UTPB to offer mental health programs

University of Texas Permian Basin, 4901 E University Blvd, Odessa, TX 79762. (Odessa American File Photo)

University of Texas Permian Basin is the recent beneficiary of $6 million from the state legislature for mental health and health programs.

While mental health will be a big focus for the funds, “We are really ramping up all of our health care programs to meet the gaps and the needs in the Permian Basin in conjunction with Permian Strategic Partnership and many other foundations who are working on this issue,” UTPB President Sandra Woodley said.

“The Behavioral Health Center that’s about to open up in a few years, we want to make sure that we do our part in developing the workforce that will be needed for that — clinical counselors, social work counselors. These are master’s level programs,” Woodley said.

Those counselors are going to be needed at the Behavioral Health Center.

“We are working on initiatives that will allow us to provide scholarships and marketing to recruit these students from the various majors across the campus into these master’s level programs so that those graduates will be ready and available when the Behavioral Health Center opens,” Woodley said.

“There are other health programs that we’re working on, as well. We already are working on pre-med programs, pre-health programs that feed into Texas Tech Health Science Center’s physicians program. We want to be able to do that.

“Nursing is another area where we’re really ramping up as well, to make sure that we have clinical nurses for these positions that are badly needed in the Permian Basin. The money will allow us to provide scholarships and staff positions, to hire faculty, support coordinators (and) student success personnel that would really help these students graduate and get on to the workforce,” Woodley said.

UTPB is about to start a master’s in social work program, but you can already get a master’s in counseling, clinical mental health counseling and psychology, for example.

“This money will allow us to significantly ramp them up and to recruit new students into the pipeline and the support that we need to significantly increase the number of graduates that come out of those programs,” Woodley said.

Part of the challenge with those programs is that even though they’re master’s level, the salaries are not as high as nurses or engineers.

A lot like the teacher shortage, Woodley said there is a mental health worker shortage. “It’s really such (an) important vocation. We want to make sure that our marketing campaign, which a part of this money will help us with, will allow us to identify the people who most connect with that kind of work,” she added.

She noted that it’s important to make sure the students don’t come out of school with a lot of debt.

“Having full scholarships that allow the students the ability to complete without any debt will be another selling factor for many potential students who may consider these really important programs,” Woodley said.

There will be a lot of jobs at the Behavioral Health Center. The workers needed may have associate or tech degrees, baccalaureate and master’s level.

“Really, I think it’s a group effort between Odessa College, Midland College and UTPB on making sure that collectively, we all do our part to ensure that the Behavioral Health Center has what they need when they open,” Woodley said.

She added that all these workers will have the ability to continue their education and move into higher level positions over time.

“It provides a nice ecosystem, if you will, of opportunities and options for people who will go into mental health work. We badly need that center,” Woodley said.

Psychiatrists and doctors will likely come from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

“… But the feeder to that work comes from our pre-health programs and our health programs. I’ll mention Dr. (Timothy) Benton, as well at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center. They’re a wonderful collaborative partner for us. We work very closely with them, and … all of the other educational providers here because we can work together to determine where the gaps are and avoid unnecessary duplication of effort,” Woodley said.

Getting the funding was no surprise.

“A big thank you goes out to particularly Brooks Landgraf and Sen. Sparks and Speaker (Rep. Tom) Craddick, R-Midland. I think collectively, the three of them worked very hard to make sure that the resources came to the Permian Basin, not only for the Behavioral Health Center, but for those of us who have to provide the workforce,” Woodley said.

She added that UTPB, OC and MC are the quintessential grow your own institutions.

“Most of our students come from the Permian Basin and most of our students stay here and work in the Permian Basin. That’s a much better formula and investment for getting the workforce here. Our students already love the Permian Basin and want to stay here with their families, so to support that grow your own type of institution that we are and our sister institutions at the community college level is a wise investment. Kudos to our legislative delegation who understand that and work really hard to get the resources to us,” Woodley said.

She added that UTPB got funds that will allow them to retain enough revenue so they won’t have to increase tuition and fees for the next few years.

“That’s good for our students and having the revenue that allows us to continue to make progress was also really important as well. The cost of everything has gone up and so it’s nice to keep the cost constant for our students,” Woodley said.