Higher education has been in upheaval for the last two years due to the pandemic. Broader funding for higher education has increased, but funding for wraparound services has not only decreased, but not fully recovered from the cuts made during the 2008 economic recession.1 There is evidence that investment in wraparound services can help increase retention and graduation rates for students who attend community colleges.2 National Student Clearinghouse Research Center recently reported a drop of roughly 1.4 million college students, or 9.4 percent, since the start of the pandemic, with community college students being the most affected.3 The report further noted that students 24 years of age or older, women, and Black first-year students were the most adversely affected. These populations are some of the most vulnerable and need resources that help promote overall well-being, retention, and matriculation.

Community colleges have been subject to a constant reduction in state support and dwindling enrollment. As a result, resources routinely available on campuses in the past have been eliminated. Notably, programs that support students (e.g., counseling centers) have been cut or reduced. Counseling and mental health services are critical supports, particularly for students from underrepresented populations. As students from these communities enroll in community colleges, they may face depression and anxiety and often do not know where to seek services to help mitigate these feelings.4

As we center the need for and value brought to campuses by counseling centers, we must also consider the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Specifically, students report experiencing more anxiety and stress because of COVID-19 and the downward economic trends that followed the global crisis. According to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 43,098 students reported areas most impacted by the pandemic as follows: mental health (72 percent), motivation/focus (68 percent), loneliness/isolation (67 percent), academics (66 percent), and missed experiences/opportunities (60 percent).5 With the added burden of adverse mental health outcomes and financial pressure, students from minoritized communities are choosing to forgo postsecondary schooling in search of other opportunities aimed at allowing them to, for example, meet their financial needs.

Academic and student support services help retain students; however, there is a need to document the effectiveness of these programs for continued funding/support.6 Community colleges can help students who need to adjust to the campus setting through mental health services that ease the anxiety and stress related to post-pandemic life. These services support the connection with resources that promote matriculation, degree completion, and overall holistic health and psychological well-being. Counseling and mental health services help students adjust to their new environment in ways that honor their intersecting identities, their families, and their communities of origin while holding space for the new adventure before them.

Assessing Services at Your Institution

There are several ways to engage students in counseling and mental health services. But before we start with solutions, let’s begin by asking three questions:

  1. Have counseling services been funded and prioritized at your institution?
  2. Do your students know where the services are located?
  3. How knowledgeable are your students about these services?

If mental health resources are available, these questions start the process of gathering information about whether existing supports are meeting the needs of students and if students know how to engage with the services in meaningful ways. In addition, responses to these questions constitute the beginning of an assessment of mental health and counseling services offered at an institution relative to the needs of its students. If mental health resources are unavailable, consider partnering with community agencies to connect students to the services they need.

As part of your college’s assessment, the following should also be undertaken:

  • Assess whether your mental health center’s hours of operation meet students’ needs.
  • Ensure that your institution’s mental health professionals reflect the various cultures of your student community and that the center is appropriately staffed with at least one mental health professional per 1,000-1,500 students.
  • Require a robust referral database if available staff cannot address medication management.
  • Institute a crisis response team that handles campus crises related to urgent care needs.
  • Ensure that counseling staff serve on students-of-concern committees led through the institution.
  • If your institution cannot provide these services in-house, seek community partnerships that allow students and faculty to receive services at discounted rates or provide space for third-party providers to hold on-site or telehealth sessions.

These suggestions can help ensure that students on your campus have adequate access to mental health services. The need for these services is more evident than ever. With innovative approaches, your college can provide counseling and mental health services that  promote student matriculation and academic performance by mitigating the adverse effects of mental health.7

 

1 Whitford. E. (2022, June 14). States Contributing More For Public Colleges — But Will It Last. Forbes.
2 Gravely, A. (2021, July 8). Help for Community College Students. Inside Higher Ed.
3 National Student Clearinghouse. (2022, May). Undergraduate Enrollment Falls 662,000 Students in Spring 2022 and 1.4 Million During the Pandemic.
4 Gravely, A. (2021, July 8). Help for Community College Students. Inside Higher Ed.
5 Penn State Student Affairs. (2021, February 2). COVID-19 Impact on College Student Mental Health. Center for Collegiate Mental Health COVID-19 Blog series, Part 1.
6 Hoyt, J. E. (2021, January 28). Student Connections: The Critical Role of Student Affairs and Academic Support Services in Retention Efforts. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice.
7 LeViness, P., Bershad, C., Gorman, K., Braun, L, & Murray, T. (2018). The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors Annual Survey – Public Version 2018. Association for University and College Counselor Center Directors.


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