The ratio of students to counselors in the nation’s public schools has reached its lowest point in at least 36 years, spurred both by an influx of new counselors and a nationwide decline in student enrollment, according to new data.

The dual trends left schools with an average of 408 students for every counselor last school year, according to the American School Counselor Association’s analysis of federal data. That’s lower than the 424 to 1 ratio pre-pandemic, but still significantly higher than the 250 to 1 recommended by the counselors group.

“While not the optimal ratio, it’s still good news,” said Jill Cook, executive director of ASCA.

Lower average caseloads can mean counselors have more time to spend with each student, fulfilling an especially important role as students struggle mentally and academically in the wake of the pandemic. But experts caution that the pattern remains uneven across states and that focusing too heavily on national or statewide statistics can obscure stark disparities between districts and the true accessibility of counselors at individual schools.

The national data comes even as efforts to hire school psychologists and counselors have stumbled across the country, with many large school districts failing to add new counselors. As of last fall, many counseling positions remained unfilled.

Still, between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years, the nation’s public schools saw the number of counselors jump by more than 1,200, while student populations dropped by nearly 1.4 million. Research has shown that a smaller ratio can help boost some students’ academic performance while reducing disciplinary infractions.

Read the full article about the student-counselor ratio by Julian Shen-Berro at Chalkbeat.