Counseling policy change sparks spike in visitors

The number of visitors to the University Counseling Center last semester swelled 15 percent compared to the previous fall.

Mark Levine, who took the helm in early December, attributes the center’s increased use to a policy implemented in September that lowered appointment costs. Starting this fall, students were allotted six free sessions yearly that previously cost $50 each.

The number of appointments also saw a 7-percent uptick compared to last fall. Levine explained that more students are using the center but are visiting less often than past years.

The waitlist for non-emergency appointments is between three and 10 days, depending on counselor availability, which fluctuates throughout the year, he said.

The counseling center also added about 10 hours to its workweek this fall, opening at 7:30 a.m. and closing at 6:30 p.m. three out of the five days it’s open. Levine said about 50 percent of these early morning and late afternoon hours have been used by students.

He said data breaking down returning and new clients this fall were unavailable.

“We believe the six-free-session pilot program has been an incentive for students to use our services,” Levine said.

Under the new fee structure, students seeking more than six sessions pay $60 per session. The number of students attending more than six sessions has been relatively stable with past semesters, Levine said, adding that he has not heard complaints from students about the $10 price increase.

Levine said students attended an average of three or four sessions this fall, compared to previous years when the average patient was seen 4.6 times.

Last year, 1,300 students sought help from the center.

Former director John Dages said last October that the new fee could potentially drive the center’s finances into the red, but the center had yet to see a budget gap at the time. Levine declined to comment whether the center was now facing budget pressures.

The University is in the early stages of a search for a new leader after Dages resigned amid allegations of mismanagement in December. With the leadership change, Dean of Students Peter Konwerski and Levine launched a review of the center, charging committees of students, staff and faculty to examine the center’s clinical care, staff operations and outreach, education and prevention strategies. Details on the review – which ended in late January – have not been disclosed.

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