CAPS understaffing worsens as student body grows larger
With a growing need for more space and staff, Counseling and Psychological Services may be in trouble as the on-campus student ratio increases.
During its Student Fees Advisory Committee presentation, Norma Ngo, director of CAPS, called its student to psychologist ratio 4,529 to 1 pathetic and illustrated that the use of CAPS services has increased and will probably continue to do so. Currently, group rooms are filled to capacity, hallways often serve as additional waiting areas and the administrative assistant is working out of the server room, Ngo said.
If the ratio is not lowered, it will be increasingly difficult for CAPS to continue to provide necessary services, Ngo said.
“When the ratio increases beyond the upper limits of what International Association of Counseling Services recommends, the resulting may occur: a waiting list will result or increase, there will be more difficulty providing services to students experiencing increasingly more severe psychological issues, there may be more liability risks to the counseling center and University, the counseling center may be less available to help support the campus community in other ways and overall support for the academic success of students is diminished,” Ngo said.
Although IACS’s ratio is an aspiration, it was set through a combination of empirical analysis and suggestions from counseling center directors to ensure the clinical needs of students as well as other service needs of the campus are met, Ngo said. Because of CAPS’ high ratio, it has to constantly be creative with the use of its space and time.
“We are always conscious about how to balance all of these responsibilities in order to not sacrifice quality,” Ngo said. “We need to constantly evaluate how we provide services to our students, and this requires a great deal of training for our staff. The fast pace and higher expectations is indicative of Tier One institutions, so we must find a way to work with this.”
As the residential population rises and UH moves closer to achieving Tier One status in all aspects, CAPS and the University will need to work harder at reaching the IACS recommended ratio of 1,500 to 1, which is typically met at Tier One institutions like the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, Ngo said.
Ngo predicts once the construction of Cougar Village II and Cougar Place is complete, raising the number of on-campus residents, CAPS current utilization rate of 3 to 4 percent will increase to about 9 to 10. With the anticipation of a growing number of students and a growing demand for CAPS services, Richard Walker, vice president of Student Affairs, has formed a feasibility committee to explore the possible expansion of CAPS and the health center.
Ngo and her team are excited about the possible expansion and agree it will be necessary to meet the needs of a Tier One institution.
“Overall, as this campus moves from a mostly commuter identity to a greater residential identity and achieves Tier One status in all respects, the expectations will be higher, and thus, we must shift into high gear and examine how we can also increase our staff resources to meet the corresponding demand,” Ngo said.