The ratio of students to school counselors in the United States continues to narrow, with data released this month showing it has reached the lowest point since 1986, the year the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) began tracking student-to-counselor ratios.

The new data reflects the 2021-2022 school year and reveals that, nationwide, there was an average of 408 students for every one school counselor. The year prior, the ratio was at 415-to-1, and indeed, the margin has been closing every consecutive year since 2013-14, when it was at 491-to-1.

Research shows that school counselors are linked to improved student outcomes. And the smaller their caseloads are, the more time they can spend with the students in their care. ASCA recommends a ratio of 250-to-1, still a long way off from the current reality.

This progress toward lower ratios is necessary, says Jill Cook, executive director of ASCA. And it didn’t happen overnight. It took decades of changing public sentiment and redefining the role of counselors to allow for this shift — plus a pandemic that supercharged the direction things were already heading by raising awareness of the youth mental health crisis and delivering a windfall of funding for districts.

EdSurge recently spoke with Cook to find out what’s driving this year-over-year improvement and to understand the work that lies ahead. The conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

EdSurge: Could you start by framing the importance of lowering the ratio of students to school counselors?

Jill Cook: So today's school counselor works with all students in a school around academic, career and social-emotional development, as opposed to the guidance counselor of old that many of us may have had experience with that perhaps just worked on the college admissions process at a high school or on disciplinary issues. And since today’s school counselors work with all students in a school — through classroom instruction, small group, individual counseling and individual consultation — having those smaller ratios gives school counselors an opportunity to deliver information and curricula and … to address gaps around opportunity, equity and access.

Read the full article about student-to-counselor ratios by Emily Tate Sullivan at EdSurge.