By Nick Sabatini
In a time when counseling services at colleges and universities are in high demand, Lewis & Clark could see changes in the Counseling Service next year. A $200,000 donation that was earmarked for this service five years ago will run out by fall 2018.
Students attended an event held in the Council Chamber led by Director of Counseling Services and Chief Psychologist John Hancock on Feb. 8 to discuss the impact on counseling at LC and how this will affect students. Hancock then presented the alternatives at the Associate Students of Lewis & Clark (ASLC) meeting that evening.
Hancock said that the meeting in the Council Chamber, open to all LC students, was held because he would like to engage students in a collaborative process to assess the needs of the community and figure out the value of alternative services. He has worked at LC for 10 years, and has not observed monetary issue until now.
“That donor came forward five years ago and gave $200,000 for the college,” Hancock said. “Now the money is going away.”
At the presentation in the Council Chamber, three possible options were discussed for the Counseling Service for next fall. The first option is a budget neutral option, where no extra funding is given. This could possibly eliminate one staff member and the walk-in clinic, which would result in longer wait times. The maximum number of sessions would be reduced, and it is also possible that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction sessions (which are run by the Counseling Service) would be eliminated.
The second option is implementing a student health and wellness fee to cover the cost. If this option were chosen, the proposed fee would be approximately $35 per semester, or $38 if a dietitian is hired. Several liberal arts colleges have this fee. The fee is $50 per semester at Willamette University and $130 at Pacific University. Tuition at LC already covers some of the counseling costs, leading to a lower proposed fee. The advantage of this fee is that the cost would be evenly distributed across students and allow care for students who otherwise would be unable to pay at the point-of-service.
Under the point-of-service model, which has not been well received, students would pay only when they need to use the Counseling Service. This could potentially be a burden for low-income students, and financial aid would not help with the costs.
Hera Dewan ’19 spoke at the meeting in the Council Chamber. Although a member of the Disabled Student Union, she spoke for herself in a follow-up email. She does not know what the best option for the Counseling Service will be but said that she does not support an extra fee because LC already has high tuition.
If a fee were enacted, she believes it should be voluntary. She does not want to see the maximum number of appointments drop in the budget neutral option since the need for mental health care is increasing.
“As a chronically-ill student that is also putting themselves through college with no financial support from my parents (and I know I am not the only one), I think having to pay an extra fee on top of already huge expenses for something I cannot even benefit from is a little unfair,” Dewan said via email. “Don’t get me wrong, I believe
the common welfare, but I think it should first be the school’s responsibility to manage the money we have already supplied in a way that would allow for mental health services to be supported and made even more accessible.”
Dewan said that mental health care is a long term investment which can lead to a healthier and higher-functioning student body, and all students should have health care on campus or have adequate transportation to care off campus.
“I think our next steps as students are to get vocal about how important mental health care is to us and how much we could all benefit from it,” Dewan said via email. “Our mental healthcare should be priority number one because mental health is the foundation for everything that we do in and out of our student lives.”
However, this opinion was not held by all students in attendance. As the student coordinator of the Holistic Wellness Living-Learning Community, Lauren Backerman ’20 said that she believes the best option would be implementing the health and wellness fee.
“I think that the budget neutral solution makes sense if students don’t want to pay the extra fee, but I think it is worth paying the extra fee,” Backerman said. “As a student, I have friends that use the service, even though I don’t use the service. I would like to know that if there was an emergency and all the students pitched in a $35 raise, the services would be easily accessible rather than going back to a month long wait list or cutting back on what an emergency really means.”
ASLC Vice President Zack Johnson ’19 said that a group of senators are currently working on a resolution supporting the fee option. So far, no final decisions have been made. According to Hancock, it is up to the ASLC to decide what the solution for next fall will be. Additionally, the Student Health and Advisory Board will meet on Feb. 20 to make recommendations and consider alternatives. If funds cannot be replaced, a forum will be held for students to decide where the cuts will be made.
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