CPE unveils $1.5 million plan to boost campus mental health

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ/CPE) –  The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education is tapping $1.5 million in federal relief funds to improve mental health services for students across the state as COVID-19 continues to drive stress and uncertainty on college campuses.

CPE unveiled the new, multi-tiered initiative today. It includes more than $900,000 in grants to help campuses expand mental health programs, along with two state contracts to help train campus personnel and provide web-based interventions for students. The Council is also launching a virtual support network for high school seniors in the GEAR UP Kentucky program.

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Kentucky colleges and universities have experienced growing demand for health and counseling resources over the past year. Institutions report high rates of anxiety and depression among students due to the pandemic, and CPE has consulted with campus leaders on ways to shore up funds and staffing to meet the need.

“We are going to beat COVID-19 this year, but the emotional scars from this pandemic will take longer to heal,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “Our students have sacrificed so much to ensure their safety and protect others in their communities. We need to show up for them now to make sure they have the support they need to come out of this crisis safely – physically and mentally. Campus resources are central to that goal. I want to thank CPE and all of our campuses for their leadership in this area, and for their commitment to safeguarding our students’ health.”

The funding is part of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, known as GEER. Last year, Gov. Beshear channeled $13.8 million of Kentucky’s GEER fund, a component of the federal CARES ACT, into helping postsecondary institutions respond to the pandemic.

Since May, CPE has allocated $12.3 million directly to campuses for COVID-related expenses like remote learning, support services and operational recovery. The remaining $1.5 million has remained in reserve until now.

CPE President Aaron Thompson said many students have faced tremendous challenges with stress, isolation, housing and finances over the past year, and the toll on mental health has reached dire levels.

“For many college students, the pandemic has interrupted a critical time for social and emotional development, and we have an inherent responsibility to protect their well-being,” Thompson said. “CPE’s plan will provide urgent interventions that are essential to keep our students healthy and on track to graduate.”

Today’s announcement includes:

  • $760,000 in grants to support mental health programs at public universities. Each institution will receive $45,000 in base funding along with additional amounts in proportion to each university’s adjusted net state general fund allocation.
  • $175,000 in grants for the colleges in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). KCTCS will partner with CPE to distribute the funds to individual campuses based on need.
  • A $125,000 state contract with Therapy Assistance Online (TAO), which provides online tools for behavioral health treatment and life skills education. TAO can provide immediate resources for students – including distance learners – who face waiting lists for mental health services. The contract will allow all public sector students, faculty and staff to access their tools and services through June 2022. An additional $150,000 may be used to extend the contract through June 2022 based on need.
  • A $190,000 state contract – to be awarded – will provide mental health training for public colleges and universities. The program will help participants identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. The contract will allow up to 2,000 campus personnel to receive the training and certification through June 2022.
  • $100,000 for support services that will help up to 1,600 high school seniors in GEAR UP Kentucky. The program includes virtual, near-peer mentoring, tutoring and social and emotional services. The goal is to support the graduating class of 2021 through their first year of college. GEAR UP, a unit of CPE, is partnering with the Student Success Agency to provide the program.