Public Policy Update

When we in APA's Public Policy Office (PPO) go to Capitol Hill to make the case to a legislative leader about the value of psychology to education, science or the public interest, the most valuable resource we have--our crown jewel as advocates for psychology--is you. Nearly every advocacy achievement that's been made can be traced back to the commitment and involvement of one or more APA members.

Here is a true story of your work in action. But the end, not yet written, depends on you.

During the 108th Congress, members of both chambers are scheduled to create and debate legislation for the president's signature that renews and strengthens federal postsecondary education policies. The Higher Education Act (HEA) is home to many important programs and complex formulas. While complicated, its goals are simple: to provide access and opportunity to individuals pursuing postsecondary study. It does more than simply provide financial aid to students; it also funds programs that encourage greater participation and success in pursuit of a degree. Two important committees in Congress oversee the reauthorization process--the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

APA has a longstanding interest in higher-education policy affected by HEA. Its related interests range from accrediting programs to ensuring students have the support necessary to enter and complete their graduate education. With the help of APA members, APA's Education PPO staff recently realized there was a new area of need that could significantly affect student success: psychological and behavioral intervention on campuses.

The staff recognized the opportunity after looking at a study authored by Sherry Benton, PhD, of Kansas State University (KSU). Benton's study found that today's students were entering college with more complex problems than before. The study resulted in changes at KSU to better treat students there and noted implications for other counseling centers to consider ways to better address the needs of the students on their campuses.

In line with that, Benton's study looked at the national changes in counseling center client problems over the past decade. Since Congress was beginning work on HEA and Benton's work brought attention to a growing problem among the college-age population, the time seemed ripe for PPO to offer up a solution.

So last January, Education PPO submitted recommendations to improve HEA to both the House and the Senate as well as to the Bush administration. One recommendation called for the creation of a program that would provide competitive grants for federal funds to increase and enhance the psychological services provided on campuses.

Psychologist Emil Rodolfa, PhD, of the University of California, Davis, caught wind of the idea and breathed more life into it. Through listservs and other such means, he solicited the support of colleagues such as Karen Lese-Fowler, PhD, of the University of San Diego, Rebecca MacNair-Semands, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Sherry Benton, Bob Portnoy, PhD, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Louise Douce, PhD, of Ohio State University. They provided information to Education PPO and, in turn, we were able to share that information with congressional offices. However, though it articulated a real need, the proposal remained stuck on paper.

What happened next? In September, the Education Directorate held its second annual Education Leadership Conference. As part of that conference, attendees participated in advocacy training and made visits to their members of Congress to talk about issues of importance to the nation--and to psychology. Nearly half of the participants made the case for supporting campus mental health centers.

One participant, Harvette Grey, PhD, of DePaul University, visited Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.). Her articulate plea gained the attention of his chief of staff, Richard Boykin. In a follow-up visit by Education PPO staff, Rep. Davis, a member of the Education and the Workforce Committee, agreed to sponsor Education PPO's proposal.

Meanwhile, the University of Nebraska's Portnoy heard of the proposal and of Education PPO's failure at that point to garner the support of Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.), a respected republican on the Education and the Workforce Committee. Portnoy, a Nebraskan, called Erin Duncan, Osborne's legislative director, and explained his work in a college counseling center and how it met the needs of Nebraskans. As a result, he was able to do what PPO staff could not--and Rep. Osborne agreed to sponsor the initiative. On Nov. 21, Davis and Osborne introduced H.R. 3593, the Campus Care and Counseling Act, which is the APA-recommended legislation. This bill will serve as the basis for an amendment to HEA.

This is where the story ends. There is still work to be done--and there is still time for you to get involved. We will work with the offices of Reps. Davis and Osborne in the months ahead to determine how to move this idea forward and gather more support for the bill. We will also reach out to members of the Senate.

Therefore, we will need APA members to get on board and convince other legislators that this program is necessary, worthy of federal support and will make a difference in helping students achieve success in college.

Supporting mental and behavioral health services on college campuses touches each directorate within APA: It would provide resources for education and training; it involves the application of research to practice; it involves clinical practice; and finally, it highlights the need for psychological services to a community--specifically targeting a population in need of services. Much of the work that you do every day can serve as a resource in our work to make needed psychological services more available to students on campuses across the nation.

Every one of our 150,000 members has the potential to make a difference in the legislative arena. And once an activist, always an activist. The power one voice has to make a difference in others' lives is contagious.

Further Reading

For more information or to get involved, please contact Jenny Smulson, Education Public Policy Office, via e-mail.