After the Counseling & Wellness Center’s proposal for a fee increase was voted against, director Ernesto Escoto remains hopeful.
On Oct. 4, the center asked student fees to increase by 71.4 cents per credit hour, which would bring the CWC’s budget from $5.9 million to $6.4 million the next year, according to Alligator archives. The money would provide a permanent funding source for the 12 counselors the CWC will hire over the next four years. Although the proposal was denied Monday, the hiring process will still continue, Escoto said.
“It was a bit of a surprise, but also understanding these are complex matters and the health fee committee is attending to multiple requests from various offices,” he said.
At the local fee committee meeting Monday, the four students on the council voted against raising fees. The committee is made up of Assistant Vice President Kim Pace, Student Government External Affairs agency head Haley Smith, Student Body president’s Chief of Staff Nick Meno, Action SG chair Jackie Phillips, Associate Vice President Jeanna Mastrodicasa, Associate Director of UF’s Student Financial Affairs Ron Anderson, Vice President of Human Resources Jodi Gentry and Student Body Vice President Mario Agosto, according to Alligator archives.
The CWC was one of four groups that asked for more funding.
“I think at this point in time college affordability is of the utmost importance to our students,” said Smith, one of the student committee members.
During the meeting, she pointed out the difficulty of the decision.
“Either we’re the students who increase tuition and nobody likes that, or we’re the students who don’t help with resources,” she said.
Escoto said the CWC will speak to the committee and UF’s provost next year. He doubts they will receive state funding from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration.
“We’ll continue to provide the same quality service we’ve been providing,” he said. “We’re focused in on hiring these 12 positions, the first four of the 12, and we know that will begin to make a dent in our ability to meet increased demand for services.”
Smith said she sees a need for more resources and wants to help provide money — but not by affecting students’ finances.
“It’s not that we don’t want to do something about it, but we think there are other ways to do it,” she said.
Smith said she wants to meet with UF’s chief financial officer, Michael McKee, to reduce the overhead payment on the CWC so it can keep more funding. It’s the third option she’s hoping for after the previous two — voting to raise fees and sending a legislative budget request — failed.
The overhead is a 13 percent charge against the expenditures of auxiliary organizations, which bring in revenue, said UF spokesperson Janine Sikes. The only exception is SG, which pays a 10 percent overhead. The overhead money is spread to groups that don’t bring in a revenue, such as UF public safety.
Smith said adjusting the overhead could raise about $500,000 without increasing student fees. Escoto agreed that this option could help the center get more resources.
“Not all of our fees are going toward what we are paying for them to go toward,” Smith said.
During the meeting, UF Vice President for Human Resources Jodi Gentry asked the students to reconsider their position to deny a raise.
“These are not flighty things,” Gentry said. “These are really serious things that get, in many respects, to the absolute core of students’ experience at the University of Florida and maybe for their whole life.”
Smith said the CWC provides essential services that students need. She said she wants to resolve the fee issue before she graduates, but if it’s not, she said other students in SG will keep working for it.
“If we’re not providing these services to students, we are not meeting every goal to helping students graduate in four years,” she said.
Niccole Smith, a UF psychology sophomore, said she tried to use the CWC last Spring, but by February she couldn’t get an appointment with an individual therapist.
“I feel like the CWC gets booked really quickly,” the 19-year-old said. “I just want to see a change where it’s, like, more accessible throughout the semester.”
Though she doesn’t want her tuition to increase, she said mental health is a worthy cause.
“As long as there’s some sort of money going into the CWC, then I think that’ll be an improvement overall,” she said.