Higher Ed’s Student Mental Health Crisis: Supporting the Counseling Center To Support the Students
March 13, 2023

​ACE has published a new brief to help higher education leaders understand what led to the current demand for mental health services, how that’s impacting counseling center staff, including an increase in turnover, and what the new normal looks like for counseling center staff and those who oversee mental health services on campus. Importantly, it concludes with a series of recommendations for senior leaders on how to best support their counseling center directors to provide mental health services to students.

The brief, Let’s Talk: Senior Leadership, Student Mental Health, and Counseling Centers, was written by Marcus Hotaling, director of the Eppler-Wolff Counseling Center at Union College and president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD).

“Colleges and universities have a vested interest in student mental health and its impact on academic success and retention,” writes Hotaling. Even before student mental health issues were exacerbated by the pandemic, a 2012 survey from the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64 percent of respondents listed mental health as the reason they were no longer enrolled in higher education. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety have been found to predict a lower grade-point average and a higher probability of dropping out, even controlling for academic performance and other variables. Additionally, research has consistently shown that seven out of the top 10 impediments to academic performance are related to mental health.

However, the increased demand for mental health services has also resulted in turnover and burnout from counselors and directors who work to provide therapeutic services. The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors Annual Survey: 2021 revealed that approximately 60 percent of counseling centers experienced staff turnover, an increase of over 10 percent from prepandemic levels.

The brief outlines problems that require a comprehensive approach to address students’ needs—including the following recommendations:

  • Meet with counseling center directors to determine the level of care that is realistic and the resources needed.
  • Identify and communicate broadly the multiple resources for student support on campus.
  • Consider investing in supplemental care options.
  • Review salaries for counseling center staff to make sure they are competitive.
  • Consider implementing a chief mental health officer model.
  • Recognize burnout and do not normalize it.

ACE is hosting a webinar with counseling center directors to unpack these recommendations and go into more detail about how the mental health crisis is impacting campuses later this month. Click here to register for the free webinar on March 28, 12:00–1:00 p.m. ET.