Counseling cuts fees for first six sessions

by Sarah Ferris

The University Counseling Center will offer students six free counseling sessions annually, changing its often criticized policy of charging students for its services after intense student lobbying.

“This is huge,” the director of the University Counseling Center John Dages said.

The policy change goes into effect Sept. 6.

Students previously paid $50 for each non-emergency session after an initial over-the-phone consultation, an expense campus groups criticized for deterring students from seeking support.

Last year, 1,300 students came to the center for counseling for an average of four sessions each, Dages said.

Under the new fee structure, students seeking more than six sessions will pay $60, Dages said. He added that the small uptick in price for extended sessions would help defray the center’s new expenses.

Across the U.S., 6.7 percent of universities charge for counseling sessions, according to a report by the American College Counseling Association. The average cost at centers that charge for counseling is $14 per session, the report found.

The University’s sliding fee scale, which charges students less depending on their financial situation, will still be available for students under the new policy. Dages said about 25 percent of visitors to the center qualify for reduced fees.

The center added about 10 hours to its weekly appointment schedule this fall to keep pace with an expected increase in patient numbers. Since August, the center opens at 8 a.m. every day and closes at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, and 6 p.m. on Monday, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The hours were 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily last year.

There are eight full-time counselors and five part-time counselors who can step in if the demand surges in the next few weeks.

Dages said since 2006, the center has seen a 40 percent increase in visitors, a trend that mirrors the growing national demand for campus support services.

“We are confident we can manage our resources effectively and accommodate all students,” Dages said.

Senior Associate Dean of Students Mark Levine said the University will closely monitor the pilot program, reexamining it in December with feedback from student and parent groups.

Members of the Student Association have long fought to eliminate counseling charges. At the organization’s final meeting of the 2010-2011 school year, the group passed a resolution urging the University to create opportunities for free counseling by fall 2011 and provide all services for free by fall 2012.

Jason Kaplan, a former Student Association senator who wrote the resolution, said the new model suffices for the short-term, but does not offer enough.

“There are people in the GW community who need a lot more than six sessions. They need to see someone on a weekly basis,” Kaplan, who ran an unsuccessful bid for SA president last year, said.

Student Association President John Richardson and Executive Vice President Ted Costigan lobbied administrators this summer to change the policy.

“When students brought up this issue, it really resonated with us,” Dean of Students Peter Konwerski said. “There is a stigma attached to mental health. We as educators need to break down the stereotype of seeing a counselor."

According to a survey by the American College Counseling Association, 10.8 percent of students nationwide attended at least one counseling session last year.

“The new model is more conducive to getting people in the door regardless of financial abilities,” Richardson said. “Before, the $50 fee was a huge barrier to entry.”

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