Western’s Board of Trustees approved a proposal to increase the student health services fee at its June 9 meeting. The creators of the proposal intend for the additional funds to support increases in health service employee salaries and benefits. Currently, state contributions are not enough to cover the wage increases, causing students to make up some of the difference.
The fee increase, planned by the Counseling, Health and Wellness Committee, will change from $96 per quarter to $106 per quarter, according to the proposal presented to the Board of Trustees. This 10.4 percent increase from the 2016-17 academic year will go into effect fall quarter.
The presenting committee states the increase would generate $420,000 per year to fund increases in salaries and benefits for staff, support general operations and technological services and the Administrative Services Assessment fee.
Kunle Ojikutu, assistant vice president for enrollment and student services, helped to craft the proposal. The state used to be able to cover more, but has cut funding over the past ten years, Ojikutu said.
“A couple of years ago, when the state was in a dire financial state, the budget was cut,” he said. “We lost a sizeable amount of the state budget and we have never really recovered from that yet.”
Last year, the Counseling Center received $835,430 in state support, which covered 61 percent of the center’s expenses. This will be the third time the student health services fee has increased in the last four years because of planned increases in employees’ salaries and benefits determined by state legislature while state funding for higher education continues to decline.
Some programs would potentially have to be limited in future academic years without the additional funding. However, Western is making an effort to increase the state’s contribution to the health service programs on campus.
“I don’t know if we are going to get it, but as we speak, there is a request to the state legislature in support of some positions in the Counseling Center,” Ojikutu said.
Shari Robinson, the director of the Counseling Center, said more state funding would allow Western to meet a higher standard of university health services.
“According to the [International Association for Counseling Services] standard, we are not meeting the mental health staff ratio per student. The ratio is 1,500 students per one counselor. We’re not meeting that,” Robinson said. “If the Counseling Center brings itself up to that standard, which would mean we would be able to add an additional four counselors, that would be a game-changer for this Counseling Center.”
According to the budget proposal presented to the Board of Trustees, even with the fee increase, Western will still have lower student health service costs than some other public universities in Washington State. The committee’s suggested fee is $90 less than Washington State University’s anticipated health service fee for 2018.
However, it is $21 more than Eastern Washington University’s annual fee, climbing above the $3 difference between the two universities for the 2016-17 academic year.
“The WWU Counseling, Health and Wellness quarterly fee has historically been lower than other institutions in the state in order to keep our overall fees lower than other public school options,” said Dr. Emily Gibson, medical director of Western’s Student Health Center, in an email. “We’ve worked hard to do more with less, primarily through our professional staff working long, uncompensated hours and being as efficient as possible with brief visits so we can see more students in a day.”
Gibson said while the university has tried to make the current budget work, an additional increase in funds would help to provide students with more on-campus, ongoing options for health services. Currently, Western’s Counseling Center is able to accommodate for two to three visits per student a year and often refers students to off-campus therapists for long-term care.
Robinson said an adequately-staffed Counseling Center could provide students with six to eight sessions per year, alleviating some of the current limitations regarding Western’s ability to provide ongoing mental health services.
Robinson also said that many students request long-term, on-campus counseling services, which Western is currently unable to provide.
“That’s the feedback I consistently get from our students, is that our short-term, brief therapy model is a little too brief, a little too short term,” Robinson said.
The increased fee has already gone through two other approval sessions successfully. The process began when the presenting committee, comprising of four students, two staff members and one faculty member, reviewed budget needs and created the proposal this spring. The committee voted 6-0-1 to move the proposal forward. Then, it was sent to the Associated Students Board on June 1, where it was unanimously approved.
The fee is required on top of tuition for students taking six or more credits, and as stated in the increased fee proposal, gives students access to health services regardless of their insurance status. It is optional for students taking less than six credits.