UCC revenue dips after fee removals

by Sarah Ferris

Media Credit: Allison Elfring

About 20 percent more students sought help from the University Counseling Center this year, but the center saw less growth in moneymaking services like career evaluations, referrals for longer-term support and assessments for academic withdrawal.

With more students taking advantage of the center’s six free individual sessions, less money is coming into the center – a trend that could force the University to reconsider the fee as it examines the UCC budget this summer.

“At the end of the academic year, we’ll begin to look at, ‘What do we think?’ The big question is: ‘Will we continue it next year?’ So we’re going to spend time analyzing from a clinical perspective, from a financial perspective, from a student satisfaction perspective,” the center’s interim director Mark Levine said.

The University cut the $50 charge this fall for individual counseling sessions, after a student suicide last April led to intense campus lobbying for the elimination of the fee. In February, the counseling center also nixed a $10 fee for group sessions, a program Levine said has seen massive growth since last year.

Dean of Students Peter Konwerski, who oversees the center, would not go into detail about its budget for this academic year, but confirmed that revenue is down, adding, “that would be anticipated when you’re not charging for the first six sessions.”

“Most importantly, we want to make sure we can run the center and bring in enough money to operate, and that’s what the review will look at,” Konwerski said.

The pair will decide this summer if changes will be made to the price scale – such as reinstating the fee or cutting the number of free sessions – though neither would predict the outcome at this time. When reviewing the budget, Konwerski and Levine will also consider staff input and student evaluations of the program when making the decision to keep or scrap the free sessions.

Junior Rachel Krausman, co-founder of Active Minds – a student organization dedicated to mental health that lobbied for the fee’s removal – said even if the center loses revenue, she believes the University would compensate that drop by budgeting more funds instead of cutting the number of free sessions for students.

“You can't have the University decrease services just because the revenue isn’t coming in,” she said, adding that staff may “get more creative” to prevent losses, as was done several years ago with the implementation of a $30 "no show" fee.

Demand for individual counseling swelled 20 percent this year compared to past years. Other services saw a 7 percent increase in appointments, about half the average annual increase for programs.

Special assessments – including the $50 evaluation required to withdraw from GW on mental health grounds and counseling sessions that charge $50 for career or personality assessments – still draw revenue to the center.

The counseling center uses the revenue to pay for salaries, administrative costs and other expenses.

Last October, then-head of the center John Dages said about 1,300 visitors came to the counseling center last year for an average of four visits. Dages said he expected the fee elimination would lead to a budget shortfall but did not report a large gap at the time.

UCC staff spent time this year evaluating outreach, clinical care and operations through a month-long review, prompted by Dages' resignation in December. Recommendations from the review, which concluded in January, included boosting visibility of the center’s services on campus, stronger partnerships with other offices across GW that support mental health and lifting staff morale through more regular communication.

Signs of poor staff retention surfaced earlier this year, when The Hatchet reported an 11-counselor exodus since fall 2009. Four out of nine full-time employees left the center between July and September 2011.

Levine said the nine-member full-time staff has grown closer and raised its energy – noticeable differences he attributed partly to the review and partly to the fresh leadership he brought to the center.

“We certainly spend more time meeting as a staff talking about things and thinking about their experience and their retention,” he said. “That’s a high priority for us.”

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