A potential increase in student services fees could benefit the UC system’s mental health services, with additional funding enabling campuses to hire more counselors for their students.
The issue was first discussed at the September UC Board of Regents meeting and was continued Thursday. According to Dr. Gina Fleming, medical director of student health and counseling at the UC Office of the President, students with depression or anxiety must wait for weeks before they can begin treatment, and the University of California’s ratio of counselors to students is well below that of Ivy League schools.
“We have more students now with severe anxiety, depression and stress,” Fleming said. “The point of school is to learn and get a degree, but (these conditions) inhibit people’s ability to get an education.”
Fleming added that there has been an increase over the past five years in the use of counseling services across the UC system, which she attributed to the destigmatization of mental health problems, better medication enabling students with these conditions to succeed in school and an overall increase in pressure placed upon students.
According to Shelly Meron, a spokesperson from the UC Office of the President, the student services fees are currently $974 per year and would increase by five percent for the next five years, $16 of which would go toward new staff. There would, however, be a budget surplus by the end of the five years because the increase would be cumulative, so the UC campuses are asking to borrow from the future surplus to fund the new positions for 2015.
The percentage of UC Berkeley students using individual counseling services has risen to 16 percent as of last year, said Jeff Prince, director of counseling and psychological services at the Tang Center. Yet the number of counselors has not changed to suit the need, and Prince said that though resources have been put into giving students increasing timely access, much more pressure has been placed on the staff.
“We want to get more funding to meet the need that’s coming through the door,” Prince said. “Each campus has tried to adapt its limited resources to the growing demand.”
Money would also go toward integrating mental and medical care, possibly by adding a psychologist to the medical unit, Prince added. Students often go to the doctor for physical ailments without realizing they are caused by stress and then must be referred for another appointment.
The original proposal requested staffing for prevention and outreach, but this comprehensive plan was deemed too expensive and unrealistic considering the current budget environment, Fleming said. It was then scaled down to only request staff who can provide mental health services.
At their Thursday meeting, the UC regents also discussed the compensation of athletic coaches, including a new policy that would tie coach bonuses to athletes’ academic performance, various proposals for the UC budget and the appointment of Rachael Nava as the new vice president and chief operating officer in the UC Office of the President.