Crisis at the University of California

From The Courage Campaign
The Times has a frightening piece up this week about a growing crisis at the University of California, the sorely underfunded facilities for mental health care for students.  The number of suicides at the UC's campuses has increased, as has the number of students seeking counseling, but the university's capacity for helping students in need has not improved to meet this crucial need.

After the tragedy at Virginia Tech last month, UC students received an email from the university urging them to take advantage of the counseling services available to them.  When I received this message (as a student at UC Santa Barbara), I had the impression that the counseling and mental health services at UCSB are quite good.  So I was shocked to read this in the paper today:

At UC Santa Barbara a decade ago, an average of 21 students a quarter came to the counseling center to report they were experiencing an emotional crisis. Now, more than 200 students a quarter come for help, saying they are in a crisis. "Our crises have gone way up and we have fewer psychologists to deal with that," said Jeanne Stanford, director of counseling services. "We feel like we have become a crisis center." UC has about one psychologist for every 2,300 students, far below the International Assn. of Counseling Services guideline of one psychologist for every 1,000 to 1,500 students.

California is set to spend more on prisons than on colleges for the first time in our history.  We'll be the only big state with this dubious distinction.  This is already a tragedy, but we also have to ask whether the costs of prison are worth the sacrifice of our public colleges and universities.  Which is a more effective preventative against crime — massive prisons, or the promise of a quality college education for every Californian?

I also noted in the story that improvements to health services for students have come from an increase to student fees (which have been rising steadily over the past five years).  We need a governor and a legislature that prioritizes school investment over prison investment, and we need them now.