Laves: Counseling fee not deterring students

Up until last year, students could get counseling and therapy for free through the Counseling and Testing Center.

But beginning in fall 2009, those services were no longer free, though that didn’t stop more than 600 students from seeking counseling at the center last year.

That number is expected to continue growing this year, as the center increases its outreach activities, said Brian Van Brunt, director of the center.

During the 2009-2010 school year, the center switched to a computer-based system for keeping student records in order to have their information immediately available in case of emergency, Van Brunt said. But their information will still be secure and confidential.

The software costs about $5,000 to $6,000 a year, Van Brunt said.

Because of state budget cuts, the center couldn’t pay for the software on its own, said Karl Laves, assistant director of the center.

Last fall, the center began charging a one-time fee of $20 for counseling services in order to offset the cost of the software, Laves said.

Van Brunt said he thinks of the fee policy like a buffet.

“Once you pay the up-front cost, you can come as many times as you want,” he said.

The fee only applies to students meeting with a counselor, Laves said. The testing services provided by the center will not be affected.

If someone doesn’t have the $20 when making their initial appointment, the center will work out a collection plan so they can pay off the fee a few dollars at a time, Laves said.

“We will not refuse any student,” he said.

Part of the center’s mission states that universities have a duty to support students as they are being challenged, according to the center’s website.

The center has six licensed psychologists and counselors who help students with concerns ranging from test anxiety or homesickness to depression or thoughts of suicide, Laves said.

The number of students receiving counseling has been steadily increasing since 2003, and last year was no exception, even with the fee in place, Laves said.

“It hasn’t kept students from coming,” he said.

During the 2009-2010 school year, 647 students met with counselors for a total of 2,386 hours, he said.

The fee will remain in place permanently, because the software has an annual cost to subscribe, Laves said.

The center accepts cash and debit or credit cards to pay the fee, according to the center’s website.