Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Bill addresses mental health among college students

by Angelica Relente, Herald Legislative Writer
| February 23, 2021 1:00 AM

Community and technical colleges in Washington may have the opportunity to better serve their students’ mental health needs if a proposed bill passes during this year’s state legislative session.

House Bill 1468 would authorize the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges to create a pilot program to make mental health and counseling services more accessible to students, according to the bill’s text.

The BCTC would supply grants to eight community and technical colleges in the state, according to the bill’s text, with four colleges located away from the Puget Sound area. Colleges would undergo an application process to be considered for the pilot program.

Matt Killebrew, director of communications for Big Bend Community College, based near Moses Lake, said in an interview with the Herald he supports HB 1468. Mental health concerns have become prevalent, even more so when the coronavirus pandemic began.

In 2019, the state legislature established a task force of community and technical college counselors to address how schools should meet their students’ mental health needs, according to the bill’s text.

“It’s good to see that they’re taking the concern of the task force seriously, and (the pilot program) seems like a really good first step to providing more resources for our students,” Killebrew said.

Many students who attend Big Bend are the first in their families to attend college, Killebrew said. First-generation students may face challenging situations more often and may not receive a lot of support at times. A bill like HB 1468 could help these students.

“It’s going to be really exciting to see (the bill) grow,” Killebrew said. “It could be even interesting to try and be a part of the pilot program.”

Killebrew said Big Bend has a counseling services department. Its services are offered virtually because of the pandemic. The college also has a Campus Assessment Response and Evaluation Team, or CARE Team, that helps students who are going through difficult situations.

Rep. Vandana Slatter, D-Bellevue, is HB 1468’s primary sponsor. Slatter said during a virtual legislative hearing Feb. 8 student mental health concerns have continued to rise over the years — the pandemic just added more salt to the wound.

“We see a variance in how these different colleges respond to and deal with mental health care,” Slatter said. “I think that there’s a need for more resources.”

Slatter said HB 1468 would prevent a “blanket policy” from forming and instead allow community and technical colleges to address their students’ mental health needs in a way that works best for the college.

HB 1468 passed the House College and Workforce Development Committee on Feb. 11 and will move to the Appropriations Committee for further deliberation. Representatives had not voted on the final passage of the bill as of Monday.