In her research, Mulhern also found counselors focusing onimproving non-cognitive skills like attendance and behavior did not seem to translate into better education or boost attendance at selective colleges, which indicates highly effective counselors focus on different areas of achievement.
Her research also shows same-race counselors bump upstudents’ likelihood of graduating high school, attending college and graduating from college by 2 percentage points compared to peers who had a different-race counselor. For non-white students, the difference is even more pronounced. They are 3.8 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school and go to college if matched with a same-race counselor.
Mulhern believes the quality of the counselor is more important than the quantity of students of which the counselor oversees, and that increasing diversity and providing professional development may be more useful than adding counselors to the staff. Because high school counselors may have a big impact on students, she wrote, improving the level of counseling can also have social and economic benefits.
Too many students per counselor, however, may cause problems. Kathy Pelzer, counselor at Capistrano Unified School District, had a caseload of 2,300 students in 2014, and her job was to react to problems — rather than provide guidance to prevent them. Pelzer, a past School Counselor of the Year for California, said additional counselors have made all the difference. The district hired a team of college and career readiness counselors, so she could use her time to be part of a program that delivered small-group lessons.
While other states, like Colorado, have also recognized the impact counselors can have on reducing dropout rates, improving graduation rates and college attendance rates, and narrowing the achievement gap, these positions are also typically among the first staff cuts when economic crises strike. Looming cuts resulting from a recession exacerbated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic will test states' recent investments in these roles.