OPINION: $50 million from the BOG is an opportunity for USF to invest in mental health

The USF Counseling Center is an underfunded resource that would greatly benefit the student body if funds from the BOG budget increase were allocated to it. ORACLE PHOTO

The Florida Board of Governors (BOG), which oversees all public universities, requested $50 million for USF from the Legislature, according to Florida Politics. If approved, this could bump USF up the Florida college rankings.

This is the latest tactical move by the BOG to raise Florida’s State University System in the U.S. News and World Report’s performance rankings, with a goal specifically to move USF from its current spot as 46th in the nation to a spot in the top 25.

If granted, USF should use part of the $50 million to fund mental health support programs like the USF Counseling Center.

The budget for the counseling center is $2.8 million, less than 0.2% of USF’s budget, according to USF’s 2019-20 Operating Budget. This is disappointingly low, especially considering that this past year, the counseling center fulfilled 23,000 scheduled appointments, serving one of every 10 students, according to its 2019-20 annual report.

This means the counseling center receives roughly $124 for every appointment before factoring in all of the costs associated, like employee wages and licensing. In reality, the budget per appointment is much lower.

One-in-four college-age adults have a diagnosable mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Of USF students surveyed in the 2019 USF National Health Assessment Survey, 75% reported experiencing anxiety, depression or stress that interfered with their academic life.

Despite this, only 10% of the student population uses the USF Counseling Center.

If the counseling center had more funding to advertise and increase accessibility, perhaps more students would utilize the mental health services offered. This could be done by hiring more staff to decrease wait times or by increasing the center’s hours.

Increasing student mental health would improve student retention and success rates, two of the top metrics used to measure the performance of a college by the U.S. News and World Report, according to their writeup on the subject.

Poor mental health and class performance are highly correlated, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Without access to mental health care, students are more likely to feel overwhelmed or stressed and drop out or fail. 

If the Legislature approves the BOG’s request and awards USF $50 million to increase its rankings, USF should put a portion of the money toward the counseling center. It’s in high demand despite the lack of advertisements and funding. If USF properly invested in it, the capability to improve student health is huge.

The USF Counseling Center is a good resource doing important work, but isn’t given the spotlight it deserves. By allocating funds from this budget increase, USF would be investing in the health of its students.