Health fees proposed to increase to cover department cuts

Sean Keister

The Counseling and Psychological Services Department is proposing an increase to the mandatory student health fee by adding $35 to the $75 per semester students already pay as part of their tuition.

This idea is being proposed to offset the cuts to the department over the past two years. It is hoped the fee increase would help stabilize funding in order to protect quality service for students.

The current fee allows students access to both primary and urgent care, and access to the pharmacy, lab and wellness programs.

Clinical director Karen Durst, who also counsels students, said the fee increase is necessary in order to stabilize the program, so it will not further be hurt by budget cuts.

“I imagine what would happen is that we will try to definitely keep our core services,” Durst said. “But some of those other things might go away, or might be reduced. So we would try our hardest to do what we could. Those are the worst case scenarios in the back of our minds.”

The fate of the fee increase is now in the hands of the Student Fee Advisory Committee. The committee will take in consideration the case Durst made, along with the results of a survey sent to more than 28,000 students two weeks ago.

When asked: “Do you think we should have counseling on college campuses?” 89 percent said yes. Also, when asked, “Do you think it’s a risk if we don’t have it?” 82 percent of respondents said yes.

“It was a narrow margin, but 52.9 percent of the students we surveyed said yes we would support this increase,” Durst said. “These are tough times and for us to have positive feedback from the students saying ‘Yeah, we think it’s important enough that we’ll do it,’ was really heartwarming.”

They will also seek to improve outreach efforts and provide wider dissemination of information about wellness, stress reduction, self-care and suicide prevention efforts.

The department found that, on average, 30 percent of college students nationwide reported they have felt so depressed that it was difficult for them to function during the past year. Nationwide, 4 percent seriously considered suicide in the past year.

Lisa Johnson, associate director of clinical operations at Student Health Services, said it is important for students to know that counselors are going to be there when they need help through difficult times.

“Based on the information that we have, depression and mental health issues are a lot of the reasons why students don’t succeed at a university setting,” Johnson said. “Just the kinds of stressors that students feel first time away from home: finals, testing and just trying to support themselves is difficult.”

She said it may become more challenging to continue providing these services at the current funding levels.

The Counseling and Psychological Services Department does not know the timetable for the committee’s decision.

In the last two years, the department has had a 35 percent decrease in its budget. Durst said that decrease leaves them with long waiting lists and reductions in service.

“We don’t really know what’s going to happen with the state budget,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to prepare, so we know if something happens we have the ability to continue to offer these services to students.”

Since there are so many students on campus, she said the fee increase would help meet the demand for availability of appointments.

Increasing the mandatory student health services fee will allow Student Health Services and the department to fully integrate and work together to provide accessible counseling and psychiatric services to meet the student demand for services.

Justin Butterfield, junior biochemistry major, said he does not have a problem with the increase, because it does not seem considerably high compared to everything else inflating tuition.

“If it helps somebody, why not,” Butterfield said. “It’s better than boosting administration salary.”

Danny Avila, senior history major, said he would not support the increase because he does not use it.

“I would feel bad for those who it would help, but I don’t need it. So I don’t think (the increase) is necessary,” Avila said.

If the proposal succeeds, Durst and Johnson hope to merge the department and Student Health Services.

With integration of Durst’s department and Student Health Services, both she and Johnson hope to further the continuity of care and reduce the stigma students feel about seeking out mental health services.

“We would be treating the whole person,” Johnson said. “A person’s mind and body are connected so we would be able to provide those types of services in a more integrated form so that medical providers would be easily able to provide resources for students.”

Durst said it can also benefit students who might be too embarrassed to see a counselor.

“The neat thing is that sometimes we see that students feel more comfortable coming into see their medical provider and it they are asked the right questions, sometimes they begin to talk about psychological issues,” Durst said. “Tears come, they feel anxious, they feel sad and it’s nice being in the same general area that a provider could have the resources to say ‘Well let me get you to see somebody, let’s see what we can do,’ and it’s a much easier process. I think that’s going to happen.”

Though Durst is the director of the department, she said she still spends about 20 percent of her time counseling students one-on-one.

“It’s probably my favorite part still,” Durst said. “It’s the part where you sit there and go, ‘Wow, this is really neat watching the growth and watching that kind of experience of people getting it and understanding more about themselves and moving forward.’ It’s powerful.”