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Research Questions

  1. What is the potential impact of CalMHSA's prevention and early intervention (PEI) programs on college and university students?
  2. Were there changes in the number of students receiving mental health services in the final year of CalMHSA's PEI programs?
  3. What is the estimated impact of these changes on future graduation rates and lifetime earnings?
  4. What is the estimated benefit-cost ratio of CalMHSA's PEI programs among college and university students after accounting for costs of services and increases in lifetime earnings for additional graduates?

Reports results of a survey to assess the impact of CalMHSA's investments in mental health programs at California public colleges and estimates the return on investment in terms of student use of treatment, graduation rates, and lifetime earnings.

Key Findings

  • The percentage of students in California's public universities and community colleges who were receiving treatment for mental health issues increased 13 percent during the final year of CalMHSA's investment in prevention and early intervention programs.
  • The study predicts that the increase in students receiving treatment will lead to an additional 329 students graduating due to receiving mental health treatment.
  • Based on a benefit-cost analysis, the societal benefit of the increase in treatment and the corresponding decrease in dropouts is estimated to be as high as $56 million for each year of CalMHSA's investment in prevention and early intervention programs, a result of expected increased lifetime earnings for additional graduates.
  • Assuming the increase in treatment is entirely due to CalMHSA's investment, the estimated net societal benefit for California is $6.49 for each dollar invested by CalMHSA in prevention and early intervention programs.
  • Among community college students who experienced greater need for mental health services and had access to fewer on-campus mental health resources than university students, the net benefit is estimated to be $11.39 for each dollar invested.

Author Statement

At a time of increased public attention to the mental health needs of college students, we believe these findings are meaningful: They show that efforts to change the conversation about mental health on campuses and to enable faculty, staff, and students to better identify and support struggling students can lead to increased wage employment and tax revenues. This may help policymakers put investing in such efforts into perspective.

This research was conducted in RAND Health, a division of the RAND Corporation.

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