Want Some Mental Health Care? It’ll Cost You.

In the last few decades, and particularly in the last several years, many colleges figured out the importance of mental health in students’ lives. Particularly in the wake a few highly publicized incidents on college campuses–all of those school shootings, a few suicides–colleges now know mental health problems are something to track and try to alleviate.

That’s great. It’s important for students to be able to seek and receive high-quality psychological care if they need it. But it turns out colleges aren’t making big financial sacrifices to do this.

According to this article in the Wall Street Journal:

Universities are hiring more social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists as demand for campus mental-health services rises. But persistent budget gaps mean that students in some cases foot much of the cost of the positions.

Students at George Washington University will be charged an additional $1,667 in tuition next year, a jump of 3.4%. More than $830,000 of the resulting new revenue will pay for mental-health services.

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Almost 60 percent of counseling center directors indicated their expenses were up in 2013. Only 23 percent saw increases in 2012. Only 15 percent saw the expenses go up in 2009. This isn’t just true of expensive private schools. Because it turns out that,

Regents at the University of California system are weighing a plan to hire 70 additional psychologists—a 40% increase—and 20 more psychiatrists—a 60% jump—to keep up with the demand at counseling centers across its 10 campuses. Administrators estimate the annual cost of the hires would top $17.4 million, and they plan to raise a mandatory annual student services fee to $1,242 from $972 by the 2019-2020 academic year to cover some of the expense.

Obviously colleges have to pay for this sort of thing somehow. And mental health, which requires sensitivity and expertise, doesn’t come cheap.

But considering colleges are arguably responsible for some of the stress and odd behavior of their students—according to the article “MIT, which had six suicides in the past year, recently launched a pilot study on student workloads in electrical engineering and computer science,” which I guess is a step in the right direction—you’d think they could take the budget hit on their own to make this mental health care thing happen.

But that’s not how it really works today. Despite extensive concern about escalating student debt, it turns out it’s pretty easy to just add another $1,000 on to student bills. It’ll lead them into greater debt, sure, but it’s not going to prevent them from enrolling in the first place.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer