New Quadcast: Health, Wellness and Safety for the Holidays
This week, two college student health specialists came back on the Quadcast to talk about safeguarding physical and mental health for college students (and their families) over the holidays.
We spoke with Dr. Marcia Morris, an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Florida Department of Psychiatry, Associate Program Direction for SHCC Psychiatry and author of “The Campus Cure: A Parent’s Guide to Mental Health and Wellness for College Students;” and Dr. Jill Grimes, a board-certified family physician and author of The Ultimate College Student Health Handbook, which was recently named the Best Medical Reference book in the 2020 American Book Fest Best Book Awards.
You can listen to the episode here or on Apple Podcasts. While you’re there, give us a rating and review – It helps us reach a wider audience.
Mental and Behavioral Health
In the Hechinger Report, Barnard College President Sian Beilock, PhD, a cognitive scientist, wrote about how the literature, including her own research, shows that uncertainty and worrying about “what ifs” underpin anxiety. With this in mind, Beilock says colleges, including faculty and staff, can provide their students better support by incorporating a sense of context into the student experience as understanding makes people feel more in control. In an effort to deliver an applicable and meaningful education that equips students, Barnard offered classes relevant to the current cultural moment, such as a microbiology class only on the coronavirus and a course for first-years called Big Problems: Making Sense of 2020, as well as launching the ThirdSpace@ to connect students with networks and resources to participate in advocacy, something very important to this generation.
The University System of Georgia is increasing access to mental health support for its students. In August, Governor Kemp announced Georgia will allocate $11.5 million set aside by the federal CARES Act, to support mental health and student support services in the system. The majority of the funding will expand clinical resources to ensure every student has access to telemental health care and clinical counseling services. Expanded services will also offer in-person counseling options through a partnership with Christie Campus Health, a 24/7 hotline and well-being support programs. (MCF is funded in part by Christie Campus Health.) Additionally funds have been allocated for a Mental Health Consortium to develop a long-term service model for the 26 institutions, mini-grants that will support mental health and wellness on each campus, and a partnership with The Jed Foundation.
As on-campus semesters draw to a close, many students have turned to their campus newspaper to publish reflections on the fall and make suggestions for improvement for the spring. A common theme involves incorporating more days off into the semester. Many schools adjusted their academic calendars this fall by removing breaks to limit student travel, though students argue this came at a cost to student mental health due to the constant forward motion of the semester without opportunity for students to pause and rest. One student from Villanova suggested professors be required to give three classes off per semester or that the institution offer one mental health day a month. A student at Tulane shared similar sentiments and remarked that the University’s response to make up two missed days of class due Hurricane Zeta on weekend days was unfair and damaging to student and faculty wellbeing.
Forbes reports that starting next month, Ozarks Technical Community College in Missouri will provide free behavioral health services to all its students and employees, including part-time students, staff and adjunct instructors. OTC will partner with a community mental health center to offer the six-month pilot project. Joan Barrett, OTC’s vice chancellor for student affairs, said the pandemic revealed the need for more mental health resources, and that unmet needs can lead to students struggling with their academics and dropping out.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
The Bowdoin Orient reports that In January, Bowdoin College will require that students, faculty, staff, and trustees take an online course about diversity, equity and inclusion. Senior Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Michael Reed said, “We believe this educational path will enable all of us to have more skillful conversations as we move through a multiyear process of learning and working with each other to understand and address the challenges of anti-Black racism and racial inequity.”
Sexual Assault and Title IX
Following the publication of USA Today’s article about Louisiana State University averting Title IX protocol to protect athletes accused of sexual assault, the University responded affirming their commitment to victims and to the seriousness of such accusations. LSU announced that the school had hired an outside legal team to conduct an independent investigation of their Title IX procedures. LSU’s Reveille Editorial Board wrote that students are disappointed but not surprised by the recent revelations, especially after USA Today first broke the stories of two female students who claim that football star Derrick Guice assaulted them in August. Over the summer, two alumnae started the #ShowYourself campaign to share experiences of sexual assault and reporting at LSU. In response to the University’s announcements, the Editorial Board said, “actions speak louder than words.”
Politico reports that the NCAA quietly delayed a high-profile campus sexual violence policy that would require schools to document and track misconduct cases. Colleges have been given an extra two years to comply with the policy, during which time athletes might not face penalties if they do not disclose past accusations or discipline. The delay has frustrated sexual assault victims advocates.
Coronavirus: Safety and Reopenings
A student at Livingstone College in North Carolina died last week due to complications of COVID-19. Jamesha Waddell was a 23-year-old senior at the historically Black Christian college.
College students are heading home for the holidays, and many are concerned with what the increased travel, especially from campuses that have been hot zones for the coronavirus, will lead to. “Young, asymptomatic individuals, the so-called ‘silent spreaders,’ are fueling the epidemic in this country,” David Paltiel, professor of public health at Yale School of Management told CNN. “So colleges have a responsibility to ensure that they don’t unwittingly unleash ticking time bombs into the nation’s airports, train stations and Thanksgiving dining tables.” The Chronicle reports that the trips home come at the worst possible time, as cases spike at many institutions. On Thursday, the CDC warned that college students traveling home should be treated as “overnight guests” and take appropriate precautions. A group of governors of Northeast states together urged colleges to test students who live on campus for the coronavirus before they leave for Thanksgiving break. But the Wall Street Journal reports that less than one-third of schools have mandated testing. “Any institution that is not doing exit testing right now has the potential to be a time bomb,” Dr. Marsicano said. “They are likely contributing to an incredible increase across the country.”
The New York Times highlights the drastic changes the University of Michigan is undertaking for the spring semester in an effort to curb the coronavirus clusters that have persisted on the campus. This fall, more than 1 in 3 classes offered in-person instruction, despite hundreds of faculty and graduate assistants protesting the level of face-to-face interaction. Prominent public health experts criticized the lack of mandatory coronavirus testing. By mid-October, county health authorities ordered the entire campus to shelter in place. For the spring, the school has asked students not to come back to campus unless they have to, as each dorm room will hold only one person. Instruction will be remote in 90 percent of classes. Health rule violations will be met with tougher sanctions, including automatic probation, and coronavirus tests will be mandatory.
HBCU’s Spelman College and Morehouse College announced plans for the spring semester, both opting for a low density, hybrid model of instruction. Morehouse College will accommodate up to 1,200 freshmen and upperclassmen and a limited number of faculty and staff. Education Dive reports that the density-reduction strategy for resident halls is leaving some students scrambling for housing.
The University of Florida will implement mandatory COVID-19 testing in the Spring semester for students taking in-person classes or living on campus.
The University of Alabama plans to require all students and staff without medical excuses to return full-time in-person on January 7 barring no increase in COVID-19 infections in the area. A few weeks ago, the University started to require faculty and staff to work at least two days a week in person. Administrators announced that the decision will be made in consideration of public health and local infection and positivity rates, which are currently on the rise. Individual colleges and programs will be able to require in-person participation, demanding a valid excuse for distance learning. “The reality is campus is safe. If you follow the protocols it’s safe,” said Dr. Richard Friend, dean of the College of Community Health Sciences. A total of 115 students tested positive last week, an increase from 77 the week before, adding to the cumulative total of 2,833 students testing positive this semester.
In an op-ed in the Hechinger Report, Michelle Dimino, senior education policy advisor at Third Way, and Christine Wolff-Eisenberg, manager of surveys and research at Ithaka S+R, writes that “community colleges have long been innovators and leaders in serving students holistically” and offer a model for how four-year colleges can support students’ basic needs. They write, “That’s because community colleges are called on to serve students who have the least, with populations that tend to be more diverse and come from groups that have been historically underserved by the education system and the economy.” In Inside Higher Ed, Xueli Wang a professor of higher education in the department of educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and author of On My Own: The Challenge and Promise of Building Equitable STEM Transfer Pathways, shared findings from interviews with community college students about how their education prepared them for the pandemic. The students highlighted the practical nature of their community college education, the resiliency they gained by persisting in the face of multiple responsibilities, and the way their education developed in them a strong desire to give back to their community.
The Hechinger Report explores the trend of bachelor’s degrees holders returning to school for career and technical education in fields ranging like firefighting, automation and nursing. These fields often provide good salaries but are far less costly and time-consuming to attain. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, one in 12 students now at community colleges – or more than 940,000 – previously earned a bachelor’s degree.
The Wall Street Journal reports that enrollment drops at community colleges reflect the disproportionate impact of the pandemic and resulting economic downturn on students of color, low income students and first-generation students who are overrepresented at community colleges. Thomas Brock, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University said, “In hindsight, knowing what we know about the pandemic and who was most affected, it perhaps should not have been a surprise.” Students and school officials say that poor internet connection, wariness about online classes, financial difficulties and the need to care for children or siblings all affect students’ ability to take classes.
Last week, Grinnell College announced that they would spend an additional $5 million per year to remove loans from financial aid packages and replace them with grants, citing the financial difficulties caused by the pandemic as the reason for changing its policies. The Chronicle interviewed Anne F. Harris, the college’s new president about the shift.
Education Dive explores whether President-Elect Biden will be able to double the federal Pell Grant, one of his higher education proposals. Investing in the Pell Grant, the largest source of federal grant money to help low- and middle-income students pay for college, is favored widely among education groups and lawmakers across the political spectrum. However, due to the urgent nature of pandemic protections and economic relief, Pell likely won’t be a top priority right away.
Education Dive highlights one of the president-elect’s lesser-known higher education proposals: funding for colleges that would be distributed similarly to the Title I program, which sends money to K-12 schools with high shares of low-income students. According to Biden’s campaign website, the program would give grants to four-year colleges with large numbers of Pell-eligible learners. While higher education experts say that colleges with fewer resources could benefit from more funding, setting up this type of program does have its own challenges. Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government relations at the American Council on Education said, “This is so fundamentally different from the way that federal aid to students is distributed now that the most basic question is whether or not it can work.”
Americans, including over 200 nonprofit and community organizations, are putting pressure on the incoming Biden administration to cancel student debt and institute loan forgiveness policy as an economic stimulus initiative. Student debt disproportionately affects Black and Latinx Americans, two groups who experienced an outsized impact of the pandemic and resulting financial setback. During the campaign, Biden proposed $10,000 of debt forgiveness during the pandemic. However, a number of economic and legal scholars have voiced concerns that student loan forgiveness may be subject to taxation or other regulatory policy that would hinder the short- and long-term benefits and therefore question the effectiveness of loan forgiveness as a stimulus strategy. In a similar vein, many on the left support free college, such as Bernie Sanders’ College for All plan. In an op-ed in the Chronicle, Arkansas State University Professor Erik Gilbert argues that efforts to make college more financially accessible to Americans could result in devaluation of the degree and could lower the post-grad financial advantage due to its ubiquity, thus undermining the idea that college degrees and higher education will help solve many of the financial and social strains in the United States.