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Student Fee Board Discusses Mental Health Fee Options In Inaugural Meeting

The inaugural Student Fee Board met officially for the first time Friday afternoon and discussed the proposal of a $15 Mental Health Fee after a presentation by CAPS Senior Director Ben Locke. Assuming similar enrollment to the 2015-2016 school year, the fee would account for more than $1.2 million at University Park and more than $2 million across all Penn State campuses.

Student Fee Board leaders have included CAPS funding in discussions for months now, especially after the Class of 2016 voted to provide CAPS funding as its class gift. UPUA President Terry Ford said he anticipates the Board will vote on the funding proposal at its February meeting.

Between the class gift and a matching deal by the Penn State Alumni Association, the endowment created holds about $400,000. It’s expected to produce about $22,000 in funding each year, according to Locke.

“The 2016 senior class gift is such a strong symbolic message,” Locke said. “I haven’t really seen it replicated at many other institutions, if any.”

In addition to the endowment and potential funding from the new Student Initiated Fee, President Eric Barron committed to matching student fee allocations to CAPS up to $400,000 for the first year at UPUA’s Mental Health and Wellness Call to Action event in November, and this matching donation would increase to $500,000 in subsequent years.

Growth of CAPS Services,Compared to Enrollment

Locke described the challenges in the growing mental health services need, especially as compared to growth in enrollment. “Once we hit October, we have a waiting list from the beginning of October until May,” he said, although there is never a wait list for rapid response and urgent services. He also emphasized the rapid growth is not unique to Penn State specifically, as Ohio State added 15 new positions to its counseling center over the last year.

The budget Locke presented to the Board did not account for Barron’s matching funds or for the Class Gift endowment, so Ford decided it would be best for the Board to look closely at all of the information available before making its decision next month.

Student Farm Club also presented to the Board, requesting $75,000 in funding for a consultant to work on plans for a permanent location for the Student Farm. The club sold approximately $22,000 in produce in their first growing season and is preparing a more detailed year-end progress report.

The farm is currently placed at a pilot location, where it will remain for the next three growing seasons, but leaders are working with OPP to ensure the future viability of the club’s initiatives. The plot the club is looking at is nine acres along Porter Road near the Morningstar House, which is focused on sustainability. In developing the land, about three acres would be used for growing produce. The club also hopes to have a barn, greenhouse space, produce storage coolers, and commercial kitchen/education space to teach people about its initiatives.

The Board briefly discussed other topics of business unrelated to the determination of the actual Student Initiated Fee. Here are the highlights:

  • The Board unanimously approved the Student Fee Board Handbook as its official governing document.
  • Ford was elected chair of the Board.
  • Damon Sims will be the interim advisor for the Student Fee Board and will explore other student affairs staff members who could potentially take on the role.
  • The previous facilities fee was determined as a proportion of tuition costs, so Ford asked whether this is a minimum or if it leaves a surplus in funds each year. Executive Vice President for Finance and Business David Gray will speak with the controller’s office to determine what a minimum amount could look like for the facilities portion of the fee.
  • The Board will work with student affairs to create and publish a website, though it may not be directly linked to LionPATH right away.

The Student Fee Board will reconvene in February, when it is expected to begin voting on agenda items like CAPS funding. These preliminary votes will be like “promises” to include the allocation in the final Student Initiated Fee budget, which the Board will vote on in March or April.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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