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Statewide student fee vote could prove crucial for mental health support

By Lauren Bennett | Feb. 27, 2017

To convince lawmakers of the dire need for more mental health providers at Utah State University’s regional campuses, student leaders are hoping to demonstrate the issue is being taken seriously by fellow learners across the state.

To that end, a vote scheduled for this week on whether to raise student fees by $15 could prove crucial.

“It’ll probably take a couple years before the state will increase any funding to address the problem,” said David Bush, a licensed psychologist and the director of the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services office. “But more immediately we thought, well, this year we can at least show the state that the students are willing to put their money where their mouth is.”

Bailee Bird, the student executive vice president for the university’s Uintah Basin campus, said increased awareness of where the money will go is vital, because students typically are wary of fees. 

“The term ‘adding a fee’ is kind of freaky to students since our tuition is so high already,” Bird said. “I just think that people need to understand the mental health crisis that our campuses are going through is almost double the national average, especially on our regional campuses.”

At the university’s Brigham City campus, for example, the only therapist currently available for students is on campus just twice a week.

“He is swamped,” Bird said.

Bush said the university doesn’t currently meet accreditation standards when it comes to the suggested ratio of students to counselors.

“We have about one licensed therapist for every 2,000 students on main campus,” he said. “And we have one licensed therapist per 6,000 students statewide.”

The student leaders’ goal is to have at least one mental health counselor at every campus, and one for every 1,000 enrolled students across the state, in the next decade.

Reaching that goal, however, will likely take an infusion of financial support from both students and the state Legislature.

But Mike Booth, the student executive vice president for the university’s Tooele campus, said the vote faces some significant obstacles – most notably that many regional campus students might not feel like they are in a position to take advantage of counseling even if it was more readily available.

“That’s something that we’re trying to work with,” Booth said. “Most of us have jobs and families. 12:30 in the afternoon doesn’t work for us.”

Trying to find the “window of opportunity” that works for non-traditional students can be difficult, Bush said. Online workshops are currently available and the counseling office is working on expanding the services offered online.

“We’re trying to impact as many students as possible,” Bush said.

But doing so takes money.

“We are really thankful for the support of the students,” Bush said, “because without that support we couldn’t improve the service we are providing.” 

The regional campus fee is more than four times higher than a similar fee that has been proposed for students at the university’s main campus in Logan, where students enjoy an economy of scale that in recent years has produced wellness initiatives such as a 105,000-square-foot recreation center.

Students will vote on the measures during the school’s general election on Wednesday and Thursday.