Cover: Understanding How Texas Community College Campuses Are Supporting Student Mental Health

Understanding How Texas Community College Campuses Are Supporting Student Mental Health

Published Mar 14, 2024

by Holly Kosiewicz, Heidi Kane, Trey Miller, Lisa Sontag-Padilla, Denise Williams

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Research Questions

  1. To what extent are Texas community colleges implementing a public health approach to support student mental health?
  2. What efforts are Texas community colleges engaging in to support student mental health?
  3. How are Texas community colleges integrating these efforts into their organizations?
  4. What are the challenges facing Texas community colleges as they grapple with increased demand for student mental health support?

Rising rates of individuals with mental illness in the United States have policymakers, education officials, and medical professionals worried about the need for additional support for struggling college students—and the ability of higher education institutions to provide it.

Many colleges have designed and implemented a variety of interventions to ensure that mental health issues do not interfere with students' abilities to persist and succeed in college. In many cases, colleges have begun to integrate mental health supports into wider efforts to proactively connect students with relevant supports to help them address academic and nonacademic challenges. However, some colleges—particularly community colleges—continue to face challenges, such as insufficient resources and capacity to treat mental illness, that prevent them from adequately addressing students' mental health needs.

The authors of this report present findings from a descriptive study of ten community colleges in Texas that are working to address student mental health at their institutions. They document the strategies and supports that those colleges have implemented to support student mental health, how the colleges are working to integrate these approaches into the organizational fabric of the colleges, and key challenges to supporting student mental health in a community college setting. They offer a set of recommendations for decisionmakers who are interested in addressing student mental health on community college campuses.

Key Findings

  • Colleges implemented a wide variety of strategies to promote student mental health, prevent the onset of mental illness, and connect students to and deliver treatment services; however, some support strategies were not evidence-based, and few targeted students who were at elevated risk for mental illness.
  • Colleges did not formally use a public health approach to mental health, although most programs and resources reflected a holistic, college-wide approach to addressing mental health needs.
  • Strategies to support student mental health were integrated within organizational structures (e.g., behavioral intervention teams), organizational processes (e.g., student programming, course content delivery), and organizational cultures (e.g., the shared belief that student mental health was important). Nevertheless, mental health supports were not fully integrated into instruction and assessment, the physical environment of the campus, or policymaking decisions.
  • Colleges reported a variety of challenges impeding their efforts to support student mental health. Many students and faculty are unaware of available mental health resources and supports at their colleges. The stigma associated with mental health care is still pervasive. Colleges have limited capacities to meet the diversity of mental health needs present in their student populations. Institutional response to growing student mental health needs has been slow. Finally, the absence of consistent mental health funding streams jeopardizes the sustainability and scaling of institutional investments that support student mental health.

Recommendations

  • Colleges should develop formal, comprehensive plans to expand evidence-based supports for student mental health.
  • They should develop communication plans that repeatedly disseminate information about mental health resources to increase student awareness of those resources.
  • College decisionmakers should develop and formalize agreements with external health providers to ensure that the wide diversity of student mental health needs is met.
  • Colleges should develop sustainable funding models to support institutional efforts to address student mental health.
  • Colleges should collaborate with state policymakers and college leaders to develop sustainable funding models.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Trellis Foundation and conducted in the Social and Behavioral Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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