Utah will experience an acute shortage of qualified public school counselors during the next five years, especially in its junior high schools, a state official warns.

By 1996, about 125 to 140 more counselors will be needed in the public school system and even more will be needed if Utah is to improve its counselor-pupil ratio, one of the highest in the nation, said Lynn Jensen, state specialist for counselor and career development.Besides the fact more counselors are needed, many of those already in counseling positions are not qualified, he added.

Utah's average counselor-pupil ratio is about one to 500. The problem is most serious in junior high schools. Utah's ratio is higher than the one-to-400 recommended for accreditation by Northwest Association for Schools and Colleges.

Jensen estimates that about 9 percent of the state's 390 counselors are underqualified. And a recent personnel study conducted by Utah State University indicates the incidence could be as high as 13 percent.

The Wasatch Front, which includes Salt Lake and Tooele school districts, is the region most affected with 14 counselors lacking certification, Jensen said. The southwest region of the state has nine undertrained counselors.

Other regions with underqualified counselors are Bridgerland with four; Davis, Morgan-Weber, Mountainlands and Uintah-Southeast, all with three; and Central with one.

But Jensen noted that most of the counselors without certificates are authorized to fill the positions as long as they work to meet requirements.

One reason for the lack of qualified guidance counselors may be financial incentive, Jensen said. A master's degree is required to be a counselor, but pay is the same as for teachers.