By SHANNON O. WELLS
To keep up with increasing demands on wellness services and proactive costs related to Pitt’s proposed Recreation and Wellness Center, the student wellness fee is going up for full- and part-time students on the Oakland campus.
The Board of Trustees’ Student Affairs committee passed a resolution at its June 17 meeting that increases the student wellness fee for full-time undergraduate and graduate students by $50 for the 2022-23 school year and another $50 the following year. Part-time students will see a $25 increase both years.
This will increase wellness fees for full-time students from the current $460 per year ($230 per semester) to $560 annually ($280 per semester).
The fee will help to cover costs for staff to meet the increased demand for counseling, medical and other wellness services in anticipation of the roughly 270,000-square-foot Campus Recreation and Wellness Center planned for the site of the former O’Hara Garage and LRDC building.
Construction is scheduled to start this summer and be completed by fall 2024, when a separate, dedicated student fee to pay down the center’s debt service will be instituted, likely for fiscal year 2025. That amount has not been set. The plan also calls for faculty and staff to join in with a membership fee, an idea that’s still being studied, said David DeJong, senior vice chancellor for business & operations, and Kenyon Bonner, vice provost for student affairs.
Following the Student Affairs committee meeting, Bonner said Pitt’s current budget model does not support funding the new facility, making it necessary to approach the Board of Trustees to increase fees.
“In addition to those things related to the center, we still have our current demand on our counseling center, our Student Health Service, and we want to make sure that we continue to retain and recruit our talented staff of doctors, nurses, clinicians and psychiatrists to continue the success we’ve had (regarding) the types and quality of service that we provide to our students. That was really important to us,” he said. “This building is just a building, but the concept is really connected to our commitment to well-being and wellness, and making sure that our students are thriving when they’re here and when they leave.”
Increasing fees now for the upcoming wellness center is important so adequate staff can be hired this year and in 2023. “We can’t wait until the summer before to hire that staff,” Bonner said. The approximately 14 professional staff members hired mostly this year will be supporting “existing Campus Recreation Center programs, services and students” until the new center is completed.
Emphasizing the center’s role as a crucial hub that “connects the upper and lower campus,” Bonner said it provides “a space where we can all convene and engage in activities that we know support our wellness and health and health as a community.”
The fee increase resolution, therefore, is “another step in that process of moving this project forward,” he said. Calling the resolution an opportunity to be transparent with students about the center’s cost and its original funding plan, Bonner said it’s “not uncommon for many institutions like us in terms of co-curricular facilities getting funded by student fees.”
Here is a sampling of 2022-23 student activity/recreation and wellness fees per academic year at other ACC institutions, based on an average of 15 credit hours per semester, where wellness fees are separate from health plans/fees:
Wake Forest: $582
University of North Carolina: $258.44, plus $70 yearly toward debt of Ramshead Rec Center
North Carolina State: $218, plus $144 yearly toward debt of Carmichael Gym
Florida State: $192.90
Noting that students have provided “lot of positive support” to him and his Student Affairs colleagues regarding the wellness center plan, Bonner said they remain “open to conversations and feedback” from students about the costs. “We’ll continue to be mindful of those expenses and costs as we move forward with the center as well as our other wellness services.”
Charging a fee to faculty and staff members is an option Bonner said is “still on the table,” with conversations taking place among Staff Council and Faculty Assembly members, Pitt’s Human Resources office and others.
“We’re still working to decide what makes the most sense in terms of costs and the membership structure,” he said, adding faculty- and staff-assessed fee memberships are not uncommon at universities. “We thought … if faculty and staff use the facility that students are paying for, that it would be only equitable and fair that there will be a fair share of cost to use and have access to the facility.”
Other Pitt campuses also will see health- and wellness-related fee increases — for full-time students only — starting this fall.
Greensburg campus: Health services fees will go from $30 to $40 per student. Bonner attributed increasing costs to operate Health Center services at the Greensburg campus to a combination of increased demand and better outreach.
Johnstown campus: The recreation fee will rise from $76 to $98 per student, in part because of a newly added e-sports program.
As no health-related services are currently offered at the Titusville campus, the $50 health fee there will be eliminated.
“Like many colleges and universities around the country, we’re seeing increased demand on our counseling centers,” Bonner said. There’s less stigma around student mental health, he said, and “we’ve opened up our services and done more outreach to encourage more students to utilize those services to support student wellness.”
The COVID pandemic is another undeniable factor, including the need for testing and recruiting and retaining doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners. “A lot of that is just the cost associated with increased demand and having to add additional staff to support (that), and then some of those costs are associated with changes in our public health environment that our campuses are responding to.”
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com.
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