On Wednesday, Penn Live broke the news that Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) would no longer fund mental health counseling for its 17,000 students. According to the story by Aneri Pattani, a member of Spotlight PA, HACC stopped individual and group counseling sessions mid-September and is sorts students through a dean of student affairs individual, who is referring them to an off-campus provider.
According to the article, counselors were verbally told of the decision on Sept. 11, followed by a memo sent to counselors and administrators on Sept. 25. The college has not told students, according to the article.
The article also said the decision comes amid a 13% decrease in enrollment since 2013 and a growing budget deficit of $2.7 million.
According to Penn Live, president of HACC, John Sygielski, said, “The elimination of mental health counseling on campus is part of a larger reorganization to streamline services across the college system.”
The project, titled “One College, United for Success” mentions that the students “are learning to improve their quality of life.”
That statement contradicts their removal of mental health counseling because the service helps some students improve their quality of life.
But is it the college’s responsibility to care for its students’ mental health? Or is it up to the student who is in need of assistance to seek their own help?
In light of this news, if students at HACC are willing to seek help for their mental health, they should cooperate with the college and actively look for off-campus providers.
As students at Shippensburg University, does it matter to us what HACC does to its program?
Many current SU students transferred from HACC and will continue to do so in the future. HACC and SU recently entered an agreement encouraging the transfer of HACC students to SU, and so those attending HACC can be viewed as potential SU students because of the transfer process. The stress and other mental health issues HACC students are facing will not go away when they transfer, and our own counseling center has faced challenges with accommodating the needs of students, which is a problem across higher education. If the students’ problems are not addressed at HACC, they will be carried onto their time here at Shippensburg.
Additionally, students will have to either pay for or have insurance cover off-campus providers, which if they do not have the money or insurance for it to cover mental health services may prove to be detrimental to their education.
One way to look at this situation is that if HACC is responding to a financial problem in this way, is possible for SU to do the same thing in the future? The same problems that threaten HACC’s 17,000 students are amplified for SU — the university’s enrollment rate decreased by 312 students to a total enrollment of 6,100 students this past year, according to a story by Jan Murphy on pennlive.com. Additionally, SU faces a deficit of its own.
To do this at SU would threaten students’ well-being, and to a pragmatic extent, the average GPA and graduation rate of the institution. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, research suggests that depression is associated with lower grade point averages, and that co-occurring depression and anxiety can increase this association. Depression has also been linked to dropping out of school.
Last Thursday at the community unity rally outside Shippensburg Station, SU President Laurie Carter announced that the university has begun a search for two more counselors to join its personnel to help students. This action is a step in the right direction in the wake of “heightened anxieties” students face, and the ever-growing demand for support services for college students.
In this situation, HACC has shown that they value their budget more than their students’ mental health. And although SU has made the right call in bringing on more staff to assist with students, time will tell if it needs to make similar cuts to fight the financial problems all universities in the PASSHE system face.