SGA pushes for more Counseling Center funding 

The center’s budget trails more than $1 million behind the national average for similarly-sized institutions.

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Kayla Solino, Contributing Writer

The Student Government Association (SGA) President Demarcus Joiner proposed a resolution on Thursday to expand student access to the UA Counseling Center and increase its funding. It was sponsored by more than 30 senators.

The resolution will be forwarded to several administrators and Greg Vander Wal, executive director of the Counseling Center, for consideration.  

Joiner’s resolution was based on a petition created by Bailey Lanai, president of UA Students for a National Health Program.  

The SGA proposal referenced the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, which reports the median salary and benefits budget for an institution of the University’s size to $2.41 million per year. 

The UA Counseling Center’s funding hovered around $1.2 million in 2020. Its budget has almost doubled in the past decade. 

During the senate meeting, Lanai said his curiosity about the Counseling Center was sparked after reading an article from The CW, which reported that the University and Louisiana State University (LSU) are the only schools in the Southeastern Conference to charge full-time students for mental health counseling.  

“From there, I started a petition on Facebook,” Lanai said. “It got over 500 signatures from students saying that they’d like to see a different way of funding counseling sessions.”

Lanai put together a survey to gauge student opinion on UA counseling services that reached more than 300 students. He also surveyed 100 students who use the Counseling Center’s services and found that more than half of students view the fee as a barrier to them. 

UA students pay a $15 fee per session for up to 15 individual counseling sessions per semester following their initial screening appointment, which is free. Vander Wal said he believes the fee encourages students to engage more actively in their sessions, but he also acknowledged the potential barrier it could pose to students seeking services. Vander Wal said fee waivers are available for students who need it. 

The Counseling Center’s student-counselor ratio is about one counselor for every 2,000 students, which is higher than the ideal ratio of between 1,000 and 1,500 counselors to one student.  

Joiner authored the resolution after Lanai reached out with his concerns. Together, they met with members of the Counseling Center and Dr. Ruperto Perez, the associate vice president for student health and wellbeing. 

“Following those conversations, we realized it would be good to get the SGA’s support as a first step into beginning this research,” Joiner said. “We look forward to continuing to prioritize mental health as we serve all students.” 

SGA Press Secretary Jackson Fuentes said the SGA is working behind the scenes with both the Counseling Center and the UA Division of Student Life to prioritize the interests of students and their mental health. 

This resolution was proposed days after the University announced plans to merge the Student Health Center (SHC) with the University Medical Center. As part of this transition, psychiatric services will be relocated from the SHC to the Counseling Center in the South Lawn office building at the end of the Spring 2021 semester.