An infusion of professional help is on the way to PK-12 schools struggling to fill mental health vacancies, thanks to a five-year, $6,777,039 grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM). The Infuse Mental Health grant aims to fill mental health professional vacancies and to increase the diversity, recruitment, training and placement of graduate students serving rural and tribal schools. Project partners include 18 Minnesota and North Dakota school districts, Turtle Mountain Tribal Community College, and 16 collaborating cooperatives, professional organizations, and state agencies.
“The Infuse Mental Health Project addresses a critical shortage of school-based mental health service providers in our region,” said Arrick Jackson, MSUM Provost & Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. “It demonstrates the excellence and expertise of our Counseling and School Psychology graduate programs and highlights our faculty members’ commitment to working with community partners to diversify and expand the number of students trained to meet those needs.”
MSU Moorhead’s School Psychology and School Counseling graduate programs collaborated on Infuse Mental Health to reduce the costs for MSUM students entering the graduate programs and to engage local, rural, and tribal schools struggling to fill mental health professional vacancies. Through this grant, students can apply for scholarships of at least $10,000 per year and up to $20,000 per student.
The Student Mental Health Crisis
Like much of the country, North Dakota and Minnesota are experiencing a youth mental health crisis. Nearly 30% of 9th-grade females in Minnesota reported long-term mental or emotional health issues. Reports of suicide ideation increased for all grade levels in the last six years. (Minnesota Student Survey, 2019) Similarly, the findings of a North Dakota study show that 18.6% of students seriously considered attempting suicide. (North Dakota Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2021).
The Shortage of Mental Health Professionals
A school-based provider may be the only mental health professional a student sees, but shortages are rampant. Minnesota has the country’s third worst school counselor ratio, with one counselor for every 792 students (vs. the recommended ratio of 1:250, per ASCA, 2021). Similarly, the state’s school psychologist ratio is 1 for every 1,127 students, more than double the National Association of School Psychology recommendations of 1 per 500 students (USDOE NCES, 2021).
The situation in rural and outstate Minnesota and North Dakota is dire. Some schools have had unfilled positions for years.
“We have had positions in school psychology posted for over seven years without a single applicant,” said Sarah Mittlestadt, director of the Southern Plains Education Cooperative. “We provide a decent salary and recruit but there are just not enough people to fill positions.” With increased remote learning options, school districts can leverage this grant to help support grow-your-own candidates who want to work and stay in the community.
Infuse Mental Health partner data, like national data, indicates a need for increased diversity of school mental health providers. The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted Native American communities. One particular area of focus for increasing diversity will be working with our Native American partners, families and communities to recruit more Native American school psychologists and school counselors.
“Some of our students and tribal members could end up matriculating to MSUM to further their education and become professionals in these much-needed positions in our communities,” said Donna Brown, president of Turtle Mountain Community College.
Infuse Mental Health Details
MSUM faculty Dr. Lisa Stewart, School Psychology program director, and Drs. Jessica Brown and Taryn Akgul, School Counseling master’s program faculty, will manage the grant. Over the next five years, the grant will support the training of graduate students in the two graduate programs.
“School counselors and school psychologists work side by side in school districts to address student mental health needs,” Stewart said. “Working together to address this professional shortage makes sense, especially when we can involve local school partners to create a culturally responsive solution.”
The total cost of the Infuse Mental Health Project is $6,778,039 and is financed by federal grant dollars for the period of January 1, 2023 through December 31, 2027. Funds were allocated 2022 Omnibus and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act BSCA and awarded through the Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Office of Safe and Supportive Schools (OSSS).
Infuse Mental Health was one of 67 projects funded nationwide by $188 million secured via the 2022 Omnibus and Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
MSUM School Psychology and School Counseling Programs
MSU Moorhead is the primary source to train and provide ongoing professional development of school counselors and school psychologists for Fargo-Moorhead and the surrounding region. Its online and in-person programs are fully accredited, accommodate working adults and meet the needs of school districts throughout the Midwest.
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