Mental health among college students has been a concern of late, especially as students grapple with the effects of the pandemic. A new report from Gallup and the Lumina Foundation is shedding some light on just how serious of an issue mental health is in higher education.
According to the survey, 76% of students enrolled in 4-year programs have considered dropping out in the past six months. In 2020, that number was just 42%. Students are citing emotional stress, the cost of education, and the pandemic as reasons why they have thought about quitting school.
Stephanie Marken, executive director of education research at Gallup, sees these latest numbers as a clear indication that colleges need to improve their approaches to mental health, “Mental health crises have been popping up on campuses across the country for several years, pre-pandemic, but COVID-19 really exacerbated these issues for students. This is a really critical time for educational leaders and institutions to refine their mental health programming.”
Part of the challenge is making sure that students are aware that resources are available. Even if schools do offer support, they can’t do much good if students don’t know how to take advantage of them. Courtney Brown, vice president of impact and planning at Lumina added that “Institutions can’t lack counselors or create offices that are down dark, unfindable hallways. You can’t just provide academic help for students and ignore their mental well-being.”
The pandemic and the move to virtual learning did demonstrate that schools are capable of swiftly making changes. Hopefully, schools will be able to apply some of the same strategies to create better systems and mechanisms to support students.
For many students, the financial burden of paying for college is simply too much. In fact, those surveyed say that schools aren’t accurately advertising the real cost of attendance. This has led to a drop in enrollment of about 1 million students since the pandemic began. Some schools are responding by providing housing aid and emergency food resources.
At the same time, students aren’t aware of different ways to bring down costs. “Most students see the advertised total cost of attendance and aren’t aware of grants or scholarships. I worry that if we don’t better communicate the real cost, we’ll continue to see either flat or continuously declining enrollments,” Marken said. There seems to be a real lack of clear communication between colleges and students when it comes to understanding available resources.
The survey also revealed the past, present, and future students view a college education as a pathway to better job opportunities and financial stability. The challenge continues to be finding ways to pay for education. That is why more people are pursuing associates degrees and other short-term credential programs.