Counseling Service deals with budget

BY MEGAN DIAL | MARCH 31, 2009 7:30 AM

The University Counseling Service is preparing to cut its budget if the economy doesn’t pick up in the next few years.

While the center has not yet been affected by the UI’s budget cuts, Director Sam Cochran said the center could be asked to reduce costs in the future — potentially affecting the facility’s already poor faculty-to-student ratio.

As public universities across the country suffer from budget cuts, some institutions have found it necessary to cut back on counseling services.

Cochran said no significant changes have been made to his program, which is free for UI students.
“Services for students is a big priority for the administration,” he said. “Reducing staff or resources for counseling means students have to wait longer to be seen … which does not promote a good culture for safety and security.”

But the program will have to start looking for areas to reduce spending if the UI continues to face economic problems, he said. Among the methods of dealing with budget shortfalls are writing grants, augmenting funding with student fees, or charging parents’ insurance plans for student care.

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The Counseling Service is not the only center available for students, Cochran said, noting several other services in the Iowa City area available to students.

“We’re an extremely resource-rich community,” he said.

The UI is not the only university preparing for future budget restrictions.

David Towle, the director of the University of Northern Iowa Counseling Center, said it is planning to adjust to a tighter budget.

Because two-thirds of the funding for UNI’s service comes from a mandatory health fee, he said, only one-third of its budget has the potential to be affected by cuts.

A common trend at both universities is the increase of students requesting service each year.

“We’ve had steady increases every year,” Towle said, and UNI saw increases of 5 to 15 percent more students in the past few years.

Cochran also said the UI facility experiences an increase each year, noting a significant jump over last year.

“Business has been much busier,” he said, suggesting increased anxiety because of last summer’s flood and the current economic crisis.

Out of the three regent universities, the UI’s counselor-to-student ratio is the worst with its 11 counselors — approximately 1 to 2,950. Towle said UNI’s ratio is 1 to 1,842 and Iowa State University’s ratio is 1 to 2,600, according to their counseling services’ websites.

The recommended ratio — 1 to 1,000 1,500 — is set by the International Association of Counseling Service, the group that develops accreditation standards for U.S. university and college counseling services.

And the UI’s ratio is steadily increasing, Cochran said.

The service is starting to track the number of students unable to see a counselor the day they call for an appointment, he said.

“That number varies through the semester, but it’s enough that we’re concerned about it,” he said. “It’s probably enough that if we had one to two more positions we could absorb that need for students. Right now, sometimes, we don’t have enough slots on a given day.”

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