Mental–health concerns on college campuses are most often addressed in terms of the four-year experience, but mental health is often a crucial factor in students’ decisions to leave college early or transfer.
The Ithaca College Student Success Committee seeks to increase the college’s retention rate through three phases, one of which includes improving mental–health services. This plan presents a positive step in strengthening the mental–health services offered by the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, particularly when the college has been criticized in the past for failing to prioritize the mental health of its students.
Retention rates are a significant factor in judging the quality of the education and experience a college offers. Not paying enough attention to mental–health services undermines the college’s mission of cultivating academic success. Students cannot feasibly succeed when their mental health is deteriorating. Investing in mental–health resources becomes an investment in the future of the students’ academic success. And when academic success is supported in this holistic way, both the students and the college succeed.
Transitioning into a college environment can be riddled with challenges adjusting to a new lifestyle and feelings of loneliness or homesickness. If students develop any mental–health issues in college, which studies show has become a common occurrence in higher education, having robust and efficient counseling services could help students cope with the stresses of college life. Making students wait to speak to a counselor only worsens their mental state. The decision to then leave the college becomes a natural response to not having one’s mental–health needs met by their institution.
If the college does choose to increase the number of CAPS counselors, it should seriously take into account the need for counselors of different identities. As of now, there are not enough counselors of color to meet the needs of students of color. It is integral for students of color to see themselves reflected in mental–health counselors, given that their experiences are distinctive to their identities and would be best understood by people who share similar backgrounds.
Although the administration has gained ground in acknowledging CAPS’ need for more resources, there is more work to be done to improve student retention. The mental state of students cannot be separated from the campus climate in and out of the classroom — they are intrinsically connected and must be recognized as such.