Student fees may fix counseling budget shortfall

By Tyler Short

After the 2015 donation for the Lewis & Clark Counseling Service became depleted this school year, several options were considered as replacements for the donor’s funding and to determine the course of action for the Counseling Service. Some included program cutbacks, per-visit charges and additional semester tuition fees. Two weeks ago, the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark (ASLC) passed a resolution supporting the use of $129,000 of general budget funds for the Counseling Service in the 2018-2019 school year. This funding is a short-term solution for a long-term problem, as it would only provide relief for the program for another year. Consequently, it would be challenging to hire additional staff due to the fragility of job stability at the Counseling Service if these funds fail to be maintained in the future.

Several other proposals were presented to the ALSC that they do not currently support, including options that would prevent service cuts and strengthen the stability of the Counseling Service. There was discussion of a $16 semesterly fee that would maintain current staffing levels and a $19 semesterly fee that would also allow the program to rehire a counseling position that was previously terminated. Lastly, there is the possibility of a $3 semesterly fee, permitting the hiring of a part-time dietitian who would provide nutritional counseling. These proposals can be combined and would be discussed in conjunction with tuition negotiations. Increased student fees are generally undesirable due to LC’s already expensive tuition. However, I believe that it would be a more feasible and responsible decision for the school to adopt a low semesterly fee, especially given the state of the school’s budget.

According to John Hancock, Associate Dean for Health and Wellness and Chief Psychologist at LC, if the donor’s funding is not able to be met next year, the program would suffer from a 15 percent reduction in the staffing and services available at the Counseling Service. Worrying statistics suggest that there has been an increase in the severity of mental health within the student body, and any cutbacks would be detrimental. As shown by the LC 2016 Wellness Survey, approximately 36 percent of students reported being diagnosed or treated for a mental health condition and 16 percent reported that they seriously considered suicide, which is substantially higher than previous years. Therefore, the $19 per semester fee conjoined with the $3 per semester dietitian fee is the most beneficial decision for the LC student body, for we would be provided with more than adequate support.

With the $22 semesterly fee, LC could maintain its current level of student coverage and even potentially hire another counselor and a dietician, without drawing from the general budget. This would improve the efficiency and quality of the Counseling Services, since each counselor would not be terribly overworked. The impact of individual Counseling Service staff members is monumental, as demonstrated in the Student Mental Health meeting led by Hancock in February.  Over the span of one year, a single counselor sees approximately 90 students with 298 client sessions, provides walk-in services once a week, after-hour on-call support for two weeks per semester and facilitates a support group for survivors of unwanted sexual experiences. These services have shown to be beneficial for the LC student body: the average student reported that their level of functioning, on a 1-10 scale, increased from 4.65 to 7.16 after approximately six counseling sessions.

Since mental health issues can be inhibitory and detrimental to daily life, they often infringe on academic performance. With the increased level of functioning that stems from counseling arrives a heightened ability in students to thrive academically.

Numerous Northwest private colleges have a Student Health Fee that covers counseling services, such as Whitworth University, Willamette University and Gonzaga University. If LC identifies wants to support its students, then it should follow these other institutions’ example and approve the additional fees. Consequently, they would maintain strong mental health services and display a deep appreciation of attending to students’ demands. Our demands deserve to be met, we deserve contentment. And I recognize that it is difficult for students to get on board with an additional fee, but with the current approved plan, the possibility of reduced counseling services still remains a threat. However, we can influence their decision. Contact ASLC representatives and let your voice be heard. Our school needs it.

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