DC Mayor Signs Bill Offering Financial Assistance for Counseling Students

Dec 11, 2023

The American Counseling Association (ACA) is pleased to announce that counseling in the District just got easier through a unique funding program offering tuition and further funding to graduate students attending the HBCU University of the District of Columbia (UDC).

The Pathways to Behavioral Degrees Act, championed by Council Member Robert White and recently endorsed by the Mayor, has been sent to Congress for evaluation and is expected to receive approval by February 2024. This legislation focuses on bolstering Licensed Professional Counselors and other behavioral health professionals, increasing access to mental health services within the District.

This initiative allocates funds in the D.C. budget for UDC to aid D.C. residents pursuing counseling degrees. The program provisions cover expenses for books, licensing exams and provide a monthly stipend for living costs and transportation. With a budget of $6 million over four years, starting in fiscal year 2024, the program aims to enroll 20 students in the first year (2024-2025) and 40 students annually thereafter.

Upon completing their degrees and obtaining the necessary licensure or certification to practice in behavioral health and human services, graduates commit to a minimum of three years of service in a D.C. government agency, a local education agency within the District or a healthcare provider operating in the District.

The bill aims to encourage local individuals and graduates of D.C. public schools to participate in the program, fostering a network of counselors within the communities they serve. Addressing the 2016 needs assessment by the D.C. Healthy Communities Collaborative, the legislation emphasizes cultural competency in mental health care, particularly in Wards 7 and 8. Financial barriers, such as tuition and licensing costs, often hinder residents from pursuing careers in behavioral health, which this initiative strives to alleviate.

“The American Counseling Association applauds the efforts of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration, Council Member White and the D.C. City Council to put forth an innovative initiative to alleviate financial burdens for aspiring counselors and expand the number of licensed professional counselors in the workforce. Providing this pathway is an important step toward addressing the mental health needs of city residents,” said ACA CEO Shawn Boynes, CAE, FASAE. “As the country faces an unprecedented crisis in mental health, we call on Congress to move quickly to pass this bill and other legislation geared toward improving access to mental health services.”

The American Counseling Association strongly supports initiatives like this across the U.S. and supports the District's steadfast commitment to aiding the profession of counseling. This bill is not final due to pending congressional approval. We will keep D.C. members updated on the progress of the bill.