Note: This is part one of a two-part series on Cook Counseling Center's attempt to earn accreditation. Check back Friday for part two of the series
For the first time in more than a decade, Virginia Tech’s Cook Counseling Center is seeking approval in an international counseling accreditation process.
After its initial review by the International Association of Counseling Services during 2009, Tech’s application passed for the next stage of the accreditation process, an on-site inspection. Chris Flynn, director of Cook Counseling Center, received notice in October 2009 that the center had been approved for the visit.
The center has been accredited before, but since the mid-1990s it has gone without accreditation from the International Association of Counseling Services.
IACS is a nonprofit group that reviews university counseling centers through a professional peer-review, as opposed to a state or federally based inspection.
Among universities that have 25,000 to 30,000 students, 55 percent are accredited by IACS, according to the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors 2008 Directors Survey.
“Being accredited validates that they’ve opened their doors to outside review,” said Nancy Roncketti, executive director of IACS. “They’ve met the highest standards of the profession.”
The survey reported that among the unaccredited centers, cost was the biggest reason for not pursuing accreditation. Cost may also be a reason Cook did not seek reaccreditation in the mid-1990s.
“The state went through some difficult times and was looking for any way to save some money,” Flynn said.
“There’s a certain fee that comes with all accreditation,” said Rick Ferraro, assistant vice president of Student Affairs and head of Schiffert Health Center. “They tend to be pretty reasonable, but they’re there because they’re providing a service that you need to pay for.”
According to its Web site, IACS accreditation involves a $700 initial evaluation fee and an annual fee of $850 to maintain the accreditation. There is also a field visit fee of $1,500.
These costs are paid by funds generated by students through the Health Service Fee, which covers Schiffert Health Center, Cook Counseling Center and the VT Rescue Squad. This mandatory fee was $320 per full-time student for the 2009-2010 school year, or $160 per semester.
According to the AUCCCD survey, 27 percent of schools in Tech’s size range also pay for the operation of their counseling centers through mandatory student health fees.
According to Flynn, Cook’s annual operating budget of roughly $1.9 million is only about one-fourth of the income generated from the Health Service Fee.
Although Tech, like many universities, has been experiencing budget cuts in recent years, the cuts have not affected Cook.
“We’ve gotten the support of the administration to make sure we’re not affected by the budget decrease,” Flynn said. “We don’t anticipate losing any positions; in fact, we’ve asked to add another position this year.”
A possibility that Flynn and Provost Mark McNamee have discussed is to add one position a year for the next four years, according to Flynn.
As the center works to match IACS standards, expansion of the staff is a significant step. The IACS accreditation standards recommend that a university counseling center have a counselor to student ratio between 1:1,000 and 1:1,500. When Cook had originally planned to submit the IACS application in 2007, only 10 counselors were employed, and the ratio was almost 1:3,000 students.