Studying student responses year over year, those who’ve considered withdrawing from classes for at least one semester continue to escalate despite COVID restrictions waning, according to a new report by Gallup and Lumina Foundation.
Stressed out and Stopping Out: The Mental Health Crisis in Higher Education finds that among students who’ve considered withdrawing, more than half (55%) are driven by emotional stress, but specifically bachelor’s students, who fare worse at 69%. In fact, 48% of bachelor’s students cited “frequently” feeling emotional stress compared to 36% of associate degree students. The second most cited reason bachelor’s students considered stopping out was personal mental health reasons at 59%.
Traditional college-aged young adults who did indeed leave school reported far higher rates of emotional stress and issues with personal mental health. Specifically, 82% of these students cited emotional distress as a very (48%) or moderately (34%) important reason they withdrew, and 74% cited mental health reasons as a very (46%) or moderately (28%) important driver.
Certain indicators forecast which type of student is most likely to experience emotional stress. For example, 49% of students who reported their families struggled to pay monthly bills frequently experience emotional stress compared to 38% of students from more stable financial backgrounds. Bachelor’s students from precarious financial backgrounds experienced frequent emotional stress at 66%. Additionally, while 80% to 87% of students of all ethnicities reported feeling stressed at least occasionally, white students reportedly experienced emotional stress most frequently at 44%. Also, age was a decisive metric for forecasting which students experienced emotional stress most frequently. Students between 18 and 24 experienced frequent emotional stress at a 14% higher rate than students 25 and older. Same for gender: female students reported frequent emotional stress 17% more often than men.
Supportive relationships ease emotional stress
With growing concerns over student mental health, campus resources have struggled to keep up. Students who have considered withdrawing from classes for personal mental health reasons agree: Only about 55% of these students rate their college or institution’s campus resources as “good” or “excellent.” Opinions of campus resources among former students who dropped out are even worse at about 43%. However, more than 70% of current students who have not considered stopping out due to mental health reasons rate their school resources highly.
Students’ connections with their peers and school faculty may help decrease student emotional stress and thus their reliance on campus resources.
Bachelor’s students were asked several prompts assessing their relationships on campus, and those who agreed with the following prompts correlated with lower rates of frequently experiencing emotional stress.
- You are treated with respect by faculty members at [school name]
- Agree: 44%
- Disagree: 63%
- You have a mentor at [school name] who encourages you to pursue your goals and dreams
- Agree: 40%
- Disagree: 55%
- Your professors at [school name] care about you as a person
- Agree: 44%
- Disagree: 57%
- You are treated with respect by other students at [school name]
- Agree: 45%
- Disagree: 57%
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“Given the lower incidence of emotional stress among bachelor’s students who feel they have supportive, respectful relationships with faculty and peers, such strategies for bolstering students’ support networks may be effective supplements or alternatives to traditional counseling services at four-year colleges,” according to the report.
With the rate of students who’ve considered stopping coursework due to COVID-19 continuing to drop, emotional stress is still a powerful instigator. While the pandemic pumped rates up, the study alluded to a finding from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health that found that between 2008 and 2017, “serious psychological distress” increased by 71% among Americans aged 18 to 25. The issue runs deeper than COVID.