Not all UAH students may be familiar with the Counseling Center, but it’s one of the resources advertised around campus as a solution to stress and a resource to anyone requiring mental health counseling. Between the two available counselors, they’re qualified to provide assistance with issues such as depression, social anxiety, eating disorders, LGBTQ+ identity, and addiction, among others. Various students reached for the purposes of this editorial have made statements that they found the counselors helpful and have positive opinions about their experience there. What has not been as widely advertised, however, is that in the fall the Center decided to implement a $15 charge per session. This, along with the new and less accessible location, could deter students who need the Center’s services from using it.
While not mentioned on their site or on the posters set up around campus, nor at the RA-hosted Counseling information events held last semester is the new charge. Once you finish your intake appointment at the Center, you’re informed that future appointments will automatically charge $15 to your account under the label “Wellness Fee.”
A potential reason for the charge is to ease strain on the Center’s resource. They are generally very busy, and securing an appointment can be a lengthy process. It’s not unusual for there to be about a two-week delay between initially calling them for the first time and getting an intake appointment, the purpose of which is just to get an overview of a student’s needs before assigning them a counselor and setting a first real appointment. This gives about a month’s delay between the initial decision to go and the first appointment. They do make special exceptions for emergency cases and provide a variety of free group sessions.
When reached for comment, however, the counseling center stated that the charge was implemented to allow the Center to expand, as it receives a limited budget from the university to cover operating costs but has no other sources of funding. The school’s budget does not cover cost of software or any additional employees. They also stated that despite the charge, attendance has noticeably spiked this past semester.
While the intentions were undoubtedly good, the reality is that the Center was advertised as free up until this semester when the charge was implemented, leaving many students with the mistaken impression that it remains free. During the fall semester RAs held informative meetings with their residence halls encouraging students to visit the Center, for instance, and posters were widespread on campus.
In addition to the intake appointment, a UAH student is entitled to up to eight 50-minute sessions throughout each semester, with a per-session fee of $15 for each one. While you’re not obligated to go to any appointments beyond what you feel is necessary, this can quickly amount to $120 per semester. Sessions over summer semesters are also available, but students not enrolled in classes during that time will be charged $25 per appointment. Failing to attend an appointment without prior notice may result in still being charged.
$15 is not inordinate, and is cheaper than essentially any other mental health service available, generally even with insurance. There are, however, concerns with the decision to implement it. While use of the Center has increased, the fee has the chance of discouraging the students less willing or capable of spending money from attending. Seeing as appointments cannot be paid for out of pocket and are automatically added to a student’s UAH bill along with tuition, room lockouts, and parking tickets, students who would not want their parents or guardians to be aware of their seeking assistance for mental health may be unwilling to go. The Center takes steps to ensure as much privacy as possible for this very reason; they ask explicit permission to be able to text or email you and will only contact you in ways you’ve established it’s safe for them to do so. While the “Wellness Fee” is definitely ambiguous (according to the Center this was carefully researched, and UAH employees have a prepared script in the event of calls from a concerned parent), a $120 charge may still raise uncomfortable questions for some people.
The Counseling Center has seen a lot of different locations since its creation, but the current site may pose an inconvenience to some students. As of this year, it’s been located in Executive Plaza building 200, which is a substantial walk from any on-campus housing and is difficult to find at best. When asked for comment, the Center has stated that they are attempting to get permission to set up signs at the entrance to Executive Plaza (which is a massive, labyrinthine sprawl of mostly empty buildings until development begins next year), but has so far not been able to do so.
Regardless of the decision and how it has impacted students so far (which is understandably difficult to determine due to the desire of many people who visit mental health professions for privacy), the charge has the potential to deter and inconvenience people who need help, and it may be worth prioritizing the funding and staffing of the Counseling Center more than UAH currently does. At the very least, the website should be more helpful to students with questions about using or locating the Counseling Center.