(Source Trading Ltd via Shutterstock)
(Source Trading Ltd via Shutterstock)

MICHIGAN—Schools across the country were short about 300,000 teachers and staff when the 2022-2023 school year began, according to National Education Association President Becky Pringle. This massive dearth has forced an unfortunate series of developments in schools across the country—and Michigan is facing the brunt of the crisis.

Principals are performing janitorial duties. Schools are implementing four-day school weeks to entice applicants for teaching positions with the promise of better work-life balance. And many districts are relaxing their required teaching credentials just to expand their applicant pool.

This crisis of discontent has brewed for over a decade and has reached its boiling point in the unsustainable conditions that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. School counselors are no exception to this crisis, and it’s not uncommon for schools to have police on staff—but no counselors.

Across the country, counselors are facing a more challenging workload than ever before.

Since 1965, the American School Counselor Association has recommended a counselor-to-student ratio of 250:1. Only two states—Vermont and New Hampshire—meet that criteria. The most severely impacted states, such as Michigan, Arizona and Illinois, have nearly triple the recommended ratio.

It is worth noting there has been little research on the “optimal” counselor caseload (at the time or since the recommendation). Still, the current situation is raising concern across the country. Charlie Health compiled school counselor-to-student ratio data from the American School Counselor Association and the National Center for Education Statistics.

Here’s how Michigan compares to other states:

Michigan Statistics

  • Student-to-Counselor Ratio: 638:1 
  • 2,246 counselors to 1,434,137 students

National Statistics 

  • Student-to-Counselor Ratio: 415:1 
  • 118,902 counselors to 49,356,945 students

States with the Most Counselors 

  1. Vermont: 186:1
  2. New Hampshire: 208:1 
  3. Hawaii: 268:1 
  4. Colorado: 278:1 
  5. Montana: 291:1

States with the Least Counselors 

  1. Arizona: 716:1
  2. Illinois: 665:1 
  3. Michigan: 638:1 
  4. Minnesota: 592:1 
  5. California: 572:1

School counselors differ from school psychologists primarily in the depth of their relationship with students who need support. Counselors based in the schools are a resource for the entire student population and focus on individual or group sessions to build skills to overcome social and behavioral challenges and improve academic performance. In contrast, school psychologists conduct mental health evaluations, diagnose mental health issues, and write individual education plans.

While a counselor’s purview may be less specific, they are no less critical to student success. These services are acutely important today as students work through a backlog of pandemic-related issues.

According to the results of the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress mathematics assessment administered to fourth and eighth graders across the country, these students experienced the most significant drop in academic performance in more than 30 years.

Access to mental health support is essential to student success. In October 2022, the Department of Education earmarked $280 million for two grant programs to help schools improve this access through training and hiring credentialed mental health professionals.

During her inauguration, newly-reelected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also pledged to pursue more investments in public education—including ways to curb staffing shortages in schools. More specifics about those plans are expected to be unveiled in her State of the State speech on Jan. 25.

“For the next four years, our task is to ensure that every Michigander, present and future, can succeed,” Whitmer said to the nearly 1,000 people in attendance. “And our message is simple: We’re putting the world on notice that your future is here in Michigan.”

This article has been re-published from Stacker pursuant to a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

‘Gander Editor Kyle Kaminski contributed to this coverage.