Kaler’s budget boosts mental health funds

As a part of President Kaler’s 2017 budget, $97K will be put toward mental health resources.

by Kevin Beckman

Amid a push from students to increase funding for mental health resources, President Eric Kaler’s budget recommendation for the 2017 fiscal year includes almost $100,000 in new funding for Boynton Health Service.

An emailed statement from the University said Boynton Health submitted a two-year request for an increase in funding during the Student Services Fee planning process for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. 

Kaler’s $3.8 billion budget proposal presented to the Board of Regents last month would invest $97,200 into mental health resources on the Twin Cities campus — a “top priority” for the University, according to Kaler.

Regent Richard Beeson said he was pleased mental health was getting more attention.

“Regents haven’t talked about this enough,” Beeson said. “This is an issue everybody seems to be rallying behind.”

Board of Regents Chair Dean Johnson said regents are continuing to talk with administrators about new ways to invest in mental health, including the possibility of placing mental health counselors in residence halls.

“That’s where counselors ought to be,” Johnson said. “Surrounded by their students.”

Despite optimistic responses from regents and administrators, some students feel the new allocations aren’t enough.

“I would hope that … this is not the end of what the president’s office and the regents have in mind for prioritizing mental health as they said they would like to,” said incoming Minnesota Student Association President Abeer Syedah. “I obviously appreciate any funding to mental health and am grateful that there’s funds sent in this direction, but when students are dying, I can’t help but feel like $97,000 feels off.”  

Carl Anderson, Director and Chief Health Officer for Boynton Health said that in addition to the $97,200 allocation for 2017, the offices of the provost and the president hope to establish two new Boynton positions and four new Student Counseling Services positions. 

The planned funding for 2017 might remove waiting lists at Boynton, Anderson said. 

Anderson said the University’s administration is also discussing plans to provide extra funding for 2017 that would exceed the current $97,200 allocation.

“I wouldn’t want people to get the idea that there’s no new funding,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot more going on.” 

Administration reallocations

Kaler’s budget also proposes to reallocate $15 million in administrative costs as part of the president’s goal to cut $90 million from University spending by 2019.

By shrinking administrative spending, the University will be 81 percent — or $73 million — closer to Kaler’s goal with two years remaining, a University statement said.

“We’re always looking for ways to shrink costs,” said Board Chair Dean Johnson. “Anything in the administration that can become more efficient is the right road to be on.”

Regent Thomas Anderson said the administrative reallocations were a good strategy to ensure that money coming into the University is going toward the University’s “core mission.”

“They’re not exactly cuts,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of a ‘wait and see’ deal. We just have to make sure we’re not adding administrative costs somewhere else.”

Tuition Increases

Despite strong pushback from University students, Kaler’s budget proposal also includes tuition increases for three of the school’s campuses — including a 2.5 percent tuition hike for resident and reciprocity undergraduate students on the Twin Cities campus.

Nonresident undergraduates on the Twin Cities campus could expect a 9.9 percent hike, amounting to an extra $2,040 per year.

Beeson said the Board will examine how out-of-state tuition increases could affect students’ decision to apply to the University.

During the regents’ May board meeting, Kaler said even with a  tuition increase proposal, the University of Minnesota ranks within the two lowest-cost universities in the Big Ten.

Regent Chair Dean Johnson echoed Kaler after the meeting.

“You have to look at the facts,” Johnson said. “And the facts are we are one of the lowest-cost Universities in the Big Ten.”

Board members said they have been involved in formal and informal meetings with University administration to fine-tune the budget.

The regents are expected to vote on a finalized budget at their meeting in June.