseling Association.
“Counseling, when compared to teaching, is still a much younger profession,” Terrazas says. “When school districts are looking at areas where they might be able to save a dollar … those are easy programs to justify a cut if you don’t know what it does.”