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Hochul’s Hypocrisy on Mental Health for Young Adults

Hochul’s Hypocrisy on Mental Health for Young Adults:

Suicide is the Second Leading Cause of College Student Deaths, Yet Counselor Shortages and Inequities Are Rampant Throughout New York’s Public Colleges

Yesterday, Governor Kathy Hochul stated that fixing our broken mental health system is her second greatest priority in her State of the State Address. However, she failed to acknowledge the major shortage of mental health counselors at all of New York’s 89 public colleges and universities, impacting the nearly 600,000 students they serve yearly. Why is this? If you look at Hochul’s track record on higher education, it becomes clear that the Governor does not see higher education students as worthy of our investment. 

The Governor spent a while in her address talking about the severity of mental health issues and suicide, touting one billion dollars in increased mental health service funding and calling it “the defining challenge of our time.” She also stated that focusing on our kids is critical. However, she has divested in young adults pursuing higher education in New York. During her address or in the briefing book, Governor Hochul didn’t mention any investments in mental health at our state-funded colleges or universities.

This continues a trend, as last year Governor Hochul proposed hiking tuition rates by 15-30 percent over the next five years at CUNY and SUNY schools. Young adult advocacy organizations, such as Young Invincibles, the New York legislature, and the CUNY and SUNY systems pushed back hard on this, understanding how these schools serve a majority of low-income, minority, and first-generation college students. The austere situation at CUNY schools, especially, further impacts these students and their mental health, with many dangerously dilapidated CUNY buildings fostering poor morale and an overburdened collegiate workforce. The CUNY faculty and staff union, the PSC, has been in protracted contract negotiations to address these issues, yet they continue to receive no support from the Governor.

Two bills would address these mental health gaps and inequities for young adults, but they also continue to go unsupported by the Governor. The first is NY Bill A04142 from Young Invincibles, sponsored by New York Assemblywoman Phara Souffrant Forrest, which would increase the ratio of mental health counselors at CUNY and SUNY schools to bring them in line with the 1:1,000 ratio called for by The International Accreditation of Counseling Services. This ratio is currently more than two times that amount at many CUNY and SUNY schools, often requiring students to wait weeks to months for a meeting with a counselor. Measures like our mental health budget bill and implementing the free Healthy Minds Checklist, as was done in Colorado, would greatly improve access to mental health services. We must also hire more counselors of color, to reflect CUNY’s diverse student body, and provide cultural humility training.

The second bill to address this issue holistically is the New Deal for CUNY, sponsored by NY Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblywoman Karines Reyes. This funding package would finally achieve an adequate academic and mental health counselor-to-student ratio and faculty-to-student ratio, update CUNY’s broken buildings, and restore CUNY to its history as a tuition-free institution for the city’s working-class students. Despite years of campaigns, marches of hundreds of individuals across the Brooklyn Bridge each year, and protests in the State Capitol outside her office with the CUNY Rising Alliance Coalition, the governor has expressed no support for this bill either. The New Deal for CUNY and hiring more counselors may seem expensive, requiring hundreds of millions of dollars in the 25 Billion Dollar State Budget, because that funding has been stripped away from our 89 public colleges and universities for decades. But more importantly, that money would help save lives and boost college persistence and graduation (see this 2022 Gallup and Lumina Foundation Study on the relationship between the college mental health crisis and postsecondary outcomes).

This continued trend signals that it will be a challenging year for young adults in New York State; as their primary ticket to the middle class and economic opportunity, our CUNY and SUNY schools will continue to face divestment from their most crucial student support services. This trend is also deadly, as our state website states, suicide “is the second leading cause of death among youth,” including those of college age, 17-24. 

We, at Young Invincibles, fear that the Governor will continue ignoring our calls to support at-risk students and those struggling with housing insecurity and mental health challenges. New York City, in particular, has become not just unaffordable but financially hostile to young adults’ ability to build wealth. We were heartened to see the prioritization of SNAP enrollment supports at CUNY and SUNY and universal FAFSA completion support, but two of the greatest priorities for young adults’ basic needs, mental health and affordable housing, continue to be ignored.

We are dismayed that these issues and young adult voices are still being sidelined in public policy. We will continue working diligently with our young adult network and partners to amplify the voices of young adults, in New York and nationally, to expand economic opportunity for all.

For more on our Young Invincibles New York State Policy Agenda for 2024, you can read more here.

For more on our National Mental Health Policy Agenda, read it here.

Written by Sean Henry Miller, Northeast Regional Director at Young Invincibles