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OSU-Cascades receives $3.9 million federal grant to address shortage of Central Oregon school counselors

Will pay full tuition for up to 75 graduate students; mental health issues on the rise

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Oregon State University-Cascades has been awarded a $3.9 million federal grant to provide full tuition for up to 75 eligible graduate students in a Master of Counseling program designed to address the mental health needs of K-12 school children.

The five-year grant, provided by the U.S. Department of Education, seeks to address a school counselor shortage in Central Oregon and the increasing mental health needs of school children. In addition to full tuition, participants in the program can also apply for a $1,000 monthly stipend.

Called Promoting and Advancing Training of High Desert School Counselors, or PATH-SC, the program is designed to build a pipeline of trained counseling professionals to work in K-12 schools in the region, particularly in rural areas, where mental health services are lacking.

The program was developed by Lucy Purgason and Molly Moran, OSU-Cascades assistant professors of counseling. They worked in collaboration with the High Desert Education Service District, and the Bend-La Pine, Crook County, Jefferson County and Redmond school districts.

Purgason explained that while mental and emotional health concerns among Oregon’s K-12 students have steadily increased over the past decade, middle and high school students' concerns were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In one Central Oregon rural school district, 47% of students recently reported feeling sad or hopeless, and in another, as many as one in four adolescents reported seriously considering suicide, according to the Oregon Student Health Survey.

Students and families in these rural areas may also have difficulty accessing mental health resources due to a growing shortage of mental health providers, according to the program organizers.

Moran explained that school counselors can help bypass these barriers by delivering a comprehensive counseling program that provides students with skills and tools to improve mental health and wellness through academic, career and social-emotional development.

“For a K-12 student with a mental or emotional health need, a school counselor often represents their only avenue to the care they need, including coordination of the support of parents, teachers and administrators, and providing access to outside services,” said Purgason.

To address the disparity between the demographics of regional K-12 school staff and the increasingly diverse student populations, the PATH-SC team will seek to recruit students to the graduate counseling program who are bicultural and/or bilingual, or who are from the rural districts the PATH-SC program plans to serve.

Participants will engage in faculty and supervisor mentorships, and internship placement in Central Oregon’s K-12 schools where school counselors are needed most.

Graduate students who received PATH-SC support will commit to working as a school counselor in a rural Oregon school district for two to three years post-graduation.

Prospective students can learn more about the PATH-SC tuition scholarships at or by calling 541-706-2063.

May 25 is the deadline to apply for the Master of Counseling’s school counseling program that starts this summer. Application and admission information can be found at

Article Topic Follows: Education

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Tracee Tuesday

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