The University will set aside $40,000 for its counseling center to continue offering free sessions to students this year, underscoring the high priority placed on mental health programs over the last year.
The counseling center began providing free appointments last fall, cutting its $50-per-session fee after campus groups argued that the cost deterred students from seeking help. But a 14-percent increase in one-on-one sessions from September to April compared to the previous year prompted concerns that the center would need to restore the fee to meet its fundraising target of $80,000 each fiscal year.
This month, Senior Associate Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said the UCC will only need to raise half that amount this year and GW will pick up the rest of the tab.
The funding was not redirected from one specific area of the University’s budget, which is controlled by the Board of Trustees, but instead came from GW’s wider funding pool.
“Its a good endorsement by the University’s leadership that the six free sessions is a good model,” Konwerski said. Lowering the UCC’s expected revenue contribution puts "less pressure" on the center to charge for sessions, he added.
Interim director of the UCC Mark Levine said the increase in appointments over the past year showed "the impact of decreasing the financial barrier to getting mental health services through UCC" and encouraged GW to keep the reduced costs.
Konwerski and Levine led a formal review of the center's budget this summer, and found internal strategies to shave costs and improve efficiency.
The counseling center is hiring for seven positions – including four new clinicians – this fall, and Konwerski said it will look to fill some of those spots with staff who do not hold doctoral degrees. This would allow GW to stretch its dollars for salaries, paying those without additional experience “a little less.”
The University saw more clients come into the center last year, but noticed less growth from moneymaking services like career evaluations. Predicting that the lack of cash flow into the center would take a toll on its budget, student leaders like SA President Ashwin Narla called on administrators to preserve the free sessions.
The counseling services on campus came under the spotlight after a student’s suicide in April 2011.
Last year, the University launched a mental health-focused online referral system to identify at-risk students, which is seeing an official launch this fall. About 375 at-risk students were identified through the University’s quiet rollout of the site last fall.