A cross Indiana, too many students face limited earning potential and weak prospects for satisfying careers and lives after high school. Many schools are struggling to help them do better because they lack strong counseling programs that integrate social and emotional support with effective academic, college and career counseling.

Believing that school counselors who have the time, resources and training to develop strong, one-on-one relationships with their students can significantly improve their life prospects, Lilly Endowment launched the Comprehensive Counseling Initiative for Indiana K-12 Students. The five-year initiative will help public school corporations and charter schools create new approaches to school counseling that address the academic, college and career as well as social and emotional counseling needs of their students.

In September 2017, the Endowment approved grants  to 52 Indiana public school corporations and five Indiana charter schools to help them implement promising strategies to strengthen school counseling programs for their students. The grants – ranging from $68,312 to $2.87 million – were based on student enrollment in each school corporation and charter school. The Endowment is making available a second round of implementation grants for eligible public school corporations and charter schools that did not receive an implementation grant in the first round. Deadline to apply for those grants was March 15, 2018. The Endowment expects to announce the recipients of those grants in summer 2018.

Schools in 30 of Indiana’s 92 counties will benefit from this first round of grants. The schools serve some 250,000 students in kindergarten through grade 12. Educators are planning  to launch a variety of efforts that include, among other strategies:

  • Collaborating with mental health care providers to address their students’ social and emotional challenges
  • Pursuing novel ways to engage local businesses in preparing students for a range of employment opportunities, including developing mentoring and internship programs and planning industry information sessions and site visits to local companies
  • Implementing a comprehensive counseling model developed by the American School Counselor Association
  • Making better use of digital tools and adding and integrating curricula for college and career exploration and preparation
  • Providing professional development to teachers, counselors and administrators so they can identify and address the social and emotional needs of students to improve overall student wellbeing
  • Partnering with colleges and universities to offer college counseling, financial aid assistance, campus visits and related programs. In January 2017, the Endowment made planning grants to 284 school corporations and charter schools across Indiana to help them assess the counseling needs of their students, study best practice counseling programs in Indiana and around the country, and develop implementation grant proposals for funding to help them address their students’ counseling needs more effectively

“The response from school corporations and charter schools far exceeded the Endowment’s expectations,” said Sara B. Cobb, the Endowment’s vice president for education. “We believe that this response demonstrates a growing awareness that enhanced and expanded counseling programs are urgently needed to address the academic, college, career, and social and emotional counseling needs of Indiana’s K-12 students. We were most pleased to see how the schools engaged a wide variety of community stakeholders in assessing their students’ counseling needs and developing strategies to address them.”The stakes are high for students and communities across Indiana. The state’s current school counseling challenges are part of a larger landscape of lagging indicators of educational attainment and economic prosperity, which jeopardizes long-term quality of life for students, their families and their communities.

Research conducted by the Indiana Chamber in partnership with CELL in 2014 found that too few schools in Indiana use a best practices comprehensive counseling model to prepare students for successful lives beyond high school. Among the findings: school counselors are often burdened with large caseloads, which limit their ability to help students.

According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling, Indiana ranks 45th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in the number of K-12 students per counselor, with an average of one counselor for every 620 students.

The Indiana Chamber’s research also found that Indiana school counselors often are assigned non-counseling responsibilities – such as administering state tests or Advanced Placement exams that further limit their availability to provide academic, college, career and social and emotional counseling.

In addition, students in Indiana struggle with mental health issues at a higher rate than their peers in most other states, which negatively affects their ability to learn and thrive. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2016 Kids Count Profile, Indiana ranks 30th in the nation in the overall well-being of children and youth. And in its 2014 Issue Brief, IYI reported that in a national survey of 43 states, Indiana ranked first in the percentage of high school students who had considered attempting suicide and second in the percentage of high school students who attempted to take their own lives.

According to U.S. Census data, in 2014 Indiana ranked 43rd in the nation in the percentage of adults, ages 25 to 64, with at least a bachelor’s degree. In 2015, a U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis ranked Indiana 37th in the nation in per capita income, having slipped from 29th in the nation since 1995.

Tami Silverman, president and CEO of IYI, which has consulted with scores of Indiana public school corporations and charter schools in connection with the Endowment’s counseling initiative, says that stronger, more comprehensive counseling programs can help to reverse Indiana’s negative trends.

“Enabling more students to develop nurturing, one-on-one relationships with their counselors or other school personnel or community partners in a best practice counseling program is key to putting Indiana students on pathways to success. The current average ratio of students to counselor, however, makes it very difficult for counselors to have an effective one-on-one relationship with their students,” Silverman says. “It’s encouraging, though, to see the overwhelming response to this initiative from schools across Indiana. Superintendents, principals, counselors, teachers and community partners are working hard to re-imagine their approach to helping their students thrive.”

The Endowment plans to make grants under the competitive, implementation grant phase of the initiative in the fall of 2017. Public school corporations and charter schools can request grants ranging from $100,000 to more than $3 million, based on a formula of $100 per student enrolled. The grants can be used during a four-year period.

Through the Counseling Initiative, the Endowment also offered to help Indiana colleges and universities enhance their counselor preparation and principal preparation programs to prepare future counselors and principals better to address the academic, college, career, and social and emotional needs of Indiana’s K-12 students. Earlier this year, the Endowment made 19 planning grants to colleges and universities to help them explore potential improvements to their counselor and principal preparation programs and prepare implementation grant proposals. In the competitive implementation grant phase, the Endowment approved seven implementation grants for six Indiana universities as follows:

  • Ball State University, the University of Indianapolis and Oakland City University will each receive grants of $150,000 to enhance their principal preparation programs.
  • Ball State University, Indiana State University, Indiana University-Southeast and Indiana Wesleyan University will each receive grants of $200,000 to enhance their counselor preparation programs.

The Endowment has approved grants totaling $37.8 million, which includes planning grants, implementation grants, technical assistance grants and grants to universities for their efforts to strengthen counselor and principal preparation programs. An additional $10 million has been allocated for a second round of implementation grants, which the Endowment expects to approve in 2018.