CMU trustees debate attrition, mental health

Counseling services and screenings may help students with mental health issues stay in school and work through crises. But Colorado Mesa University trustees disagreed Wednesday on how far the university can or should go to reach those students.

Nationally, 51 percent of college students felt overwhelming anxiety, 32 percent felt so depressed they could not function and 8 percent seriously considered suicide within the last year, according to the 2013 American College Health Association Survey. Colorado Mesa offers mental health support a few blocks from campus and on-campus mentoring for 370 students to help them feel connected to their school.

Trustee Dan Robinson said during a board discussion Wednesday on student retention that the school can do more about mental health concerns by screening new students for mental illness and providing them with more support. Trustee Doug Quimby said the university should help students who come to school with a mental illness but he is not in favor of moving off-campus services onto campus or developing a program that screens and assists students on a systemic basis.

“We need to focus on academic assistance, financial aid and something at the college that makes it an attractive place to connect to,” in order to retain students, Quimby said. “I don’t think it’s our responsibility to solve the mental health issues of the United States.”

More often than mental health, Colorado Mesa executives Carol Futhey and John Marshall said a student’s attitude toward school, maturity level and academic preparation threaten the school’s retention rate, which was 87 percent from fall to spring this year for freshmen who met admissions standards and 81 percent for those on academic probation. Campus activities, scholarships, classes, tutoring and an early alert system for failing students have been added in recent years to encourage students to attend class and manage their time responsibly, but not all students take the help. Trustees suggested current programs continue and investigate tactics of universities with high retention rates.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, trustees approved a revised program plan for the first phase of construction of a proposed Health Science Nurse Practitioner Center on Community Hospital property bought by the university. The project cost went from a fall 2013 estimate of $8.9 million to $15.9 million due to a higher cost per square foot and the addition to construction plans of a Colorado Mesa Student Pharmacy, Student Urgent Care and lab/X-ray space.

The board’s vote permits the university to resubmit a project estimate to the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, Colorado Department of Education and Joint Budget Committee, along with a revised request for $15.2 million in state capital funds for the project. The university also has revised the amount it plans to use to match state funding, down to $660,000 from $2 million, so that the institution can focus funding on a Tomlinson Library remodeling project.


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