Most Indiana State University students would pay a $75 per semester health and wellness fee for increased mental health services under a proposal being introduced by the Student Government Association.

The new fee would have to be approved by the ISU board of trustees, and it would begin no earlier than the fall of 2020.

A student-led initiative, it is viewed as a sustainable way “to meet the mental health challenges our students experience on a daily basis,” Stephen Lamb, SGA president, said earlier this year.

Over the past 10 years, the Student Counseling Center has seen a 92 percent increase in demand for its services, according to a report prepared by SGA. “Waiting periods are getting longer and longer” for non-crisis appointments, Lamb said Monday.

While ISU enrollment has declined slightly this year, the demand for mental health services has not. “The demand for appointments at the counseling center at this point in the semester is significantly higher than the number of appointments last fall semester” at the same time, Lamb said.

This time of year is especially stressful for students as they prepare for next week’s final exams. “A lot of students who may need access to a counseling session this week or next won’t get in until a few weeks into spring semester,” he said.

“My concern is if the trend continues, where students can’t get in for seven to eight weeks after they schedule an appointment ... that doesn’t bode well for an already overburdened system,” he said. “How long before someone falls through the cracks? ... What if a tragedy of some sort occurs? I don’t want to see the university be reactive. I want us to be pro-active,” Lamb said.

The increasing demand for mental health services is one facing universities across the nation, he said.

Student government has already begun speaking to student groups on campus about the initiative, and it also will ask the Student Senate to conduct a referendum in March, when students also vote for a new SGA president and vice president. A 2/3 majority vote of the Student Senate is necessary for the referendum.

Student government leaders are hoping for strong student participation in that referendum, Lamb said.

The $75 per semester fee would apply to on-campus students enrolled in six or more credit hours in the fall and spring semesters. Those enrolled in three or more credits in the summer semester would pay $35 for the summer.

Student government leaders have worked with student affairs and the counseling center as they’ve developed the proposal, and they’ve also been in communication with ISU President Deborah Curtis.

The goal would be to hire more staff for both the student counseling center and student health promotions.

In addition to more mental health services, funds would be used for more preventive programming as well as mental health first aid training for students, residence hall staff, faculty who want training and staff who interact more with students.

Funds would be used as follows: 74 percent for additional staffing, including mental health professionals; 8 percent for mental health first aid training; 7 percent for the Michael Phillips Student Emergency Fund; 5 percent for co-pays at the UAP clinic on campus; 2.5 percent for Student Health Promotions for more health/wellness programming for students and funding for the Sycamore Food Pantry; 2.5 percent for programming at the Student Counseling Center. Also, the dean of students would receive 1 percent to provide funding for health/wellness programming by different offices on campus.

It’s estimated the fee would generate about $1.3 million annually, based on the number of students [9,005] currently paying the Student Recreation Center fee, a mandatory fee approved in 2005 following a student-led effort. That fee is $100 per semester for most students.

Lamb believes there is much support for a health/wellness fee. Earlier this fall, SGA surveyed students, and with 881 responding, 62 percent supported it.

SGA is aware of the financial burden many students face in college, according to the report, although ISU remains “one of the most affordable options” when compared to peer institutions. “We firmly believe that a modest fee of $75 per semester for most students is a reasonable and sustainable answer ... our students need more access to necessary programming and health care to ensure their success at Indiana State.”

Andy Morgan, ISU dean of students, said the student government leaders have done their homework and have a well thought out proposal.

The health and wellness fee is a long-term solution, Morgan said. Indiana University, Purdue and Ball State all have comparable versions of a student health and wellness fee.

“We only have so many spots for appointments [at the counseling center]. In the past, we’ve filled those up by November when the wait list begins. This year, spots filled by mid-September,” Morgan said. “We are seeing more mental health cases” and more staff are needed.

Clients in crisis usually can get into the counseling center the same day. The counseling center has six full-time professional counselors; a psychiatrist on contract who comes in one day a week; and 15 interns in psychology or social work who are pursuing a master’s or doctoral programs.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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