report having a waiting list at some point during the school
year, according to the 2013 Association for University and
College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD) survey.
Unfortunately, even as students want more services, many
center budgets remain unchanged or have increased only
slightly from years past, the same survey finds. AUCCCD survey
data suggest that larger institutions have struggled to attain
pre-2008 recession budget levels, reflected in fewer counseling
clinicians proportionate to the student body, compared with
smaller institutions. The result can be seen in lower utilization
rates and large waiting lists. In fact, the AUCCCD survey finds
that from 2010 to 2012, the average maximum number of
students on a waiting list for institutions with more than 25,000
students nearly doubled, from 35 students to 62 students.
Healthy minds and the bottom line
One way that counseling centers are trying to get more
support for mental health services is by focusing on a factor
administrators understand: a return on investment.
Research led by University of Michigan economist Daniel
Eisenberg, PhD, for example, suggests that investing in mental
health services for college students can help keep them from
dropping out (B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 2009).
That’s good news for schools since they want to retain tuition
revenue, but more important, it helps secure significantly higher
lifetime earnings for the students, Eisenberg says.
“Every college and university cares a lot about its retention
“This economic case doesn’t even count the most direct
rate,” he says. “It’s one of the primary indicators of operating
a successful institution — that people want to stay and that
people are succeeding there.”
Eisenberg has replicated these findings with samples from
other colleges and universities, and in 2013, posted a formula
to help counseling centers develop their own return on
investment spreadsheet to present to university administrators
when advocating for additional funding. Users can plug in
their school’s population size, departure/retention rate, and
prevalence of depression to calculate the economic case for
student mental health services.
benefits of mental health services and programs — the boost in
student well-being and the relief of suffering,” Eisenberg says.
Students who participate in counseling report improvements
in their satisfaction with their quality of life — often a better
predictor of student retention than grade point average.
Percentage of students
who presented with
depression, anxiety or
a relationship problem
as their main reason
for seeking help at a
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Source: Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors