Southern Adventist University administration has approved a new Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) to address mental health on campus and is preparing for the first stage of implementation for the Fall 2022 semester, according to Dionne Felix, associate vice president for Academic Administration, and Tyson Hall, dean of Graduate and Professional Studies.
According to Tiffany Bartell, Counseling Services coordinator and QEP director, the QEP is a five-year, university-wide plan to improve student learning and enhance the quality of students’ experiences at Southern. Bartell said the QEP is a process governed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the regional accrediting body.
Bartell said administration chose the topic of mental health for a variety of reasons, including an increase in the number of counseling appointments.
“Administration has [been] increasingly concerned about the mental health of students at SAU as they have witnessed the increase in … the number of appointments in the Counseling Services office for the past seven years, the rise of mental health concerns nationally and the students’ expressed concerns,” Bartell wrote in an email to the Accent. “When evaluating the options for the next QEP cycle, a focus on mental health was chosen as a plan that could [affect] meaningful change for campus.”
According to information provided by Executive Director of Institutional Research and Planning Chris Hansen, Counseling Services experienced more than a 40% increase in the number of requested personal counseling appointments from the 2014-2015 to the 2018-2019 academic years.
Additionally, the document provided by Hansen stated that in the past eight years, Southern saw an 80% increase in the number of incoming freshmen who reported feeling frequently depressed.
“The goal of the QEP is to increase student well-being and decrease stress and psychological distress,” Bartell said. “There will be an increase of outreach, programming and resources, as well as increased campus training on mental health topics. Our goal is to create campus-wide change in the area of mental health.”
Classes that will be directly affected by the new QEP include Southern Connections, Developmental Psychology, Fit for Collegiate Life and Fit for Hire, according to Bartell. She said modules to increase the practical application of stress management will be implemented into those classes. Bartell said Counseling Services will help create some of the modules.
Counseling Services is also planning for outreach projects such as a video campaign that will allow staff, faculty, alumni and students to “share their own stories of resilience,” according to Bartell.
“So many times we think when we’re struggling, ‘I’m the only one. Everybody else has got it but me. Everybody else is feeling happy but me. Everybody else has friends but me,’” Bartell said in an interview with the Accent. “But really, I think that these stories of resilience, these stories of adversity can be really encouraging and empowering to look at our own lives and say, ‘… What have I gotten through before? How did I get through that? How can I use those same strengths and skills to tackle what I have in front of me? And it’s okay if I need help to figure that out.’
“Harvard and Stanford and some of the Ivy’s have already done these kinds of projects,” Bartell continued. “And it is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but we never really had the capacity to do it. And so, through the QEP, we’ll be able to do that on campus.”
Bartell said an annual survey will be sent out to the student body to measure the success of the plan. According to the information provided by Hansen, those surveys will have scales on stress, psychological stress and well-being.
According to Felix and Hall, the SACSCOC is scheduled to visit campus from March 1 to 3. They said the visiting team will be composed of reviewers from peer institutions who will review Southern’s QEP for compliance with SACSCOC requirements.