2/10 -2/16

New Quadcast Episode: Julio Frenk, President of the University of Miami

In a new episode of the Quadcast, University of Miami President Julio Frenk, MD, MPH, PhD, discusses how he has leveraged his extensive public health experience to safeguard student health and wellness during these extraordinary times. President Frenk was previously the dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Minister of Health of Mexico from 2000 to 2006. He details University of Miami’s science-driven approach, which employs an “adaptive and responsive strategy.”

This episode is the second in a non-consecutive interview series featuring college presidents discussing their institution’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and what it means for student mental health.

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. We hope you’ll enjoy listening.

Mental and Behavioral Health

Main Stories

In an op-ed in USA Today, Scott A. Bass, a professor and provost emeritus at American University’s School of Public Affairs, and executive director of AU’s Center for University Excellence, asks, “What lasting effects will the pandemic of 2020-21 have on a generation of young people who have become the tragic victims of circumstances far beyond their control? Will today’s stressed youth, still reeling from a pandemic, become the next Lost Generation?” He compares the possible effects and psychosocial scars of the coronavirus to other epic world events like World War I coupled with the 1918-20 influenza pandemic, which left many aimless and uncertain. Bass worries about the generation of young people that have been cut off from socialization vital to their transition to adulthood. “What we do today will determine the fate of a generation whose spirit, hope, and energy are in danger of being forever lost,” he writes. He calls for immediate, bold action like the relief proposed by the Biden administration, writing that without it, ‘the long-term costs to the nation will be far more than a few trillion dollars; it will be the loss of a generation.”

A new bill in the Maryland Legislature would create a task force to study the barriers that college students face when seeking mental healthcare. “Mental health issues are the leading impediment to academic success,” the researchers wrote, and stress over the virus has exacerbated an already-increasing trend in students seeking treatment for anxiety.

A new study from NBC News and Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with the Stanford Graduate School of Education, shows that high school students who had spent time in the classroom reported slightly lower rates of stress and worry than their peers whose classes have been exclusively online. In a survey of more than 10,000 students in 12 high schools, just over half said they were more stressed about school in 2020 than they had been previously. Eighty-four percent of remote students reported exhaustion, headaches, insomnia or other stress-related ailments, compared to 82% of those who were in the classroom on some days and 78% of those who were in-person full time. “Remote learning — and I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone — is just more challenging,” said Sarah Miles, the director of research and programs at Challenge Success and one of the leaders of the study. “It’s harder for kids to feel connected. It’s harder for teachers, for the adults in the school, to connect and that’s a foundational element. In order for kids to learn, they need to feel safe and connected.”

In the New York Times, experts are concerned about deteriorating mental health caused by lockdown isolation in European countries. Young people have been disproportionately affected by the “mental health pandemic” during a pivotal time in their development, as colleges are closed, they are last in line for vaccines, and are sacrificing their social life largely to protect older people. They are losing out on traditional milestones and economic opportunities across the world. “Many feel they’re paying the price not of the pandemic, but of the measures taken against the pandemic,” said Dr. Nicolas Franck, the head of a psychiatric network in Lyon, France.


Other News

University of Massachusetts Amherst ordered a two-week lockdown after a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, requiring that students shelter in their dorms except to get food and attend essential appointments. WBUR’s Morning Edition spoke with Sara McKenna, a UMass senior and secretary of University Policy with UMass Amherst’s Student Government Association, about how students are handling the transition, and how their mental health is affected.

In the Minnesota Daily, University of Minnesota Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences professor Dr. Emily Pisetsky says there has been an increase in disordered eating among those with a history and those with active eating disorders during the pandemic. A number of lifestyle changes can be causing this uptick: Coping mechanisms have been stripped away for many, occasions for social eating have been eliminated, and virtual therapy sessions can be triggering, as students can spend a lot of time staring at themselves on the screen.

The Black Student Alliance at Western Kentucky University held a panel to encourage black students to discuss their mental health issues in a safe space. Students shared their childhood traumas and learned how to cope.

Oregon State University is hiring four new mental health professionals, two of whom will work closely with African American and Indigenous students.

Boston University students and parents have called on the administration to improve its mental health resources for students, according to the Daily Free Press. Alessandra Kellermann, the mother of a senior at BU, said there largely hasn’t been enough communication from the administration. “Especially this semester, the silence is deafening,” she said. “That’s not okay.” She believes the number of students returning home after living on campus reflects BU’s inability to meet their mental health needs.

Columbia University sophomore Rachel Marsh, a sprinter on the track and field team, founded Brazen, a website where students of color, especially athletes, could celebrate their art and promote mental health.

In an op-ed in the Daily Princetonian, Hannah Reynolds, a junior, argues that Princeton University should take a campus-wide approach to mental health. “If we are to wholly care for the Princeton community, everyone needs to step up, both in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and in promoting mental health and well-being,” she writes.

Students continue to express their skepticism and frustration with wellness days in student newspaper editorials. Others are requesting them more frequently, or with additional guardrails on assignments during the time period.

University of Southern California Student Health hired more diverse counselors, re-doubled student outreach and made therapists more accessible to students in an effort to better address the needs of students of color.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

As the U.S faces declining international student enrollment, a new American Council on Education report calls for a coordinated effort to recruit and improve the experience of international students. Higher Ed Dive reports on the new paper, which outlines several ways to assist international students, including helping them navigate admissions policies and connecting them to alumni networks.

NPR member station WILL explores the growing movement on campuses across the country to defund and disband campus police departments. Lee Gaines of WILL reports that students of color at the University of Illinois say they’re over-policed, while campus officers say they’re a necessary part of college life.

Washington Post analysis of federal data found that for at least the last decade, the Education Department has disproportionately selected students from majority-Black and Latino neighborhoods to provide further proof that the information on their financial aid application is accurate. This request, which is designed to reduce fraud, can be time-consuming and invasive, and is another hurdle for low income students to access higher education. The federal government is taking steps to lower the number of students subjected to this audit.

Student Success

According to the Hechinger Report, new research has shown that using “nudges,” texts to remind students to fill out financial aid forms and apply to and enroll in college, is not as effective as once believed. Early successes using nudging texts led government and non-profit leaders to try the strategy, which has not worked well in larger numbers. Jeff Denning, an economist at Brigham Young University and a researcher on the newly published study, “Nudging at scale: Experimental evidence from FAFSA completion campaigns,” said, “This paper and others have changed how we think about this type of intervention. We’re narrowing in on where nudging is useful. It is useful in some cases.” Researchers are confident that nudging texts did and can produce real benefits, but have learned that customized, two-way texting initiated by a known entity (like a student’s school or community center) works best.

WGBH reports on a major obstacle to graduating on time — colleges withholding transcripts from students who have transferred to another school or abandoned their pursuit of higher education because of small debts. According to a new study, these debts total about $15 billion, but in most cases the balances owed are $25 or less. Julia Karon, who led the study, said once a student transfers, colleges have a couple of options to collect any money they’re owed. “They can withhold a transcript or they can transfer that debt to a collections agency,” she said. “Many institutions claim that transcript holds are sort of the most effective way to bring students back to the table and start a conversation around repayment.” The majority of students who cannot obtain copies of their transcripts are poor and attend community colleges, so a few states are moving to ban this practice.

College Affordability

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents unanimously approved the creation of the tuition-free program for lower-income Minnesota students, which they hope to have in place for this fall. Students whose families earn $50,000 per year or less will have their tuition for any of Minnesota’s five campuses for free, though the program does not pay for additional fees or room and board.