1/20 – 1/26

Webinar: Community College Mental Health and Its Impact on Student Success

In collaboration with the American Council on Education, the Mary Christie Foundation is holding a webinar exploring the links between mental health, a sense of belonging, and student success at community colleges. Community College Mental Health and Its Impact on Student Success will be held on Monday, February 8, at 12:00pm EST.

The panel, moderated by Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College, will feature Daisy Cocco De Filippis, President of Hostos Community College, Kathryn Jeffery, Chancellor and Superintendent of Santa Monica Community College, and Russel Lowery-Hart, President of Amarillo College.

Panelists will set priorities for a renewed focus on well-being, review gaps in knowledge, and discuss the role of government, policymakers, and practitioners in creating a culture of positive mental health and belonging. Register for the event here (Create a free ACE Engage account to register). We hope you’ll join us for what is sure to be an illuminating conversation.

Webinar: Community College Mental Health and Its Impact on Student Success

In collaboration with the American Council on Education, the Mary Christie Foundation is holding a webinar exploring the links between mental health, a sense of belonging, and student success at community colleges. Community College Mental Health and Its Impact on Student Success will be held on Monday, February 8, at 12:00pm EST.

The panel, moderated by Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College, will feature Daisy Cocco De Filippis, President of Hostos Community College, Kathryn Jeffery, Chancellor and Superintendent of Santa Monica Community College, and Russel Lowery-Hart, President of Amarillo College.

Panelists will set priorities for a renewed focus on well-being, review gaps in knowledge, and discuss the role of government, policymakers, and practitioners in creating a culture of positive mental health and belonging. Register for the event here (Create a free ACE Engage account to register). We hope you’ll join us for what is sure to be an illuminating conversation.

Mental and Behavioral Health

A segment on PBS Newshour explores the pandemic’s impact on college students’ mental health as campus life, tradition and structure have all been upended. Varun Soni, the vice provost for campus wellness and crisis intervention at the University of Southern California explained that students were already struggling with anxiety, depression, and loneliness, which are all being exacerbated by COVID isolation. “We’re tribal people as human beings. We need a tribe. And college is a place where many students find their tribe,” he said. “And so I think, for a number of students, 80 percent of students around the country say that COVID has negatively impacted their mental health, their spiritual health, and their career aspirations.”

A new study published in PLOS ONE showed diminished mental health of US college students amid the pandemic, with disparities across groups. According to the survey of more than 2,500 students from seven public universities across the United States, women, Asian, students under age 25, those in poor health, those who knew somebody with COVID-19 and lower-income students were at higher risk for feeling highly distressed. Spending eight or more hours in front of a computer, smartphone or television screen also increased risk. Those who reported low levels of distress were more likely to be white and spend two or more hours outdoors.

The Chronicle explored the findings of a new survey by New America and Third Way that provides a window into college students’ struggles and feelings about their own college experience during the pandemic. Students have become more concerned about their mental health, have had more difficulty staying motivated, meeting requirements, and finding internet access for their online classes, and are concerned about being able to pay tuition, find a job, and whether their degree would be viewed differently than one earned when classes were in person.

In Science Magazine, Alan Leshner summarizes the recommendations of the new report from a U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which laid out how institutional leadership, campus mental health professionals, faculty, staff, and students can address the mental health crisis. Leshner, who chaired the committee that authored the report, writes, “Many institutions may need to undergo a change in culture and perception of their mission-from seeing their role as dealing only with severe or acute mental health episodes to promoting the mental health and well-being of all students.” The report’s recommendations include: assessing the extent of the crisis on its campus and whether there are sufficient treatment services available on campus or in the community; alter student orientation to emphasize the value wellbeing and provide information about campus and community services; and training to recognize students in distress and refer them to professional services.

The Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia’s student newspaper, highlights the strategies students are using to improve their mental wellbeing this year including self care practices like walking, reading for pleasure, spending time to focus on themselves, and working out. UVA student Rachel Herzog told the newspaper that fostering cats from the SPCA with her roommates has been a comfort. Herzog also emphasized the impact of professors offering support for students. “I think that it is important for professors to make themselves available,” she said. “We are at an upper level of education, but being flexible where they can is helpful.”

Public Source reports that Pittsburgh-area college students are creating spaces for themselves to talk about their mental health. Kayla Koch, a University of Pittsburgh student who leads its chapter of the DMAX Club, a national mental health advocacy organization, said, “Our goal is to come into these meetings and say, ‘This is normal. Voice your struggles. Tell us what’s going on. Maybe we’re going to be able to help. Maybe it’s just somewhere to vent. Maybe this is just, you know, that stress relief you need at the end of the week.” Kamakashi Sharma, president of Pitt’s campus chapter of Active Minds, said, “I feel like there is this longing for community, but there’s also this idea of isolation and just wanting to withdraw and be on your own throughout the semester. Navigating those boundaries has been very difficult for students – me included – just understanding how much me-time is too much versus how much me-time is not enough.”

Harvard’s Undergraduate Council passed legislation to promote student “self-advocacy” regarding adherence to wellness days, which are dispersed throughout the spring semester.  The Faculty of Arts and Sciences implemented the policy in lieu of spring break. The legislation, which passed unanimously, publicizes a guide that offers recommendations for how students can ensure course instructors observe the days. The guide provides template emails that can be used to contact course staff, followed by the director of undergraduate studies for the department and their resident dean.

In an op-ed in the Hechinger Report, Jaida Sloan, a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Austin Catania, a student at Penn State, outline steps professors can take to make online learning more manageable. Using their own instructors as examples, they emphasize the importance of “clarity, consistency and reliability” in expectation-setting around grading and class policies, response times and deadlines. They also recommend checking in on how students are doing. We’re all learning together right now, and we don’t expect our instructors to be perfect, they write. “We try to understand what they are experiencing, and the most powerful moments we’ve shared are when they return that same understanding to us.”

The New York Times reports on a tragic series of high school student suicides in Nevada’s Clark County district (where Las Vegas is located) since the pandemic began. Early warning systems that monitor students’ mental health had sent more than 3,100 alerts to district officials since schools closed in March. By December, 18 students had taken their own lives. This pushed the district to bring students back as quickly as possible. “When we started to see the uptick in children taking their lives, we knew it wasn’t just the Covid numbers we need to look at anymore,” said Jesus Jara, the Clark County superintendent. “We have to find a way to put our hands on our kids, to see them, to look at them. They’ve got to start seeing some movement, some hope.”

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Newly released data about the Common App confirms what has been reported anecdotally: first-generation students from low income families are not applying to college at the same rates under the pandemic that they had previously.

Higher Ed Dive reports that two Colorado state lawmakers plan to introduce a bill removing a requirement that public colleges use a national assessment test score, like the ACT or SAT, as an admissions criteria. The lawmakers say that going test-optional will improve access to higher education.

Inside Higher Ed reports on the findings of a study, “The Impact of 2020 on Introductory Faculty and Their Students.” A survey of 852 instructors who teach introductory courses at two- or four-year colleges found that faculty are concerned about their students, especially those from groups that are historically disadvantaged in higher education. Sixty two percent of instructors said they spent more time this fall than they had last time they had taught the introductory course providing support to students.

Student Success

The Wall Street Journal reports that, in an effort to improve access to higher education, lawmakers in at least eight states are pushing legislation that would require high-school seniors to complete federal or state financial-aid applications before they graduate high school. Supporters say the mandates would help millions of young adults claim grants for which they are already eligible.

A new report from the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness states that the pandemic has forced some community college systems to move away from solely relying on standardized tests to determine whether students need developmental education. These schools are using measures like GPA, soft skills assessments, and test scores to place students in appropriate classes. The researchers suggest that community college systems can help other schools adopt new practices.

College Affordability

The Education Department extended the suspension of federal student loan payments through Sept. 30 following a request from President Biden. The moratorium was set to expire at the end of this month. “Too many Americans are struggling to pay for basic necessities and to provide for their families,” the Education Department said in a statement. “They should not be forced to choose between paying their student loans and putting food on the table.”

Coronavirus: Safety and Reopening

Rice University students are suing the school claiming they are owed compensation because they did not get the college experience they paid for after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The lawyers are seeking class-action status and claim damages exceeding $5 million.

The University of Michigan’s athletic department shut down for two weeks due to confirmed cases of the new COVID-19 variant. The Michigan Daily reports that there were five confirmed cases of the new variant, with 15 more presumed positives throughout the athletic department. The new strain was first introduced to Michigan at the beginning of the semester by a U-M athlete traveling from the UK.