The University of Texas is lowering fees for mental health services on campus after thousands of students signed an online petition to get rid of counseling costs.
UT started charging for counseling and psychiatric services in 2010 when the university underwent significant budget cuts. That made it one of the only large public universities in Texas to charge for counseling.
Wednesday, UT President Greg Fenves announced the university would be cutting the cost of counseling and psychiatric care on campus. Counseling, which used to cost $10 per session, will now be provided free of charge.
“So, for our students that thought about the $10 counseling charge that we have and thought, ‘that's too much for me,’ or ‘I can't afford that,’ we were concerned,” said Chris Brownson, director of the University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center.
Psychiatric services used to cost $15 per visit, now they will only cost $10. The university was able to subsidize those costs using money from the Longhorn Network.
The changes were a direct response to student outcry.
“So proud to work at a university where students care so much about the welfare of their peers and so this was really student led,” Brownson said.
One student started an online petition three months ago to bring awareness to the fees students were paying for mental health care. That petition gained support from more than 4,000 others and caught the eye of university leaders.
“I think when there's a cost associated with it, that's one incentive for people not to do it and so now that it's free I think they'll be more inclined to take part in those services,” said Geneva Highlander, a freshman at the university.
“I definitely am less likely to make use of a service if I have to pay for it, so I think it's a good step in making mental healthcare more accessible to people,” graduate student Aaron Burkey agreed.
Last school year, more than 6,000 students met with mental health professionals at the Counseling and Mental Health Center. The university hopes by charging less that number will continue to climb.
“There are plenty of barriers already for going and seeking mental health care, so, if we could remove that one, I think we're doing a great service to our students,” said Brownson.