(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University’s master’s degree program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling has been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the Oregon Health Authority, and would receive another $1 million if pending legislation is approved, to help address a critical statewide shortage of behavioral healthcare practitioners.
The current OHA grant will be used in part to expand the capacity of SOU’s program to 60 students, from the current maximum of 48. There are now 40 students in the program – eight below capacity. The grant will incentivize participation in the program by making available as much as $18,000 in support for each student in next fall’s CMHC cohort – $5,000 in tuition assistance plus a $1,000 stipend per term, for as many as three terms.
“The state is working to prioritize funding to deal with the behavioral health crisis in Oregon,” SOU President Rick Bailey said. “SOU and other universities in Oregon now have an opportunity to work together and expand our existing behavioral health programs, and collaborate with community partners to meet workforce needs with more licensed mental health counselors and master’s of social work degrees.”
A new study commissioned by the state suggests that Oregon lacks the capacity to house an estimated 3,000 adult, residential mental health patients – from inpatient psychiatric beds at hospitals to facilities for those with substance use and withdrawal management issues. The report indicates a construction cost of at least $500 million, but does not address staffing or operational costs at those facilities, or workforce development costs.
SOU’s $1.8 million grant is part of the OHA’s Behavioral Health Workforce Initiative to improve care across the state, particularly for under-represented communities including people of color, tribal members, LGBTQIA+ and residents of rural Oregon. Oregon Tech received a $623,700 grant through the OHA initiative to expand its master’s degree programs in Applied Behavior Analysis and Marriage and Family Therapy.
SOU’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program is expected to add a tenure-track faculty position this winter to support the program’s increased capacity next fall.
A hearing is scheduled today for Oregon Senate Bill 1592, a separate piece of legislation sponsored by State Sen. Jeff Golden that targets the state’s behavioral mental health workforce crisis. If approved in this year’s short legislative session, the bill would provide $1 million each in funding for programs at SOU, Eastern Oregon University, Oregon Tech and Western Oregon University, and $2 million for Portland State University. SOU would use the funding to build a master’s degree in social work program, in collaboration with PSU, and to expand existing programs.
The mission of SOU’s CMHC program is to train competent, culturally aware, ethical counselors to provide exceptional mental health services in both public and private settings. The program is fully accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).