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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Activities & Organizations

CAPS needs more staff, SFAC request says


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CAPS’ low number of staff directly affects students seeking mental health help. | File photo/The Cougar

Due to ongoing financial difficulties in hiring and retaining necessary counseling staff, Counseling and Psychological Services submitted a new one-time student service fees request for fiscal year 2017 and a Student Service Fees base augmentation request for fiscal year 2018.

For the current year, CAPS is requesting a one-time increase of $126,191 in their allotted Student Service Fees. For the 2017-2018 fiscal year, CAPS is requesting a base augmentation in the form of a $290,654 increase.

“Our salaries are anywhere between 18 to 60 percent below other agencies in Texas,” said Norma Ngo, director of CAPS. “Those who do accept our lower wage, they tend to stay about two to three years because we’re kind of a stepping stone and then they will go to another place where there’s more competitive wages.”

Lowest staff-to-student ratio

Ideally, Ngo said, CAPS would use these requested funds to raise the salaries of current staff members by $5,000 to $12,000 and offer a more competitive starting salary to newly hired counselors.

“What we’ve been offering is $55,000 for an entry level person who is licensed,” Ngo said. “Whereas other institutions start at $60,000 or $65,000 for an unlicensed person.”

The starting salary at the University of Texas Medical Branch is anywhere from $80,000 to $90,000.

As part of CAPS’ unit presentation to SFAC, Ngo included a side-by-side comparison of the hiring qualifications and starting salary for both the University’s counseling center and UTMB.

“We know it’s a fact that we need to increase our staff size,” Ngo said.

The International Association of Counseling Services, from which CAPS received its reaccreditation in February, recommends a staff-to-student ratio of 1:1,500.

University of Texas at Austin, which has an enrollment of approximately 8,000 more students than UH, ranks highest in the state with a staff-to-student ratio of 1:1,872. UH is in last with 1:3,285.

According to an infographic that CAPS provided, if enrollment until 2030 remained at 43,797 students, which is this year’s enrollment total, CAPS would need to hire 15 additional clinicians before meeting the recommended ratio.

“We’re at the bottom,” Ngo said of the IACS benchmark. “It’s probably going to take longer than fiscal year 2030 to get the staff-to-student ratio to where we want to.”

Priority needed

One of the biggest challenges currently facing CAPS, Ngo said, is the lengthy period of time between students making a counseling appointment and those students actually receiving counseling services.

“I really like that this service is provided, but having to wait a month for an appointment worsens my anxiety,” read one student testimony.

In addition to needing more counselors and staff, Ngo said student feedback indicated dissatisfaction with the facility’s cramped and outdated conditions.

“I walked by there the other day and I saw a class out there, with a professor in the geology department pointing up to the roof and talking about how the water has created stalactites and other types of water erosion,” said Christopher Scott, CAPS’ associate director and clinical director.

Scott said the class was using the features to study geological formations.

“That kind of tells you what kind of environment we’re working in,” Scott said.

In the past year, CAPS has successfully begun expansion to UH-Sugar Land campus and collaborated with other Texas universities to create the suicide prevention video “We’re All in This Together.” On Tuesday, CAPS hopes to launch ProtoCall — a third-party, after-hours crisis call service for students seeking help outside of CAPS’ traditional business hours.

In September, Ngo and Scott testified before the Select Mental Health Committee of the Texas House of Representatives in regard to the state of mental health on Texas college campuses.

“The feedback that the Committee gave us was that the University needs to prioritize mental health,” Ngo said. “When there are resources, the University needs to remember that mental health is number one.”

Many students shared this sentiment during Friday’s allotted time for public comment.

“CAPS doesn’t just make live better, it saves lives,” said political science junior Ahmed Moawad. “Life-saving services should be prioritized over general entertainment.”

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