2/17 – 2/23

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

On February 8th, the Mary Christie Foundation presented a webinar in collaboration with the American Council on Education (ACE) exploring mental health and community college student success. The panel of community college leaders discussed how to create a culture of positive mental health and belonging.

The webinar recording can now be viewed on the ACE Engage platform here. (Create a free ACE Engage account to view the webinar.)

Mental and Behavioral Health

Main Stories

The New York Times reports that young people in mental health crisis are turning to their local emergency departments, which are seeing a surge in pediatric emergency admissions for issues like panic and anxiety. The pandemic and isolation have had a significantly detrimental affect on teen mental health. According to a new analysis of surveys of young patients coming into the emergency room, rates of suicidal thinking and behavior are up 25% or more from similar periods in 2019. But local emergency departments are often unprepared for these cases, as healthcare workers in that setting are not specially trained to manage behavioral problems and options for post-emergency care are limited, leaving many families in limbo.

As Democrats debate student debt cancellations in Washington, Salon highlights the mental health implications of the student debt burden held by 4 million borrowers in the US. According to Salon, the United States is unique among developed countries for pushing such a large amount of college cost onto students. This created a disproportionate economic burden for America’s college graduates compared to international peers, and increased stress and anxiety as a result. Randy Withers, a mental health professional, graduated from Florida State University in 1997 with over $100,000 in student loan debt, which with interest, has now accumulated to $145,000. Withers describes the effect on his mental health saying, “It’s more of a long term slow-burn anxiety…it’s like a monster on your back that, you know, you just can’t get rid of. It’s not that I’m unwilling, I just lack the economic means to pay it off.” He continued, “I made these choices to go into school, I’m not blaming anybody, but it does take an emotional cost — it’s like carrying a mortgage for a house you don’t live in.”

Findings from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State University highlight which student groups are most adversely affected by the pandemic. Students were asked whether the pandemic is negatively impacting 12 areas of their lives, including academics, mental health, and relationships. LGBTQ students reported negative impacts on factors including mental health, motivation or focus, loneliness, and academics at higher rates than their cisgender, heterosexual peers. African American/Black, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and American Indian or Alaskan Native students reported the highest rates of grief or loss.

Other News
University of Minnesota launched the President’s Initiative for Student Mental Health, a systemwide initiative dedicated to bringing together a comprehensive group of mental health and wellness services, programs, policies, research, and academic practices from across the five campuses and the state of Minnesota. These resources will be consolidated to make them more accessible to students, to destigmatize their use, and to promote best practices.

An op-ed in the Oberlin Review covers the intractable issue of state licensure laws prohibiting mental health therapy across state lines, criticizing Ohio’s state government for its failure to pass legislation that would address the problem.

Science Magazine explores what’s changed globally in the four years since a landmark study showed a high prevalence of mental health issues among Ph.D. students. The study’s author observed structural changes at some universities, initiatives driven by faculty, and whole countries taking a top-down approach to address the problem. The UK implemented a framework to help universities better support their students’ and employees’ well-being and mental health.

Student newspapers highlight the opinions of faculty and staff regarding the implementation of wellness days in lieu of spring break this semester, as well as the impact of the pandemic and distance learning.

At Yale University, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee plans to produce a video promoting mental health that aims to emphasize the universal nature of mental health issues, and will feature testimonials from student-athletes on their experiences.

The Binghamton Student Managed Adderall Research Team (B-SMART), a group made up of students and led by Binghamton University assistant professor Lina Begdache, Ph.D. ’08, is investigating the harmful effects of Adderall abuse on college students. Junior Dennis Cregin said, “I want students to learn that our survey data shows that unprescribed use of ADHD medications is correlated with a low GPA, a myriad of mental health side effects, and even physical health side effects.”

A pair of Ohio State University mental health surveys completed by 3,589 students, faculty and staff, showed that 70% of student respondents and 37% of staff and faculty were burnt out or burning out by December. Additionally, more than one in five of the students reported drinking more alcohol to cope with increasing depression and anxiety.

Ohio State Student Wellness Center created the Beyond Your Own Buzz program to support students struggling with substance abuse. The program is designed for students who want to improve their negative relationship with alcohol or drugs but do not necessarily want to become sober or abstain from substance use.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

According to the Chronicle, the summer and fall of 2020 is seen by many as a watershed moment in the history of higher education and race. The number of changes (including the proposals of required diversity or anti-bias training for faculty and staff, changing the names of buildings named after Confederate military leaders or white supremacists, and reviews of curriculum to remediate systemic bias) and the scope of the commitments made by college leaders across the country are striking to many in the field. Shaun R. Harper, executive director of the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California said, “We’ve seen many more campus leaders actually lay out a specific set of actions. There are some places that have taken bold, swift action. They’ve moved faster than I’ve ever seen them move before.”

The New York Times reports that an initiative started by a New York-based nonprofit, the National Education Equity Lab, enrolled more than 300 11th and 12th graders from high-poverty high schools in 11 cities across the country in a virtually-held Harvard course, “Poetry in America: The City From Whitman to Hip-Hop.”  Leslie Cornfeld, the Equity Lab’s founder and chief executive, said that the goal of the pilot program was “reimagining and expanding the roles and responsibilities of universities,” and encouraging them to pursue star students from underprivileged backgrounds. The effort was meant to challenge the participating students academically, giving them confidence and preparing them for the rigors of competitive colleges. The early results, according to Ms. Cornfeld, show that, “Our nation’s talent is evenly distributed; opportunity is not.” Eighty-nine percent of the students passed the class, and 63% completed the Harvard course with an A or B. The experiment has given some of the gatekeepers food for thought. Jeremiah Quinlan, the dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale University, said, “We have not traditionally taken students from certain communities and certain high schools, and that’s generations of work that we need to overcome.”

The Hechinger Report reports on the pandemic’s negative effect on the already-challenging college admissions process faced by applicants from low-income families. “This is hitting our students in such a more exacerbated way than it’s hitting White, higher-income students,” said Claire Dennison, chief program officer of uAspire, which helps low-income and first-generation families navigate college admissions and financial aid. “They have always faced roadblocks on the way to college, and they certainly have more of those now.” There are clear signs that fewer low-income, first-generation, Black and Hispanic students are applying to college for the 2021-22 academic year than in the past.

Student Success

Higher Ed Dive reports that Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit aiming to improve community college student success, launched a three-year initiative to improve workforce development at rural schools. The organization will work with a cohort of seven colleges on institutional reforms, narrowing equity gaps and providing personalized support to students.

New warning signs that freshman class sizes will not immediately bounce back this fall have emerged. According to the Hechinger Report, high school seniors are filling out more financial aid forms than they were in the midst of the pandemic autumn of 2020, but earlier this month, filings of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid were still down 9.4 percent from a year ago. FAFSA filings remain especially low at high schools with higher concentrations of students of color, in rural areas and small towns, and in low-income schools everywhere.

College Affordability

The Washington Post and Politico report on the continued back and forth between the White House and key Democrats after President Biden rejected Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s call to cancel up to $50,000 in debt held by federal student loan borrowers. In a town call hosted by CNN last week, Biden told a borrower inquiring about the proposal, “I will not make that happen.” Biden says he doesn’t believe he has the authority to write off that amount, but is prepared to eliminate $10,000. On Wednesday, Schumer released a joint statement with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) reiterating their belief that the Biden administration has the authority. “Canceling $50,000 in federal student loan debt will help close the racial wealth gap, benefit the 40 percent of borrowers who do not have a college degree, and help stimulate the economy,” they wrote. “It’s time to act. We will keep fighting.”

As the president, congressional leaders and debt experts continue to argue over debt forgiveness, the Hechinger Report released an interactive report exploring who would gain the most from cancelling student debt. While it’s popular among voters, a handful of economists have argued that middle-class families will benefit more than poor and marginalized Americans. Affluent families make up a large portion of borrowers, worrying some economists about forgiveness programs. However, while it is true that broad cancellation would forgive more dollars of debt for middle- and high-income families, this fact obscures the reality that households with the least wealth borrow most frequently and at the highest balances.

Coronavirus: Safety and Reopening

Inside Higher Ed reports that while COVID-19 cases are on the decline nationwide, many college campuses are experiencing a rise in cases compared to their fall numbers. Boston College set a new record for most cases in a week. Many are blaming students, specifically freshman, who they say are not following safety rules. A number of institutions are adopting or considering tighter restrictions. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst issued a strict lockdown Feb. 7 which prohibits students from leaving residences except to get food or medical care or for mandatory COVID-19 tests. New variants are also showing up on campus, with at least nine colleges reporting they have cases, including Davidson College, the University of Central Florida, and the University of Virginia.

In a new podcast called Swish, journalist Kara Swisher spoke with Oberlin College president, Carmen Twillie Ambar about her initial decision to close the college last March, reopening, and why tuition has been left unchanged.

University of Virginia officials say that widespread noncompliance with campus health guidelines is driving an explosion of coronavirus cases at the school. There are 779 active cases — including 18 among employees — on and around the Charlottesville campus, more than half of which were reported this week. The campus is also dealing with a variant of the virus first identified in Britain, but it is uncertain how much of the outbreak is tied to the new strain.