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Ohio University takes the lead: Bridging the gap in school counselor shortages

Students across the United States, including those in Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, navigate academics, extracurriculars, and personal struggles. Unfortunately, they also face a shared challenge: limited access to school counselors.

Recognizing the urgency, Ohio University has launched the state's first accredited online Master's in School Counseling, offered by a public university. The online program is aligned with the American School Counseling Association and CACREP (Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Program) standards.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 1 counselor to 250 students, but these states all experience higher-than-average ratios. According to mental health platform Charlie Health, Ohio faces the most significant shortage of the three with a 403:1 ratio, followed by Kentucky at 366:1 and West Virginia at 325:1. This significantly limits individual support for students, resulting in longer wait times and less personalized attention being available.

All students deserve dedicated resources and dependable assistance for their mental health. Unfortunately, the current situation paints a concerning picture. A 2023 survey by Mental Health America revealed that 16.4% of youth aged 12-17 reported experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the past year, with 11.5% currently experiencing severe major depression. As U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared in a February 2022 address, the growing number of young people facing mental health challenges is "the defining public health crisis of our time."

The real impact of school counselor shortages on students

The shortage of school counselors can create a ripple effect impacting everything from graduation rates and mental well-being. Students struggling with anxiety, depression, or even just everyday pressure of growing up can lead to academic decline, mental health issues, and a diminished sense of well-being.

Resourceful in the face of limited counseling resources, rural Ohio districts are turning to student training as a provisional bridge to address their students' mental health needs. While this initiative deserves acknowledgement, it highlights the critical need to address the current inadequacies for mental health support within schools.

Addressing the school counselor shortage crisis head-on

Ohio University's online Master’s in School Counseling program is open to anyone with a bachelor's degree in any field, including K-12 professionals seeking career advancement. The program, generally finished in 6 to 7 semesters, offers a comprehensive curriculum, practical experience, faculty guidance, and a direct path to school counseling licensure for those looking to make a meaningful impact on student success.

Bridging the distance to a rewarding career in school counseling

Aspiring school counselors, especially in rural areas, face a unique challenge: limited access to traditional graduate programs. This is where OHIO’s online school counselor program shines.  The program’s flexibility eliminates geographic barriers, allowing students to pursue their educational goals without relocating. This is crucial, as rural districts desperately need qualified counselors to address the mental health and academic needs of their students.

Tailored curriculum for real-world impact

The program covers essential topics like mental health awareness, crisis intervention, and strategies for fostering a positive and inclusive school environment. Students gain hands-on experience through supervised practicums in real-world school settings, preparing them for the challenges they will face.

“In developing and designing the curriculum, the faculty have combined relevant research and their real-world experiences as school counselors, school based mental health counselors, and counselor educators to inform learning opportunities for students,” said program coordinator Dr. Tamarine Foreman.

Preparing school counselors for the places that need them the most

The Ohio University online school counseling program was created to provide school counselors with the abilities to identify and comprehend the significance of location and culture and how it could influence learning.

“The program is designed to prepare school counseling practitioners who are aware of their self, students, school, and other cultural influences that might impact learning success,” said Foreman. “The case examples provided in our curriculum are based on faculty experiences and the cultural factors that our Appalachian and rural students might face. For example, poverty, food insecurity, and variable living environments.”

Beyond numbers, prioritizing a quality experience

Ohio University isn't just aiming to fill positions; it's building a network of highly qualified counselors. The program focuses on a comprehensive approach, emphasizing empathy, communication, and effective support strategies.

“The curriculum is designed to educate the whole person, with a focus on wellness and an appreciation for diversity and inclusion. Our students are trained to reflect on their own experiences so they might improve and be aware of how they are impacted by their work, said Foreman.

An integral part of the Ohio University education experience is providing its students the opportunity to network with alumni that have field experience.

“We also ask alumni working in the Appalachian community to share their personal experiences as a school counselor and provide opportunities for current students and alumni to connect, collaborate, and network,” said Foreman.

Supporting the well-being of the school counselor

OHIO’s program also recognizes the mental health of its participants by completing a wellness plan to address how they will care for their self while tending to others. Through this practice, students are encouraged to critically examine their experiences and identify areas for personal growth.

“We also provide referrals to counseling resources for all students, should they feel the need to access personal counseling. Our students receive support from their faculty advisor, graduate student support specialists, and faculty throughout their program,” said Foreman.

Shared values with leading organizations

Esteemed institutions like the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) advocate for adequate counselor-to-student ratios and effective school counseling programs to address pressing issues such as student mental health and academic achievement gaps. Additionally, journals like the Journal of Counseling & Development (JCD) and Professional School Counselor (PSC) regularly publish research highlighting the vital role of school counselors in promoting student success.

Personalized learning for professional growth

Ohio University's online Master's in School Counseling offers a unique opportunity to become a part of the solution to the school counselor shortage in Ohio. With its flexible format, relevant curriculum, and focus on quality, this program empowers you to make a meaningful impact on the lives of countless students and contribute to a brighter future for Ohio's educational landscape.

February 28, 2024
Staff reports