Higher student fees could mean additional counselors

A raise in student fees might help USF raise its low ratio of mental health counselors to students.

Each student pays $7.91 per credit hour per semester in student health fees, which go to Student Health Services (SHS) and the Counseling Center.  Every year, those fees have the potential to be increased. In the past 20 years, however, they have only been raised seven times.

Harold Bower, director of business and operations for SHS, said there is no constant variable when it comes to raising student health fees. Since there have been large gaps between the increases, SHS has been unable to keep up with other universities’ student health centers.

“There’s pretty much no way that you can recover from that,” Bower said. “Other universities do things we aren’t able to do because there hasn’t been a fee increase.”

The University has one counselor for every 3,500 students, which is almost twice as high as the national average of 1 to 1,961. If student health fees were raised, the Counseling Center would use the additional money to hire more counselors and psychiatrists, said Dr. Egilda Terenzi, director of medical and clinical services for SHS.

“We’re really far from national standards and national averages,” said Interim Director of the Counseling Center Dale Hicks.

If more counselors were hired, the Counseling Center would be able to see a greater number of students for longer periods of time, he said. Each counselor costs about $60,000 a year, plus benefits.

In addition to student health fees, students also pay $8.79 per credit hour in Activity and Service fees (A&S) and $11.50 per credit hour in Athletics fees. Each fee has a flat rate of $7 and $10, respectively, which every student is charged no matter how many credits he or she is taking. The student health fee has no flat rate. In total, an average full-time student taking 15 credit hours pays about $440 a semester in student fees.

Each year, a committee of faculty and students decides on increases to the per-credit-hour rate. This year, the committee will potentially be able to divide about $1.40 between the various fees, said Student Body President Gregory Morgan. This number is not yet definite, he said, and is based off last year’s increase allowance of $1.36.

Morgan, who sat on the committee last year, said he supports a student health fee increase but does not want to instruct the committee on what to do.

“We want to make sure it’s being used for students so they can see the difference,” said Thomas King, student body vice president.

Last year, the committee did not grant SHS a fee increase. Athletics received a 98-cent increase and A&S received a 38-cent increase. This is because the committee did not know about the student health fees’ increase history, Morgan said.

In addition to only being raised seven times in the past 20 years, student health fees once went nine years without an increase. In 1992 they climbed 4.1 percent and were not raised again until 2001, when they grew by 23.7 percent.

SHS did not receive an increase for many years because its representatives were not invited to make a presentation in front of the committee, Terenzi said.

“All of this happened long ago, without any of the current people in administration,” she said.

She said that when they were invited, they usually received the fee increase they requested.

Though the committee has not formed, it is planned to convene in September. Morgan will appoint three students while President Judy Genshaft will appoint three staff members and a chair.