U.S. Department of Education grant will help expedite training of diverse school counselors

There’s a stark diversity gap between school counselors in Wisconsin and the students they serve. A largely white pool of workers is far from representative of the demographics of many schools throughout the state.

That fact can create a barrier for students seeking help.

“Some recent research suggests that when students are able to access school counselors that look like them, they’re more likely to seek out those resources and see school counseling as a resource that would be of help to them,” says Dr. Alan Burkard, chair and professor of counseling psychology in Marquette’s College of Education.

Marquette recently received major support to help curb the trend. Burkard was awarded a $2.66 million Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant by the U.S. Department of Education in January to expedite the training of diverse school counselors to help address the need for mental health care among K-12 students in high-need schools.

“Sometimes there are issues that students of color face that they’re going to naturally question, ‘Is this counselor going to understand this experience?’” Burkard says.

The grant helps eliminate a major hurdle many diverse students interested in becoming school counselors face: the cost of post-baccalaureate education. It supports a scholarship program that provides 56% of graduate tuition for eligible students.

For those interested, scholarships are still available for next year, both through a relatively new undergraduate accelerated degree program and the traditional graduate program admissions process.

“I met with a student where they didn’t know about this award and I was able to invite them to consider accepting the scholarship program,” Burkard says. “Their first comment to me was, ‘I was wondering how I was going to pay for graduate school.’”

School counselor trainees will be prepared by the Department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology at Marquette through traditional graduate education and the accelerated program, which specifically allows students to begin taking graduate classes as undergraduates and allows them to complete their graduate studies within one year of completing their undergraduate degree.

The Department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology will also collaborate with school districts and high-need schools in the greater Milwaukee area on practicum and internship placements and support for trainees in seeking employment opportunities in high-need schools.

“The four partner schools in particular that we’re working with are minority majority schools,” Burkard says. “More than 50% of their student body is BIPOC students, and yet if you look at the staffing in those schools, over 90% of the staff is white. The diversity of the staff has to change in order for students to feel like they can meet with someone who understands them culturally.”

These collaborations with school districts in Racine, Kenosha, West Allis-West Milwaukee and Sheboygan will create 600-hour internship training experiences in high-need schools.

“Through this award, Dr. Burkard and his department have a great opportunity to expand and diversify the school counselor workforce, while preparing their graduates to meet the mental health needs of K-12 students,” says Dr. Heidi Bostic, dean of the College of Education and Klingler College of Arts and Sciences. “Through an expanded and better-trained school counselor workforce, these school districts and other high-need schools will be able to support their students in a more comprehensive model that reflects Marquette’s mission of cura personalis, or care for the whole person.”