CSU seeking to expand funding for mental health services

The California State University Board of Trustees is looking to expand access to mental health resources across the 23-campus system.

On the agenda for the Jan. 26 meeting, the Committee on Governmental Relations is urging the BOT to vote in favor of appropriating funds from Proposition 63.

“This legislation establishes the College Mental Health Services Program, which would direct ongoing funding to the California State University, California Community Colleges and the University of California to expand student mental health services. While the CSU has made substantial investments in student mental health services, expanding these services has been highlighted as a top priority for students, faculty and campus leaders,” the agenda reads. “The COVID-19 pandemic has further amplified the need for ongoing investment in providing these services to students.”

Passed in 2004, Proposition 63 places a 1% tax on individuals whose income is $1 million or more annually. At the time it affected between 25,000 and 30,000 tax payers.

The purpose of the proposition is to reallocate funds to assist counties in expanding their mental health services, while requiring the state to develop prevention, early intervention, education and training programs. It also prohibits the state from spending any less on mental health services than previously established.

In the 2005-06 fiscal year alone, the appropriation generated $750 million. The CSU received $7.1 million from Proposition 63 in 2011, according to a 2015 press release.

The proposition, however, has been met with controversy. In 2011 and 2012, questions were posed regarding how the funds were actually being allocated with accusations of misappropriation of funds raised.

Mental health services on CSU campuses have continued to be a point of contention for years.

Long Beach State, a campus of almost 40,000 students, currently only has 14 full-time equivalent staff counselors, a case manager and an outreach coordinator, according to Bongjoo Hwang, director of Counseling and Psychology Services, in February 2020.

San Diego State University had to increase student funds in the fall of 2020, according to reporting by the Daily Aztec, to help expand “mental health resources and funding three new identity centers on campus.”

The expansion, the university hopes, will align health services with the national standard of one therapist per 1,500 students. They also hope to “hire additional case managers and establish an after-hours phone line.”

According to the International Accreditation of Counseling Services, the national standard should be a “minimum staffing ratios in the range of one F.T.E. professional staff member (excluding trainees) to every 1,000 to 1,500 students, depending on services offered and other campus mental health agencies.”

“This ratio is aspirational by nature, encouraging counseling centers to approximate the range in order to ensure that there are an adequate number of professional staff members to meet the clinical needs of the students, as well as the other service needs of the campus community,” they said.

California State University, Northridge’s University Counseling Services staffs over 20 counselors and psychologists, according to reporting by the Daily Sundial. As a campus of similar size to CSULB, the university is still not meeting national standards.

Currently, CSULB’s ratio is at one counselor for every 2,857 students.

“We don’t have control over our budget to hire more counselors,” Hwang said. “We have limitations, it depends on state funding as we get through our division and department.”

The 2021-22 operating budget for the CSU is projected to be $556 million, funded primarily by the state budget.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his budget earlier this month, which included a large amount of funding for public institutions so long as there were no tuition increases.

More than 75% of the $144 million budget is set to go to the CSU’s general fund. The Committee of Finance said that “of this amount, $111.5 million is not categorized for specific uses and is available to address some of the Board of Trustees’ budget priorities.”

Of those priorities, “securing the necessary federal relief and flexibilities for institutions and students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic” is at the top of the list.

A total of $15 million of the $150 million for Graduation Initiative 2025 fund will help to bolster the Basic Needs Initiative component and another $15 million is for “student technology access and student mental health.”