3/17 – 3/23

Faculty’s Role in Student Mental Health, a Webinar. April 8, 2021

The Mary Christie Foundation, in collaboration with Healthy Minds Network, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, and faculty at the Boston University School of Public Health, is holding a webinar, Faculty’s Role in Student Mental Health, on April 8th from 1:00 – 2:30pm EST. This 90-minute webinar will present the findings of a recent national pilot study examining the perceptions and behaviors of college and university faculty as they relate to supporting student mental health and substance use. Principal Investigator Sarah K. Lipson, Ph.D. will describe topline results that will provide policy-relevant information, including faculty’s experiences supporting students in distress during the COVID-19 pandemic, sense of responsibility to provide guidance and referrals for students around mental health, and needs and preferences in terms of future training.

Dr. Lipson’s presentation will be followed by a panel discussion on the important implications for programs, prevention strategies, and campus policy. The three-person panel, moderated by WGBH’s Kirk Carapezza, will feature Aswani Volety, Ph.D., Provost of Elon University; Zoe Ragouzeos, Ph.D., Executive Director of Counseling and Wellness Services at New York University (and MCF President); and Lisa J. Schnell, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of Vermont, who will discuss their reactions to the survey data, and the development and enhancement of approaches to optimize the role that faculty play in student mental and behavioral health. An audience Q&A section will be preceded by an expert commentary from The Steve Fund.

Mental and Behavioral Health

Main Stories

Inside Higher Ed released the results of its 2021 Survey of College and University Presidents, which showed that higher ed leaders put student mental health at the top of their list of current concerns, with 64% reporting they are very concerned and 31% somewhat concerned. Kimberly A. Griffin, professor and associate dean of graduate studies and faculty affairs at the University of Maryland College Park’s College of Education, said that addressing mental health issues may require colleges and universities to “really fundamentally rethink their policy and practice, their systems and structures” in ways that are difficult or uncomfortable.” Griffin asks, “How do we rethink policy and promotion, to account for what [we] can and can’t reasonably do, and to think creatively around workload that free up time to take on new roles? How do we avoid burnout for students and professors?”

To help keep students connected during the pandemic, Duke University Student Affairs dispatched cross-departmental teams that worked to add personal touches to student life. From their Isolation Care Team, to the academic guides program, Duke leveraged its most important resource – its faculty and staff – to alleviate some of the isolation students are feeling.  One Duke student said, “The university was willing to dedicate their time and their effort to really holding together what it means to be a Duke student.”

Inside Higher Ed covers the cancellation of spring break at colleges and universities nationally, reporting that while students generally have appreciated administrators’ efforts to provide “wellness days” off from classes in lieu of a full week break, some believe them to be “better in theory than in practice.” They feel that, unless professors make an effort to clear assignment schedules around the days, students are not actually getting a break. This sentiment has been echoed in various student newspapers across the country. This week, editorials in Syracuse University’s Daily Orange, Harvard’s Crimson, and Connecticut College’s College Voice all covered the issue.

Other News

The Daily Pennsylvanian reports that, as Penn students continue to experience a significant mental health toll due to the pandemic, student-led organizations like Penn Initiative for Minority Mental Health and Project HEAL: Help to Eat, Accept and Live have seen an increase in students seeking their help.

In an op-ed in the Tufts Daily, junior Eliza Dickson argues that Tufts can better serve student mental health by allocating more resources for counseling and mental health services, increasing counselor diversity, removing police involvement from all mental health crisis calls and mandating gatekeeper training for students and faculty.

The Berkeley Beacon reports on data from Emerson College’s Counseling and Psychological Services, which showed 80% of the students who had visited so far in the semester reported experiencing stress related to the pandemic. Mental health, loneliness, missed experiences, and lack of motivation and focus are among the top concerns for those seeking help due to COVID. Dr. Sarah Ketchen Lipson, an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, told the paper, “This moment in time where there is more attention than there ever has been on campus mental health, is this opportunity to take bigger steps towards the things we know are really important.”

The University of Illinois Police Department is hiring a new social worker to increase mental health services, a move that is concerning many students and faculty. A member of the Working Group for Public Safety, Policing and the Justice System, a task force that discusses the role of police on campus, said there is a “fundamental conflict of interest” built into the job of these social workers.

Wellness Educators, a new health promotion program within Harvard University Health Services, will train undergraduates to help connect their peers to campus health resources and provide wellbeing education, under supervision from HUHS staff.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Higher Ed Dive briefs two Iowa bills that “would ban the state’s public colleges from teaching what it defines as ‘divisive concepts’ in diversity training.” Similar to an executive order issued by the former Trump administration, the proposals would ban ideals that “include that the state of Iowa is ‘fundamentally’ racist or sexist, or an individual ‘is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive’ because of their race or sex.” The Biden administration has since rescinded the Trump-era order. However, Iowa’s legislature passed a version of the diversity training ban this month, which would affect public colleges.

The Chronicle reports that last week, Boise State University suspended 52 sections of the Foundations of Ethics and Diversity course. Officials say the abrupt cancellation was due to concerns that “a student or students” were made to feel “humiliated and degraded” in class “for their beliefs and values.” However, the action, which administrators concede is extreme, comes amid attacks by Republican state lawmakers against the university’s efforts to educate about racism and social justice. Earlier this month, Rep. Priscilla Giddings said, “We don’t want funds expended for courses, programs, services, or trainings that confer support for extremist ideologies, such as those tied to social justice, racism, Marxism, socialism or communism.”

In a column for The Hechinger Report, Liz Willen reports that legacy admissions continue to benefit white upper-class students in admissions amid the pandemic, “almost doubling or quadrupling an applicant’s chance of getting in.” Angel Pérez, chief executive officer of NACAC, says there is a financial incentive for colleges as “admitting legacy students also helps fund scholarships” and generates revenue. Legacy preference in admissions can further “perpetuate the cycle of inequity” to “put students of color and low-income students at a disadvantage.” During the pandemic, many elite colleges have witnessed a drastic increase in applications, which has also influenced universities to accept full-tuition and legacy students early in the admissions process.

Inside Higher Ed reports “leading private schools send a large share of their classes to the Ivies or similar institutions.” The article explores the inequities that exist in the current college admissions system. Michael Reilly, the executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions, says “students attending these particular independent schools have financial resources unavailable to most families.”

The American Life, a popular weekly public radio program and podcast, did a deep dive on how college admissions processes have been reshaped by the pandemic, as most colleges have stopped requiring students submit SAT scores, at least temporarily. The program explored what that change might mean for students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, going forward.

The Wall Street Journal reports a drastic decline in international-student enrollment in 2020, following the Trump administration’s student immigration policies. According to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program, students with F-1 and M-1 visas declined by 18%. Visa records for new international students also fell by a striking 72%. “U.S. consulates around the world paused nearly all routine visa processing last spring” and “as of March 1, only 43 out of 233 consular posts were operating at full capacity, according to the State Department.”

Over the past year, massive financial investments have been made to historically black colleges and universities by billionaires, nonprofits and the federal government. Higher Ed Dive reports that those investments could mean transformational change at these historically underfunded schools. Titilayo Tinubu Ali, senior director of research and policy at the Southern Education Foundation, said that the influx of funds have allowed HBCUs to stay open, finance scholarships, and preserve their facilities and infrastructure.

Higher Ed Dive explores how the pandemic has changed higher education. The article notes that the pandemic has compelled institutions to cater to the needs of non-traditional students, who might need assistance with childcare, transportation, and food and shelter.

Inside Higher Ed covers the unique challenges faced by student tribal colleges during the pandemic – limited internet access, financial difficulties, and unmet mental health and childcare needs – and their institutions’ efforts to keep them engaged and enrolled.

Student Success

According to data obtained by WGBH News, 97,145 students, former students, and graduates are unable to obtain their transcripts due to unpaid balances. Nationally, 6.6 million students are unable to obtain their transcripts for unpaid bills as low as $25 or less. As a result, many students are left unable to transfer credits or attain employment to cover the debt. The practice of withholding transcripts disproportionately affects students at community colleges in addition to low-income students. A number of states “have passed or are considering lawsuits to curb the practice of blocking students who owe money from obtaining their transcripts.” In 2020, California became the first state “in which public and private higher educational institutions were banned from holding back the transcripts of students who have unpaid debts.”

College Affordability

The Washington Post and NPR report a potential $1 billion dollar federal loan cancellation for approximately 72,000 students defrauded by colleges. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona ended former Secretary Betsy Devos’s policy, which under the Trump administration, “compared median earnings of graduates who have made debt relief claims with those of graduates from comparable programs.” Those in opposition of the policy said “graduate earnings were a faulty measure as many applicants never completed their degree and the formula created impossible standards for many to get full relief.”

Higher Ed Dive reports that Kansas lawmakers are pushing a proposal that would require public colleges to fund tuition money for instructional days that were canceled, and pay back half of those that went virtual due to the pandemic. Students and families have sued institutions nationwide for tuition refunds, though these efforts have so far been unsuccessful.

In an op-ed in the Hechinger Report, Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of Sociology and Medicine at Temple University and president and founder of The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, argues that institutions should stop using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) to determine eligibility for emergency aid. According to Goldrick-Rab, using the FASFA is “neither the most equitable nor the most impactful.” She argues that the application captures a narrow snapshot of financial circumstances, and “does not consider many factors driving basic needs insecurity, including a student’s current living situation, health status and current use of public benefits programs.”

Coronavirus: Safety and Reopening

Over 900 high school seniors submitted college essays to The New York Times this past year, reflecting on pandemic life, loss and isolation, and racial justice. The Common App, a staple of most American college applications, invited students to write about Covid-19 and its effects on their lives. Other universities asked applicants to write about racial justice in relation to this past year’s events and protests. Excerpts of college essays include stories of racial identity, growth, and resilience during the pandemic.

The Ohio State University is rewarding students who complete health checks and satisfy COVID-19 testing requirements with gift cards, tech products and priority course registration. Experts agree that testing remains a crucial piece of reopening schools and the economy.

Sexual Assault and Title IX

Higher Ed Dive briefs major student concerns in Title IX reporting. In a recent report released by Know Your IX, students who reported sexual violence to their institutions also reported experiencing issues in retaliation and adverse effects such as PTSD and depression. In survey responses from 107 students over the course of two decades, anecdotes include the neglect of a Title IX office addressing a student’s reported assault, as well as receiving forms of punishment for coming forward with an assault. Know Your IX recommends supporting survivors at both the federal and campus level.