ORLANDO - Pasco-Hernando Community College was one of four colleges in the state to receive the Best Practice Award for innovation and excellence last week.
The college was recognized by Florida College System Chancellor Randy Hanna during the Association of Florida Colleges' 64th annual convention in Orlando for its Student Assistance Program with BayCare Behavioral Health - the first public-private initiative among Florida colleges to outsource student counseling services.
"From dealing with anxiety to study skills, or other more serious issues, BayCare Behavioral Health through its student assistance program is committed to helping students have a healthy, successful college experience," said Chris Yarnold, director of specialty services at BayCare. "We congratulate Pasco-Hernando Community College for the award and for prioritizing student mental health. We truly value the partnership that we have with PHCC administration and faculty in helping students succeed."
This is the second such award the college has earned since 2011, when the college was recognized for its Making Achievement Possible program, which helps students qualify for financial aid, according to Vice President for Student Development and Enrollment Management Tim Beard.
"It was more of a proactive response to the tragedy that happened six years ago at Virginia Tech," Beard said of the Student Assistance Program. "Across the country, higher education professionals were looking to bring calmness to institutions and keep students safe, and we felt counseling would be a good approach to make sure students get what they need as far as mental health."
The college partnered with BayCare Life Management, which according to hospital communications specialist Beth Hardy provides problem assessment, crisis intervention, short-term problem resolution, monitoring, follow-up services and consultation for students with substance abuse, behavioral health or mental health needs.
Those needs might include difficulties with adjusting, anxiety, building successful relationships, conflict resolution, post-traumatic stress and overcoming procrastination.
"We certainly felt it would give our students the type of help they needed, and students go through great transition so they have the guarantee they have someone to talk to during their difficulties and anxieties," Beard said.
In addition, the private-public partnership has saved the college almost $220,000 annually in costs that would have otherwise been spent on advisory salaries and benefits, Beard said.
Those savings are being funneled into the Financial Aid office, Beard said, where the need for added staff is highest.
According to the Florida Department of Education, the program's success has been quantified through monthly and annual assessments, which show an increase in student persistence, graduation rates and the feelings of safety and security among students, staff and faculty.
Referrals to the college's Student Assistance Program are made by faculty, staff, assistant deans of student development, fellow students and students self-referring, Beard said.
Students referred receive three to five free counseling sessions, and additional sessions are authorized by Beard if warranted.
Example of referrals include the Financial Aid office after a student became homeless due to eviction, a groundskeeper because a student was homeless due to a family situation, a professor because a student became suddenly inattentive and disheveled, another professor because a student said she felt she "didn't matter," and an assistant dean of student development because of harassment occurring outside of school.
"I was lost. I had no help for my mental illness, which was starting to affect my schooling," one student wrote in a satisfaction survey. "My psych teacher advised me of (the Student Assistance Program), and once I contacted them I was successfully put on this road to recovery."
PHCC students can contact the program's toll-free helpline 24-hours a day, seven days a week at (800) 878-5470.