By Emely Bonilla, Deena Wicker, Gwen Soriano, Danna Miramontes and Ami Medina May 9, 2023
The ratio of students to counselors at Cal Poly Pomona’s Counseling and Psychological Services department is out of compliance with the International Accreditation of Counseling Services standard.
Cal Poly Pomona currently stands at 2,900 students per counselor despite the mandated ratio of 1,000-1,500 students per counselor by the International Accreditation of Counseling Services, according to the university’s California Faculty Association Union chapter. In practice, this results in a lower quality of care for CPP students.
Due to understaffing, the CAPS organization admitted to struggling with meeting student demands. Current attempts to make the process of seeking help more efficient are still in development stages.
“One thing that we can do to improve is to be fully staffed, and that is the goal,” said Hallie Lewis, the interim director of CAPS.
The department has expanded its services in collaboration with the Care Center. Lewis guaranteed students seeking help will be seen by either someone from the CAPS department or someone from the Care Center on campus.
“There is a clinical triage system that is in place,” said Lewis. “So, if they’re not in crisis and (students) want to talk to somebody, they would call CAPS. They would speak to somebody within 24 hours of the initial contact and then depending on what their needs are, they would meet with somebody.”
Additionally, the CAPS department will also be recruiting more counselors and have hired a new director to better match student demand for mental health care this year.
For the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years, the department hired 10 counselors. In previous years, the department sustained at least 11 counselors, with its peak at 12 counselors during the 2020-2021 school year.
During these school years, the student body was comprised of over 25,000 students. The height of enrollment was during the 2020-2021 school year — the start of the pandemic.
According to Lewis, the decrease in licensed professionals was an issue believed to be caused by the pandemic, in which everybody wanted to work virtually or find a career that could be done virtually, presenting a decrease in CAPS faculty.
The CFA acknowledged the university’s failure to adhere to these standards through a resolution on April 5, in which the union unanimously agreed on a much-needed update in staff numbers.
“Clearly, students are not going to be served appropriately while we are in this crisis,” said CFA chapter president and academic senate chair Nicholas Von Glahn.
According to Von Glahn, the fault lies with the CSU and CPP admin for not ensuring enough permanent mental health counselors. Insufficient numbers in tenured staff results in a lack in “continuity of care”.
“They can just hire people,” said Von Glahn. “I mean it costs money, but there is nothing stopping President Coley from hiring 10 people.”
There has been an increase in the budget every year for communication purposes. According to Von Glahn, CPP is paying for what is essentially a “PR campaign,” as the color blue in CPP’s most recent logo cost the university about $1 million, and new staff were hired for strategic communications – including a new speech writer.
Some of these implementations are considered “one-time money,” but the communication team is paid on base-money. Von Glahn points out there is money in the budget whenever administration deems it necessary.
“President Coley would say some of these are state-mandated, some of these are just things we need. The university has changed and that’s why we need all these administrators,” Von Glahn said. “So in her mind, we need these slogans, we need these people, we need these brands, we need these consultants, we need this strategic plan, we need this, we need that in order to essentially have a 21st century workforce that is ready for the future of work”
The Poly Post spoke with two students, a current CPP student and an alumnus, who identified various issues with CAPS. They both have asked to remain anonymous.
Despite receiving satisfactory care, the alumnus noted providers’ struggle to maintain quality support.
“I can tell that these therapists are overwhelmed,” said the alumni. “When there’s not enough providers per student, they can’t be seeing and doing the same quality of care to every student that they want to. This leads to the ‘We need you to go seek out an outside provider, in my opinion, I think that if a student is going to their school counselor first before going to an outside provider, they need to see that school counselor.”
The latter provided a contrasting experience, in which their outreach to CAPS was met with automated voice messages.
“When I reached out to them, they didn’t answer their phone,” they student said. “It was just an automatic machine, and it said to contact them through email. Then I did, and they told me that a representative would get back to me. No one ever did.”
Feature Image Courtesy of public records at CPP
A previous version of this article claimed that there was not a clinical triage system in place which was false as there is one in place. It has been corrected. Additionally, a previous version of this article stated in paragraph six that the CAPS department has planned to expand but they have already expanded. This has been corrected. Finally at the time of the interview CAPS informed our writers their plans to hire more counselors and a new director, since the interview CAPS has hired a new director who is set to start May 22, 2023.
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