BOONE — Some Appalachian State faculty remain concerned about the university’s 20,000 enrollment goal amid a perceived deficiency in student mental health resources on campus, Faculty Senators said Dec. 9.
At the senate’s meeting, App State’s Faculty Senate members heard from Chancellor Sheri Everts, Provost Darrell Kruger, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs J.J. Brown, Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Cindy Barr and Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Paul Forte about the enrollment goal. Several senate members said faculty are unsure how the university can meet the mental health needs of its students with the incoming projected growth.
Additional concerns about the ability of online courses to expand, resource allocation as well as lack of physical space for students coming in — which Everts reiterated is a net gain of 351 students — were also voiced.
Chris Hogan, the director of the university’s Counseling & Psychological Services Center, said that in 2018-19 the center assisted 2,738 students. He said the center typically sees around 15 percent of the student population – which is a little bit higher compared to other public universities the same size.
The center allows students to come in for an initial consultation without an appointment during business hours. During the initial consultation, the student is provided with a variety of options to meet their needs. This could be individual therapy, group therapy, quick access groups (similar to a class to learn coping skills), referral to providers in the community and single-session therapy to focus on a concern.
According to Hogan, students may have about a six- to nine-day wait to receive individual therapy services depending on the time of the semester. Other aforementioned services typically do not have a wait, he said.
Faculty Senator Laura Gambrel — an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling — said finding services in a rural place like Watauga County can be challenging.
According to Everts, Brown has been restructuring and allocating new resources to the team that supports student wellness and focusing on developing innovative ways to meet the demands of the counseling center and student health services. She added that it is the upmost priority for the division of student affairs to meet the wellness needs of current and future students.
“We’re not choosing between caring for our current students and adding to our student population — we’re choosing to do both,” Everts said. “Narratives are often circulated that set up choice dichotomies between athletics and academics, growth and quality and between administrators and faculty. I think it’s important to know that I believe those are false choices and in many cases, a way of thinking that dates back several years and from which Appalachian can and should free itself.”
Forte explained that schools with reductions in funding often experience this due to enrollment stagnation or decline. For every declined of 100 students, there would be $1.5 million in loss of revenue for App State, according to Forte. He added that the university is attempting to pursue revenue on multiple fronts, such as a proposal for a 3 percent increase in tuition rates as well as trying to secure permanent summer enrollment funding.
Faculty Senator Jon Carter, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, said he is currently teaching seniors who are “livid that the university would move forward based on numbers and what they perceive to be a money grab without attending to mental health issues on this campus.” Several faculty members agreed that student mental health is on the decline across the nation, not just at App State.
Trent Spaulding — the senate’s parliamentarian and an associate professor in the department of Nutrition and Health Care Management — said he recognizes that the mental health trend is possibly just becoming worse, but he thinks the university’s increasing acceptance rate over the years could be affecting student mental health. He said because of the increase in admission rates, the department feels like it is experiencing students who may not have the academic skills and experience to cope with stress because they may not have the family or social circumstances to handle school.
At the Nov. 11 Faculty Senate meeting, a report by the senate’s campus planning committee on the 20,000 goal was presented — including information from Brown about wellness resources. Brown expanded on this during the Dec. 9 meeting, saying the university hopes to partner more with the departments of social work, clinical/mental health counseling and marriage/family therapy.
Brown explained that the university has seen an increase in the number of students coming into the counseling center each year for about the last 10 years. Roughly five years ago the university hired Alex Howard — now the director of wellness and prevention services — to work directly with the campus student health center, counseling center and university recreation to look at wellness in a broader sense. To aid student mental health, Brown said in recent years App State has hired a person to specifically work with marginalized communities as well as one additional member for mental health services.
Brown said Howard has been in conversation with the different wellness departments to discuss the possibility of partnering with second-year students in those programs to offer services as well as give them on-campus experiences. Brown added that the university is looking at innovative ways to provide these services for students that he understands is deeply needed.
While Gambrel said she approved of the vision for student mental health services, her department had not been consulted about these potential plans. Gambrel said as the internship coordinator for her program, she would be intimately involved with the process Brown referenced, and yet she hadn’t been told about it.
Brown said specific details had not been figured out yet, but rather conversations have been about the bigger picture. He added that the vision is to expand these services by August 2020 — a concern for Gambrel.
“It’s a concern that it’s being presented as a solution when as faculty we haven’t been involved in it,” Gambrel said.
Everts said she has asked Brown and Kruger to co-chair a committee associated with enrollment growth to look at what makes sense long term for the university. Faculty Senate Chair Michael Behrent took the time to remind the senators and administrators that faculty have shared governance — which according to the university provides opportunities for all stakeholders to engage in meaningful and relevant ways in a conversation. Behrent said he didn’t feel like the university was setting a proper model for shared governance.
“Shared governance for some of you is an after thought,” Behrent said. “What happens is we ... find these things out when we’ve passed unanimous resolutions that ask the chancellor and other people to show up and actually speak to us and be accountable. Shared governance should not just be something that you decide to do when faculty get upset enough. That is encouraging us to get upset.”
Behrent asked administrators to give more consideration to shared governance going forward and to take the opportunity to tap into the talents and abilities of the faculty. The Faculty Senate’s next meeting is Jan. 13.