FAU among 8 Florida universities short on mental health counselors

Eight of the 12 state universities fall below minimum staffing levels for mental-health counselors as the need for counseling services grows on campuses, a new report shows.

The university system’s Board of Governors, which has asked for a $7 million increase in mental-health funding in the 2017-2018 budget, will receive an update on the counseling issue during the coming week, as state lawmakers unveil initial budget plans for the higher-education system.

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“As of February 2017, all but four (state university) institutions fall considerably below minimum staffing levels recommended by the International Association of Counseling Services,” the Board of Governors report said.

The association recommends at least one counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. The University of North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, New College of Florida and Florida Polytechnic University meet that standard, the report said.

But three schools — Florida Atlantic University, the University of South Florida and Florida International University — have more than 2,000 students per counselor. FIU is at the top with 2,449 students per counselor.

Florida State University and Florida A&M University have more than 1,900 students per counselor.

“Given the surge in the numbers of students seeking counseling center services as well as the increasing severity and complexity of the mental health issues that students face, the (university system) needs a substantial influx of resources in the short term,” the report said.

The most common issues reported by students using counseling services were anxiety, relationship issues, depression, suicide and academic stress, the report said.

The university counseling centers have dealt with the rising demand through a variety of methods, including limiting the frequency and length of counseling sessions, using waiting lists and referring students to counseling services in the community.

But the report said those are only “short-term” solutions.

“Over time, they will create additional problems such as student dissatisfaction, declining academic success of students, staff burnout and saturation of community resources,” the report said.

This is the second year that the Board of Governors, which oversees the 12 universities, has asked for mental health funding. It has identified a $14 million need but has asked for the money over the next two years in $7 million allotments.

Senate Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the Senate’s initial higher-education budget, which will be unveiled Tuesday, will include more funding for the state universities, but it will be up to each institution on how to spend that money.

“They have within their discretion the opportunity to fund programs like these,” Galvano said. “There is not a line item in the state budget that says this is specifically for university mental health funding.”

Galvano said universities don’t want the Legislature “to start micromanaging all of their programs” through the state budget.

“We could get to a point where we’re telling them everything they need to do,” Galvano said. “But each university and each (state) college has their own unique attributes either by geography or student population or focus of study and they need that flexibility.”

The House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which is expected to proposed cutting state university funding in its initial proposal, will release its 2017-2018 spending plan on Monday.

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