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UNC System awards $1.7M in grants for mental health programs on campuses

Image of five high schoolers holding a poster that says, "We love our counselors."
Courtesy of NCSSM-Morganton
Students at NC School of Science and Math - Morganton bring gifts to their school counselors for National School Counselors Week, February 2023.

A Gallup Poll published last spring found that more than a third of college students have considered dropping out, and the top reason students report is emotional stress.

UNC System’s vice president for academic and student affairs Bethany Meighen says that underscores the need to ensure college students stay mentally healthy.

“That means that you're able to focus in class, you're able to do the best you can on your test, you're able to excel at your internship,” Meighen says. “All of these things help you get to graduation.”

The UNC System is making major investments in mental health initiatives this year, with the help of $7.7 million in COVID-19 relief funding allocated via the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund.

After earlier rounds of funding went primarily to support clinical mental health services, the UNC System has awarded $1.7 million dollars in grant-funding for nine prevention programs on campuses.

NC A&T State University and UNC-Wilmington are developing peer support programs. UNC-Charlotte is placing graduate students studying in the School of Social Work in college dorms to support students. The University Library Advisory Council is building a collection of online mental health resources that can be shared across campuses.

“We want to try out these programs and if they're successful at, say, North Carolina A&T State University, we could look at rolling them out across the whole system,” Meighen said.

NC School of Science and Math focuses on training students' parents

The NC School of Science and Math received a grant to hire additional mental health specialists to design wellness programs on its two residential campuses in Durham and Burke counties. The schools already employ academic and personal counselors who provide direct services to students, but the new positions will be able to focus on outreach programs.

Suzanne Gavenus is the director of counseling at the NC School of Science and Math's Morganton campus. She says their plan is to create workshops aimed at both students and their parents.

“It could be, what do you do when your child calls you and is crying about a grade or a friendship?” Gavenus says. “We're sort of helping them transition their role into coach and mentor with their kids.”

NC School of Science and Math serves gifted high school juniors and seniors who move away from home to attend the residential schools, so they face some of the same challenges as college students.

Gavenus says she hopes the new program can be a model for how to engage parents in noticing and responding to mental health symptoms in students.

“I think this could be a great model for colleges to learn how to partner with those parents of young adults,” Gavenus says.

Meighen says this round of grants will serve as seed money for the new programs. The funds will expire in the summer of 2024, and then campuses can pursue other funding sources to sustain successful programs.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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