America’s teens and young adults report record levels of mental-health issues, and college counselors are reporting ever-increasing demand for their services. The demands have only escalated with the coronavirus pandemic.

The federal Centers for Disease Control are encouraging universities to ramp up counseling for students feeling overwhelmed. At a time of social distancing and remote learning, tele-counseling services offered by universities across the country are a key hope for assisting displaced students.

Yet even in the best of times, when students have direct physical access to campus resources, universities have had difficulties providing mental-health services to their students.

What Records Reveal

Filings with U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights show more than 50 substantiated cases in the past five years in which universities fell short of federal law in helping at-risk students.

At universities across the nation, leave-of-absence policies have been found to discriminate against those with mental-health disabilities, public records show.

Federal filings show professors ignoring required accommodations for students with certified special needs, universities not having enough staff to help those with mental illness, and schools not providing counseling for victims of sexual assault—a population that is particularly susceptible to mental-health problems.

What What We Found

Department of Education documents are one of the few, limited windows into the secretive world of how the nation’s more than 4,500 two- and four-year colleges handle the mental-health challenges that may be encountered by their 20 million students.

Cases are typically handled behind closed doors under medical privacy laws. Settlements of Department of Education complaints do become public. Lawsuits shed additional light on disputes.