CICU President Lola W. Brabham Testifies on College Student Mental Health

News Date: 12/1/2022

On Wednesday, November 30, 2022, CICU President Lola W. Brabham testified during a hearing on Mental Health and Higher Education. The hearing was jointly called by the Assembly Committees on Higher Education and Mental Health. 

The full text of her testimony is below: 


Testimony from the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities for the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Higher Education and Standing Committee on Mental Health Public Hearing on the Mental Health Needs of Students at Institutions of Higher Education

Good morning, Chairpersons Glick and Gunther and members of the Higher Education and Mental Health committees. My name is Lola Brabham, and it is my privilege to serve as the President of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities. I appreciate the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Independent Sector about student mental health, the steps our institutions are taking to ensure student wellbeing, and the opportunities for partnership with the state. 

Normally, CICU appears before the legislature to voice support for student aid and educational opportunity programs. And we will continue to do so. But today, I am here to urge the Legislature to provide the necessary resources to enable colleges to get immediate support and assistance to their campus communities; and to support campus efforts to train the next generation of mental health professionals who are desperately needed across the state.  

The need for campus mental health support is growing at an alarming rate, the numbers should give us all pause: A recent national study reports that:  

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults 
  • 95% of college counselors report that mental health is a growing concern on campus 
  • 72% of university presidents report an increase in mental health spending over previous years  
  • 34% of students with mental health issues report that their college does not know about the challenges or crises they have experienced.  

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this crisis. The CDC reports that before the pandemic 1-in-10 college-age Americans reported that they had contemplated suicide; during the pandemic that number rose to 1-in-4. A study conducted earlier this year found that while mental health worsened among all groups, students of color reported larger increases in mental health issues and were also less likely to receive treatment. 

Additionally, a national survey conducted by the Trevor Project of 34,000 LGBTQ+ college students found that one-third had contemplated suicide, and 7 percent had attempted suicide in the prior year. These numbers were higher for students of color, transgender, and nonbinary students. According to the survey, access to mental health support on campus reduced suicidal ideation and attempts significantly. 

In August 2021, after a full year of remote learning, CICU surveyed our member institutions about campus mental health issues. Nearly half responded that the demand from students for mental health services on their campuses had increased in the past year. The majority cited lack of funding (79%) and lack of qualified staff (50%) as challenges in meeting students’ needs.  

In the 2022 New York State Budget, the Assembly proposed $30 million in student mental health funding that would have been exclusive to SUNY and CUNY campuses. Our students – who account for 40 percent of all New York college students – were left out of this proposal. The enacted budget appropriated $4 million for this purpose, with no funding going to support students at private, not-for-profit colleges and universities. 

Challenges Campuses are Facing 

The increased awareness and de-stigmatization of mental health has led to a tremendous growth in the need for services. Colleges and universities across the State are facing similar challenges and need to broaden mental health resources both on and off campus. The problem is more severe for rural campuses, with more limited access to resources.  

Meeting the Challenges 

CICU’s members recognize this is a community-wide challenge and are rising to address it by thinking about mental health as a wholistic care model. Campuses are being very nimble and flexible with staffing, finding different ways of providing services, and focusing on culture and climate. 

Many CICU members used federal pandemic recovery funds to expand mental health services. Those one-time funds have largely been exhausted, but the need on campus continues to grow.  

As services are increasingly de-stigmatized, campuses are publicizing screening “check-ins” to identify student mental health issues early on. They are reaching out to colleagues to share best practices and looking to faculty and staff to shift the way they look at physical and mental health. 

In 2021, CICU established a Mental Health Workgroup, which brings together professionals from our member campuses, representing varied sizes and types of institutions and geographic regions, to share best practices, innovative approaches, information, and resources. The Workgroup has also developed Mental Health Awareness Webinars, including one that focused on eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health and equalizing the treatment of physical and mental health in athletics. In addition, CICU turns to our partner organizations to present and share information and resources to our member institutions, for example: TimelyMD and MeMD are two of our affiliates who provide guidance to address mental health issues on campus. 

Our colleges and universities are focusing on prevention, coping mechanisms, and resilience. Some examples of what our members are doing include: 

  • Colgate University: Provides confidential mental health screening and Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training. QPR is a three-step process that familiarizes individuals with how to respond if they suspect someone is in crisis. It’s worth noting that through a partnership with SUNY more than 200 individuals across our campuses have participated in QPR training and have been provided with the tools to recognize when a person is in crisis and how to direct them to appropriate care. 
  • Hofstra University: Hosts HofSTRONG Workshops twice during each semester and is focused on supporting students’ mental and emotional health.  
  • Marist College: Marist college is partnering with Thriving Campus, an online resource that can help students search for services based on their needs and preferences and get connected to mental health practitioners near the campus. 
  • Adelphi University: Health and Wellness Course offered to students for college credits. Currently being piloted by student athletes.  
  • Clarkson University: Mental Health First Aid training to faculty and staff: 
  • Molloy University: Weekly Mental Health Workshops, which are free of charge and available to all Molloy University students.  
  • Niagara University: Offers TAO (Therapy Assistance Online) Connect to all students, faculty, and staff. TAO is a private, customizable, self-guided program that includes engaging, interactive educational modules and practice tools to help one understand and manage how one feels, thinks, and acts.  
  • Siena College: Hosted Send Silence Packing, which is an immersive exhibit touring the country meant to encourage people to speak their truth and seek help. 
  • St. John Fisher University: The EvREMIND Matters project encourages students to have conversations about mental health and promotes positivity throughout campus to those who may need it. The project is student-based in the hope that students are more likely to connect with other students. 
  • St. Lawrence University: A peer-counseling program, SHIELD, aims to break the stigma around issues of student-athlete mental health. 

What New York State Can Do

CICU and our members institutions are stepping up to support student mental health and wellbeing. And we believe there are steps the Legislature can take to assist in this effort, such as:  

  1. Supporting legislation to establish the Master’s in Mental Health Scholarship (A.8501/S.7553) to increase the number of students who complete their degrees and join New York’s mental health workforce. 
  2. CICU campuses produce 69% of graduate degrees and 38% of bachelor's degrees in mental health fields.  
  3. Leveraging the expertise of the Department of Health (DOH), Office of Mental Health (OMH) and other agencies as appropriate, to create training resources that colleges and universities can utilize on campus. 
  4. Expanding the Enhanced Support for Students with Disabilities (SWD) in Higher Education Program that was included in last year’s budget ($2M) to include additional funding to address the mental health crisis and help more students.  Expanding the program can help more students, including those struggling with their mental health.  

While there is still more to do, higher education must continue to work together in a public-private partnership, combined with the full power of New York State, to address this growing crisis. New York’s college students are counting on us. 

Thank you for allowing me to speak today on behalf of the 110 members of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York.