Opportunities for Funding College Mental Health Programs

Opportunities for Funding College Mental Health Programs

Robert F. Meenan, MD, MPH, MBA
President, Christie Campus Health

COVID-19 has created a student mental health crisis for institutions of higher education. A report from the National Academy of Medicine confirms that college students across the country are experiencing negative mental health impacts from the numerous dislocations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Student surveys show that mental health issues represent a growing threat to student retention, academic achievement, and degree completion. 

Presidents and other college administrators across the country readily acknowledge the need to strengthen their student mental health services in preparation for the “echo pandemic” of anxiety and depression they will be facing when students return to campus in the fall. However, financial constraints continue to be cited as an obstacle to making critically needed investments in student mental health. 

It has been noted frequently during the pandemic that a crisis can also be an opportunity. That adage is certainly applicable to the college student mental health crisis.  The large amount of Federal stimulus dollars coming to schools in the form of Higher Education Emergency Relief dollars (HEER funds) gives higher education leaders a way to turn that crisis into an opportunity by investing in mental health programs at their institutions.

In a recent webinar organized by Christie Campus Health, this unique opportunity to fund college mental health programs was addressed by Richard Doherty, MPA, President of AICUM, the Association of Independent Colleges & Universities in Massachusetts. Mr. Doherty noted that a strong student mental health service has moved from being a “nice service to have” to being a “must service to have”.  He indicated that institutions of higher education should commit to allocating a portion of the HEER funds to strengthen their student mental health services, and he reported that this would be a top priority for AICUM and its member schools this year.

In a recent presentation, Meredith McCoy, Associate Vice President of Institutional Initiatives at Bennington College, described how her institution plans to finance both the initial year and the continuing years of additional student mental health services. Bennington will use HEER funds to pay for the initial year of new services. They will then raise the student health fee roughly $25 over two years to create an ongoing source of maintenance funding for the additional services.

College leaders can also secure funding for student mental health by working with their states on the allocation of Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds. These Federal relief dollars to states are restricted to education purposes, and they can be used to support initiatives in college student mental health. States that have already chosen to provide such support include Georgia, Ohio, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. The amount of GEER II funds coming to each state through the CRRSA Act can be found here.

Higher education will be facing unprecedented student demand for mental health services when campuses re-open this fall. Colleges and university leaders have a unique opportunity to help their institutions address this very serious downside of the COVID-19 pandemic. By actively investing in efforts to strengthen their mental health services, schools can bolster their ability to attract and retain students in an increasingly competitive enrollment environment. They can also increase the potential for their students to achieve academically, graduate in a timely fashion, and become productive and positive citizens. 

About Christie Campus Health

At Christie Campus Health, we are dedicated to improving the behavioral health and wellbeing of college students by helping colleges and universities expand the way they reach and support students in need.  Our solution, CONNECT@College, offers a number of integrated components that provide a broad range of self-care and professional treatment options for students with varying behavioral health needs.

About Dr. Robert Meenan

Dr. Meenan served as Dean at Boston University School of Public Health from 1992 to 2014 and retired from BU in 2016 as Professor of Health Policy and Management in the School of Public Health and Professor of Medicine in the School of Medicine. He holds a BA in government from Harvard College, an MD from Boston University School of Medicine, an MPH in Health Administration and Planning from the University of California Berkeley, and an MBA in Health Care Administration from Boston University School of Management.

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