4/14 – 4/20

Quadcast: Howard University President Wayne Frederick

On this episode of the Quadcast, we continue our series on college presidents during this unprecedented time with an interview with Howard University President Dr. Wayne Frederick, who spoke with us about what life has been like at the DC-based HBCU, his students’ resilience, what to look forward to, and what to look out for.  

This episode is the latest in a non-consecutive series highlighting college and university presidents’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Listen on our website or on Apple Podcasts. While you’re there, leave us a rating or review; it helps us reach a wider audience. We hope you enjoy listening. 

Mental and Behavioral Health

Main Stories 

Inside Higher Ed reports that college presidents and student leaders alike welcomed the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of murder and manslaughter for the killing of George Floyd, with some measure of relief. College presidents across the country issued statements supporting the verdict, but noting the work left to be done to achieve racial justice in higher education and society alike. Luis G. Pedraja, president of Quinsigamond Community College in Massachusetts said, “Unfortunately, the outcome of the trial will not bring solace to everyone in our country. Today is a strong reminder that there is a lot more work to do in order to eradicate and dismantle systemic racism in the United States.” ABC News reports that several colleges and universities, including Princeton University, Penn State University, Syracuse University, Boston University, Northwestern University, Grinnell College, Binghamton University and Columbia College Chicago, reached out to students to provide support and resources during deliberations in the Derek Chauvin trial. Schools listed mental health resources and virtual community spaces to help students and faculty process the trial.

Inside Higher Ed covers the results of their latest Student Voice survey, conducted with College Pulse and presented by Kaplan. The survey found that while students are reporting mental health challenges related to the pandemic, they are often not using counseling center services. In a survey of 2,002 students at 116 higher ed institutions, 65% reported having fair or poor mental health, 47% say they could have used more support from their college during this time, and only 15% said they used their campus counseling services over the past year. IHE offers 12 ideas for improving mental health services and supports including providing immediate help options, examining prioritization processes, engaging with all students rather than just the help-seekers, incorporating peer training and support groups, getting student input, and diversifying the counseling workforce.

BU Today and WBUR’s Consider This covers our recent study with the Healthy Minds Network and the Boston University School of Public Health, which found that nearly 80% of faculty report dealing with student mental health issues, but less than 30% have received training from their academic institutions to handle these issues. Encouragingly, almost 70% say they would welcome additional training to strengthen their support for students experiencing mental health challenges. In case you missed it, you can read the report here

In Diverse Education,  Members of the Black First-Gen Collective, a group of higher education professionals dedicated to the success and support of Black first-generation college students, write in Diverse Education that colleges and universities must prioritize Black first-generation students’ mental health concerns and invest in their mental health needs by “establishing Black first-generation student mental health research initiatives, creating support spaces, and providing culturally competent staff and training for administrators.  The authors are Dr. Tracie A. Lowe, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin for IUPRA; Althea Counts, the director of TRIO Programs at the University of South Carolina; Dr. Kimberly Walker, the director of Institutional Effectiveness, Compliance and Academic Programs at the University of South Carolina Upstate; and Dr. Charmaine Troy, the First-Generation Program and Operations Manager at Georgia Tech University.

Other News

A new study published in Pharmacotherapy found that the proportion of college students who have taken psychiatric medications of all categories has risen in the last decade. Additionally, these students are increasingly likely to be on more than one kind of psychiatric medication.

NBC News reports on the increased mental health challenges faced by college students this year due to social isolation. The story cites the Healthy Minds Network’s fall study showing that 39% of the 30,000 students surveyed have symptoms of major depression, 66% are experiencing loneliness, and 13% have seriously considered suicide in the last year.

WUSF reports on increases in depression and anxiety among teenagers amid the pandemic, which comes at a significant stage in their development. “I think what’s happening is now we’re seeing the long-term results,” said Todd Shapiro, director for school-based services at the mental health organization, First Step of Sarasota. “Kids are feeling lonely, isolated, and depressed.”

This past Sunday, the Undergraduate Council at Harvard University released an all-Ivy League statement for mental health reform. The legislation calls for BIPOC mental healthcare, increasing counseling services, changes to leave of absence policy, and more. 

Recent research from Loyola University Chicago’s Improving Mental-health and Promoting Adjustment through Critical Transitions (IMPACT) lab shows that many students experience a decline in mental health during their first year of college, which doesn’t stabilize until almost after their second year.

According to the Georgetown Voice, many students are “struggling to receive consistent and cost-effective mental health services during the pandemic,” despite HoyaWell, the school’s free telehealth program which offers three services: TalkNow, scheduled counseling, and psychiatry.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Inside Higher Ed details ongoing efforts at universities to make education for deaf students more inclusive and accessible. Methods include hiring more interpreters, developing and advancing ASL linguistics in academia, and recruiting interpreters of color. For example, the University of Florida is currently looking to hire four full-time interpreters, and faculty and students at Gallaudet University and the University of Washington have created an online ASL-STEM forum to advance the repository of STEM sign language and vocabulary. 

According to federal data analyzed by The Hechinger Report and The Washington Post, flagship universities — prestigious public universities– are failing to meet Black and Latino enrollment numbers representative of their states’ demographics. Across fifteen flagship universities, there was, at minimum, a 10-point percentage disparity between their state’s number of Black public high school graduates and Black first-year students enrolled for the fall. Tomás Monarrez, a research associate at The Urban Institute says, “The issue is not that there aren’t enough qualified Black and Latino students. It’s about who they’re choosing to accept.”

In an op-ed in the Hechinger Report, Andrew Palumbo, dean of admissions and financial aid at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, praises the diminishing influence of standardized test scores in the college application process. “Standardized test scores have a problematic correlation with family income, gender and race and ethnicity,” he writes. “At a time when universities across the U.S. have made commitments to root out structural racism and inequitable practices, the consideration of SAT and ACT scores should top the list of practices targeted for elimination.”

The New York Times reports on the increased diversity in freshman classes at ivy league schools this year, in the wake of the George Floyd protests and the elimination of standardized test score requirements. According to the Times, early data suggest that elite universities have admitted a higher proportion of traditionally underrepresented students this year than ever before. 

New research published in the American Educational Research Journal found that switching to test-optional at private colleges is associated with modest enrollment gains among students from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups, low-income students, and women.

With a $20 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Princeton University is increasing its efforts to enroll first-generation and low-income students and improve their retention rates. A new center at the university will focus on improving access and opportunities for these students and will house many of the school’s existing programs including targeted summer orientation, mentoring, social activities and workshops.

Student Success

CNBC reports on a survey of 2,000 students from Junior Achievement and Citizen that shows  approximately a quarter of high school graduates from the class of 2020 delayed college plans due to the pandemic. The findings indicated that finances and costs associated with attending college were a major concern for families during the pandemic. 

In an Op-Ed for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Matt Feeney argues that the admissions process has become “an intrusive and morally presumptuous inquisition of an applicant’s soul,” following this year’s surge in college applications to elite universities. Feeney states that there is a problem with “authentic admissions,” as “eager, anxious, ambitious kids, hearing of the latest behavioral and character traits favored by admissions offices, will do their best to affect or adopt those traits.”

Policy and Politics

In last Thursday’s confirmation hearing, President Joe Biden’s higher education nominee, James Kvaal, voiced his support for community colleges, career and technical education programs, and student loan forgiveness. During the Obama administration, Kvaal worked on expanding income-based student loan repayment and overhauling the federal student loan system. Some of Kvaal’s hopes include simplifying the financial aid process and providing immediate loan relief due to the pandemic. If confirmed, Kvaal would work alongside Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on postsecondary education. 

In a column for the Center for American Progress, senior postsecondary education policy analyst Bradley D. Custer outlines three ways the Biden administration can help justice-impacted students through policy change and reform. These include removing the drug conviction question from the FAFSA and building on the “Beyond the Box” report under the Obama administration, which examines the effects of the criminal justice system and college admissions decisions for justice-impacted students.   

Gun Violence

In an Op-Ed in The Lafayette, student Lawrence Pear describes the trauma that comes with gun violence and the disconnect between the media’s attention on mass-shootings versus the everyday gun violence that occurs in inner cities. Pear writes, “It takes a mass shooting in Colorado where 10 people are tragically killed before gun reform is considered. Yet, when 2,200 people [were] shot in Philadelphia last year, the nation is silent.”

Free Speech

After cancelling an event for San Francisco State University last fall, the videoconferencing platform Zoom came under scrutiny by universities for threatening academic freedom and First Amendment rights. Zoom stated that “the seminar may have breached its terms of service and federal law because it featured Leila Khaled, a member of a group considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.” In a new policy change announced last week, the company said it will allow for more freedom over hosting virtual events.  Zoom says that its moderators will now “only act on reports alleging violations of the company’s terms of service or community standards that come from the meeting’s host or the account’s owners and administrator, except in select cases.” 

Coronavirus: Safety and Reopening

The Chronicle is live-reporting updates on universities adding incentives for students to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Those who provide proof of their vaccination cards at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro are able to enter a lottery to win free housing, textbooks, or meal credits. 

Federal health agencies’ announcement on pausing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine disrupted colleges’ plans around vaccinating students prior to the semester ending. Many colleges were relying on using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the only one-shot vaccination. According to the New York Times, colleges are strategizing and moving quickly to vaccinate students before summer. 

Inside Higher Ed provides detailed updates as more colleges announce fall reopening plans and information on vaccinations.