Campus News

SFAC funding provides CAPS with much-needed resources


An increase in funding from the Student Fee Advisory Committee will allows CAPS director Dr. Norma Ngo to hire a number of new staff members. | Jasmine Davis/The Cougar

Counseling and Psychological Services is equipped to begin hiring four new counselors by Fall 2017, a move made possible through the Student Fees Advisory Committee’s recommendation to increase funding to the department.

“It is validating to know that SFAC prioritizes the mental health needs of our students,” said Dr. Norma Ngo, director of CAPS.

For fiscal year 2018, SFAC recommended a permanent budget increase of $265,161. Their total base budget is now $2.2 million.

Additionally, the committee granted the department an immediate one-time increase of $126,191 to begin hiring new counselors for the spring semester.

“We recognize the important role mental health plays in the lives and success of students, and want to ensure that students have as much access to mental health care as they do access to other opportunities,” SFAC’s final report said.

During CAPS’ unit presentation last month, Ngo focused on the difficulties the department faced in recruiting new counselors. According to the presentation, CAPS offers a significantly lower entry-level salary than other mental health providers in Houston.

In one comparison featured during the presentation, Ngo said the University of Texas Medical Branch offered nearly $30,000 more than CAPS for an equally qualified position.

The immediate increase in funding will allow CAPS to provide a more competitive salary to new hires. Ngo said the department also plans to raise the salaries of current counselors, which will help CAPS retain more professionals in the long-term.

“This will definitely help ease the high turnover rate in employment at CAPS,” said Crystal Tran, who serves as a student representative on the CAPS Advisory Committee.

Since CAPS offers lower salaries than most mental health competitors, the turnaround time is about two or three years before counselors move to a position with more competitive pay.

When counselors leave CAPS within just a few years, it decreases the availability of counseling services to students while raising costs in the department. In FY 2015 and 2016, the department spent 1,000 staff hours and $10,000 on hiring searches.

“We would like to post our positions by January 2017,” Ngo said. “The earlier we start, the better chance we have of recruiting our top choice candidates.”

The International Association of Counseling Services recommends a staff to student ratio of 1:1,500, which would ensure reasonable availability of counseling services to students. UH has more than double the recommended number of students per counselor at 1:3,369.

“With the stigma around addressing mental health and its subsequent disorders slowly dissipating, more and more students are looking to CAPS to utilize its services,” Tran said. “CAPS has been struggling to properly accommodate each and every student.”

According to a recent article in The Texas Tribune, UH has the most students per counselor of Texas’ large public universities. The University of Texas at Austin, for example, comes in first at 1,818 students per staff member.

“If CAPS successfully hires the four new counselors, the staff to student ratio at UH should shift to 1:2,737,” Ngo said.

That ratio is based on Fall 2016 enrollment numbers.

“In a hypothetical scenario in which we were approved to receive one new clinical staff per year, and enrollment did not increase beyond 43,797, we would not reach the 1:1,500 ratio until fiscal year 2030,” Ngo said.

According to the presentation, students at UH wait for weeks between making an appointment and seeing a counselor.

“There is a demand on behalf of students for greater, more accessible services than what are currently offered,” said SFAC Chair Brinda Penmetsa. “We had an opportunity to meet that need, and did so by approving requests that will allow for the improved hiring and retaining of counselors, thus moving toward a more beneficial counselor to student ratio.”

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