Counseling reports high student-to-counselor ratio

By Scott Nicol

The NIU Counseling and Consultation Services’ student-to-counselor ratio is 2,061:1, compared to the recommended national ratio of 1,500:1, leaving staffers concerned about the quality of their services.

The mission of Counseling and Consultation Services is to support the academic, emotional, social and cultural development of students. The student-centered programs include counseling, assessment, psychiatric treatment, crisis response, outreach, consultation, training and educational services, according to its website.

In the 2014-15 academic year, NIU had 20,130 total students enrolled and a student-to-counselor ratio of 2,061:1.

NIU’s Counseling and Student Services accrediting body, the International Association of Counseling Services, recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 1,500:1.

However, the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors has found that schools the size of NIU have a student-to-counselor ratio of 3,552:1.

Brooke Ruxton, executive director of Counseling and Consultation Services, said these numbers may be a little skewed as they were not able to include three full-time interns and five practicum students who are allowed to provide counseling services to students, but NIU would still fall outside the International Association of Counseling Services’ recommendation.

“It is challenging because [counselors] are here because we want to help students, and we do everything we can to make sure they are connected to resources either here or in the community, but we can’t meet all the needs of all the students all of the time,” Ruxton said.

Likely consequences of the ratio being higher than recommended are longer waiting lists, difficulty providing services to students experiencing increasingly more severe psychological issues, liability risks to the counseling center and university, support for the academic success of students decreasing and counseling centers becoming less available to help support the campus community, according to International Association of Counseling Services’ website.

Ruxton, who has been executive director of Counseling and Consultation Services since 2012, said the university has been overall very supportive of the work they provide and how vital they are to students on campus by replacing vacant spots in recent years, despite a 13 percent decrease in state funds since 2010 and a proposed 32 percent decrease in state funds for Fiscal Year 2016.

NIU has yet to experience layoffs due to the budget decrease and current impasse, however NIU has not rehired for 228 positions as of September 2015, according to a chart by the Human Resource Services.

“We are impacted just like the rest of the university when it comes to budget cuts being difficult and anxiety provoking,” Ruxton said. “We really have been able to continue providing the same service and quality of service we have always provided [to students].”

While staff have maintained similar wage rates over the past couple years, Counseling and Consultation Services has to get creative when bringing awareness to the community by teaming up with other organizations on campus.

When [counseling does] programs, like the depression and screening event that we do in the fall, instead of doing that completely on our own, this fall we collaborated with Health Services, Campus [Recreation], Wellness Promotion and some service providers in DeKalb so that we could have a good, strong event.”

Counseling and Consultation Services is located in the Campus Life Building, Room 200, and can be contacted at 815-753-1206. If it is a student’s first time going into counseling at NIU they must come during walk-in hours.