Counseling Center wants to add student fee, hire more counselors

Rachel Christian

The Counseling Center wants to add an activity fee to students’s bills in order to help pay for services.

Thomas Longwell, Counseling Center director, went before SGA March 27 to discuss the possibility of adding a $20 fee to tuition bills to help cover the hiring and salary of new counselors.

“We simply don’t have enough people,” Longwell said.

The center would be able to hire between two and four new counselors with money obtained by the proposed fee. The counselors would help provide relief in the area of crisis counseling and outreach.

The small staff at the center is causing lengthy waits for students – as long as three weeks during the center’s peak times.

Students who are dealing with an immediate problem or crisis get top priority, which can cause other students to wait even longer. Longwell said this is why the center would like to have a counselor who only manages crisis cases.

Hiring additional counselors would also help eliminate the strain that’s placed on other departments.

“We’ve been so busy trying to help out the Counseling Center, I haven’t had time to do what I was actually hired for,” Assistant Dean of Students Tara Frank said during the SGA meeting.

Longwell and Dean of Students Angela Batista both said the new fee and new counselors would benefit students and improve retention rates.

Most students leave college for personal or social issues, not academic ones, Longwell said. The Counseling Center could assist these students and keep them enrolled.

“Part of the reason USI is a safe campus is because we’ve worked with the resources we have,” Batista said. “But, we’re at a point now where we need more resources.”

Money collected from the fee would only be used to help hire more counselors.

Still, SGA members raised concerns.

One concern was whether the new fee would set a precedent for other USI offices to start charging fees, until students were overwhelmed with additional charges.

Batista said she didn’t think that was likely.

Other schools – such as the University of Evansville and IUPUI – already have a similar counseling fee in place, so it wouldn’t be unusual for USI to follow suit, Longwell said.

Faculty members at the meeting said they didn’t want to rely on state funding, which can vary from year to year or be cut completely.

“We really see this as more of a self-correcting model,” Longwell said.

The maximum amount the Counseling Center would seek is $20, but Longwell said it’s more likely the Center will ask for $17.

The small fee would add up to a big number, though.

Using the 9,902 students enrolled at USI during the fall 2013 semester as a guide, a $17 fee per semester would raise about $336,700 every year, or more than $84,000 a counselor, if the center hired four. If the fee was $20, each counselor could make almost $100,000 a year.

It would cover salary, health insurance, retirement benefits and “miscellaneous employment expenses,” Longwell said.

A small portion of the money would also be allocated to hire a part-time administrative assistant to help with the increased workload generated by the new counselors, he added.

A full-time Indiana resident student at USI rakes out $200 to $270 a semester in various fees.

The Counseling Center said it would not be able to immediately hire counselors if the fee was approved.

“We don’t know the specifics of how long the fee has to be collected before we can begin hiring,” Batista said. “We would work with the financial department to get that figured out once we got the fee approved.”

Some students say the fee would be worth it.

“Twenty bucks really isn’t much,” said Sara Burge, SGA College of Nursing and Health Professions representative. “This is obviously going to help a lot of people. I don’t think students are going to care about paying an amount like that.”

The Counseling Center will finalize the request and give it to Provost Ronald Rochon within the next week or two.

The proposal will not be part of the budget hearings, but it will likely be discussed there, Longwell said.

Longwell and Batista encourage students to come to them with any suggestions or concerns about the possible fee and the Counseling Center.