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Waiting list causes Counseling Center to request student fee increase

Dinuzzo: Counseling center has always been understaffed

Students seeking nonemergency help at the UNF Counseling Center will most likely be placed on a waiting list because of an increase in enrollment and an understaffed office, Director Terry Dinuzzo said.

To solve this, the center seeks a 61 cent student fee increase for the 2010-2011 school year in order to hire three staff counselor positions.

The birth of the waiting list

During the first three weeks of this semester, the center saw 80 more clients and 99 more sessions compared to last year, according to a handout the center presented to the Student Fee Assessment Committee Oct. 21.

With 1,077 more students enrolled in fall 2009 versus fall 2008, the center sees an increase in students with not enough counselors to handle it. The center has always been understaffed, having gradually increased its staff over the years, but still ends up short, Dinuzzo said.

Furthermore, at the committee meeting, Dinuzzo argued that this year, the center is not in compliance with accreditation standards, which requires one full-time counselor per 1,500 students.

Because of this, students now face a waiting list when asking for assistance at the understaffed center, Dinuzzo said.

This is the first time the center has had a waiting list of this magnitude, the last waiting list occurred almost 13 years ago, and it started about two weeks ago.

The waiting list was a direct result of not having the resources to provide on-going counseling to all students who wanted it, she said.

Student names are added to the list twice a week, Dinuzzo said.

“We are doing all we can to make sure nobody falls through the cracks,” she said.

Anxiety, depression or other serious issues can affect students’ learning, and the center is supposed to be there to help them succeed in spite of these issues, said Jacquelyn Cox, a UNF biology sophomore.

“I had an appointment set a week ahead of time for my anxiety attacks, and they tried to push it back another week,” Cox said. “And once I was able to get the appointment, I had to wait an extra 45 minutes.”

Dinuzzo encourages students to come in anyway, as each counselor has time set aside for walk-ins, she said.

Counseling Center tight on space, money

Dinuzzo attributed this unsolved and continually evolving understaffing problem to a lack of space in the center’s old location in Building 2, which didn’t have offices available for new counselors.

Since One Stop Student Services has moved to UNF Hall, space has freed up in Building 2, which is currently being renovated, and the center will move to where the Academic Center for Excellence used to be.

With this new space, the center will have the room for more counselors, Dinuzzo said.

Since, unlike other universities, student feeds solely fund the center, Dinuzzo appealed to the Student Fee Assessment Committee Oct. 21 to obtain the funding needed to hire three new counselors.

“More funding [is the solution],” said John Barnes, student body president and member of the committee. “When the Counseling Center comes to us, currently, the only way to give them what they need is to increase the taxes on students.”

Last year, the center achieved a 31 cent increase, which allowed them to convert two part-time staff positions to full time and to hire an additional full-time counselor.

This year, the sought after 61 cent per credit hour increase would raise the total student health fee for the 2010-2011 school year to $6.78 per credit hour, if passed.

“I presented my proposal at the student fee assessment meeting,” Dinuzzo said. “I have not heard the outcome yet, but I’m anxiously waiting.”

Current solutions to problem

In the meantime, the center has also expanded its group counseling sessions to lighten the load on the counselors. By creating mental health awareness groups such as Active Minds, Mindfulness Meditation and Talk Time, students can receive help in a variety of ways, Dinuzzo said.

Mindfulness Meditation meets from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in the Student Union, room 3804.

Talk Time is a program the center plans to create where counselors would be available to talk to students in a more casual, less stigmatizing way, Dinuzzo said.

Although a waiting list is not an ideal solution to the problem of understaffing, right now, it seems to be one of the only aids to the influx of students, Dinuzzo said.

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