Featured photo by Megadeth’s Girl via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Photo by  Feggy Art via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

It’s no secret that our campus is crowded. You can feel it walking to class; the buildings might feel a little closer, the passerby phone conversations seem a little louder.

On Sept. 23, News Editor Alexis Lincoln wrote an article about how students are tripling dorms to shorten the waitlist for housing.

However, the issue of overcrowding spreads beyond the dorms. There are more commuter passes sold than there are parking spots on North Campus. There are more students in science and music classes than there are resources for the students to learn with. Grabbing a quick bite for lunch between classes becomes nearly impossible with a 30-minute digital queue at Sykes Student Union. Do you know what all of these compiled inconveniences can do to mental health?

“When students are crowded in residence halls, classes, dining halls, it causes more stress, anxiety and sometimes interpersonal conflict,” says Department Chair and Counseling Center Director Rachel Daltry. “If a student doesn’t have any mental health concerns, these might just be everyday stressors; if a student does have mental health concerns, these situations can exacerbate symptoms they may be experiencing.”

With this increased stress, overcrowding drives students to the counseling center. What happens when there are not enough counselors to see all the students seeking help?

The accreditation board for WCU’s counseling services, International Accreditation of Counseling Services (IACS), recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. That ratio exclusively includes full-time staff; trainees, who are in their doctoral program and are required to do supervised hours, are not included in that ratio.

With roughly 17,000 students on our campus, the bare minimum ratio of one to 1,500 students requires 12 full-time counselors on staff at the counseling center. “We currently have 10 full-time counselors, including myself as a director and chair,” says Daltry. “I don’t see a full-time load of students because of my administrative duties.” Not to mention, a few of the full-time counselors are away on leave for the semester.

“With roughly 17,000 students on our campus, the bare minimum ratio of one to 1,500 students requires 12 full-time counselors on staff at the counseling center…”

Faculty Relations Senator Elizabeth Schultz brought the issue to the attention of Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Zebulun Davenport on Oct. 22 at the town hall hosted by the Student Government Association (SGA).

Davenport focused most of his answer around the logistics of hiring and avoiding tacking on a drastically fee in tuition. “We’re trying to figure out a way to gradually move that number up so that we can get to the minimum number of counselors,” said Davenport.

Funding for the counseling services at WCU come from the student health fee, which goes to various places: the health center, wellness promotion, EMS, the student assistance office and, of course, the counseling center.

However, there are definitely other opportunities for funding to come from elsewhere. “Athletics pays me to see student athletes one day per week,” says Daltry. “[I’d love] to explore other opportunities for funding if the money can’t come from the student health fee.”

Several proposals have been rejected for reworking the model of counseling to accommodate the large population of students.

An absorption model would require students that come in to be placed on a rolling schedule to be seen every two weeks, three weeks or once per month — as often as the schedule permits, which would depend on the amount of students seeking counseling.

A one-session model would function as drop-in counseling on no particular schedule. “The problem is [these models] take away time from students who want ongoing counseling,” says Daltry. “Most students coming in want ongoing care.”

More and more, the counseling center is required to reject and waitlist students, especially late in the semester because counseling schedules simply become full. No one is happy with that outcome. The counseling center wants to help students. With more resources, the counseling center could do more for our campus.

“One of the things that is often said is that we’ll never have enough counselors to meet the mental health needs of the students,” says Daltry. “We could be doing better. Investing in the mental health of students seems like a top priority.”

The counseling center is working hard to do the best with the limited resources that they have and is very open to hearing feedback to improve services.

Kirsten Magas is a fourth-year student majoring in English with minors in journalism and creative writing.  KM868219@wcupa.edu.

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