In many conversations with students, staff and faculty throughout the past year, it has become increasingly apparent that we must quickly and thoughtfully address the growing mental health and wellness needs of our students. Like so many young people today, students on our campus may experience mental health challenges – and we need to help them in a timely manner. We cannot expect students to do well academically, socially or spiritually and be successful at St. Thomas unless we make their health and wellness a priority.

We are responding in a way that will put the health and wellness of our students front and center while making St. Thomas an innovator in student well-being.

Thanks to the leadership of our Undergraduate Student Government (USG), we have hired additional counselors for this year. This will decrease the time a student in need must wait to see a counselor.

At the same time, we are developing a new Center for Well-Being to open in the fall of 2019.  The center will integrate counseling, primary health services, wellness and violence prevention into one location. Students who seek help will be able to access both physical and mental health services in an integrated care setting, in a timely manner. The center will promote the health of mind, spirit and body to help our students become resilient learners and engaged members of our university community.

While I am grateful that we are working hard to meet the needs of our students and excited about the vision of the Center for Well-Being, this planning has included some difficult choices. After careful thought, we have chosen a location for the new center, and, because space on our St. Paul campus is constrained, this will require some changes. The current Child Development Center (CDC) will close at the end of this academic year and be renovated into the Center for Well-Being.

This was a very difficult decision. The CDC has done a wonderful job over the years developing children. We care deeply for the employees and families who use the CDC and certainly for the children who attend. We have made it a priority to give the employees, families and children adequate time to deal with this closure. A transition plan has been put in place to support those impacted. We have identified other child care options for families and are providing resources, including one month of free child care, to help with this transition. You can read more about the transition plans for the staff at the CDC and the families who are impacted by clicking here.

Affordable child care is a concern for many employees at St. Thomas; however, the CDC currently serves only a handful of employees and students with child care needs. As of today, fewer than 1 percent of our employees use the CDC for child care. As we continue to address the impact of the CDC closure, we also are exploring how St. Thomas can better help more employees with affordable child care needs. As a start, we have entered into an agreement with New Horizon Academy to provide all university full-time and part-time employees a 10 percent discount for child care at any New Horizon location. This discount applies even if these employees use New Horizon today. In addition, New Horizon will provide a discounted backup child care rate for any employees even if they do not use New Horizon as their primary child care provider. In the longer term, we also will pursue opportunities for child care on or near campus that will be available to more employees.

This was a thoughtful decision process, and I am grateful for the work that is being done to help the employees at the CDC and the families and children who use the CDC. We are putting the needs of our students and their mental health as a top priority and shifting our child care focus to one providing better access to more employees. I am confident that this is the right decision for our campus community.

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