4/21 – 4/27

ACE Workshop on Community College Student Mental Health

The American Council on Education, in partnership with the Mary Christie Institute and the Jed Foundation, is hosting a workshop called Lessons from Community Colleges on Improving Student Mental Health on May 4th and 18th. The workshop, intended for all college and university leaders, draws of best and promising practices from community colleges. Facilitated by Brian Mitra, Dean of Student Affairs at Kingsborough Community College and Subject Matter Expert for the Jed Foundation, the two-session workshop will focus on creating supportive campus cultures and centering equity. Learn more and register here

Mental and Behavioral Health

Main Stories

Boston University’s Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation has created two manuals—one for students, the other for faculty and staff— that detail best practices for campus leave-of-absence policies, using a leave productively and supporting wellness among students who take a leave. “The student guide aims to help those who have experienced an interruption to their postsecondary education or who are considering a leave of absence make an informed decision about taking a leave; manage and build their collegiate resilience during a leave; and navigate the process of re-entry effectively and healthily,” a statement by Boston’s Ruderman Family Foundation, which funded and co-created the manuals, says. “It offers tools and strategies to navigate what can be a daunting process, as well as inspirational student vignettes to support and empower students with the wisdom of peers who have gone through the same experiences.”

Wyoming Public Radio’s Catherine Wheeler spoke with Julio Brionez, the Assistant Director of the University of Wyoming’s Counseling Center, about the pandemic’s impact on college students’ mental health and expectations for increased need for services in the fall semester.

Other Stories

James Madison University’s Dukes Let’s Talk program provides student athletes, who are often under tremendous pressure to perform, with a safe space to talk about their mental health. JMU Women’s Basketball player, Nikki Oppenheimer, told The Breeze, “For a while, there was… a stigma around mental health especially with athletes but when it comes to your mental health it’s just like your physical health and you need to take care of it. You can’t do your best when you don’t feel your best.”

In an op-ed in the Daily Pennsylvanian, Emily Chang writes that students will be experiencing another major shift in their academic careers as they return to on-campus classes in the fall, and Penn should continue its pass/fail policy for the semester to provide consistency.  One student said, “The pass/fail policy has been crucial for ensuring the mental health and well-being of countless students this past year.”

Marquette University’s Wellness Peer Educators organization aims to promote holistic wellness on campus and prevent alcohol and drug abuse. The program hoped to help students adjust to campus life this spring by hosting online and in-person events. Students can also meet with Wellness Coaches to set goals and get resources, free of charge. 

The Daily UW reports on efforts to combat the student mental health crisis.  Aaron Lyon, co-director of the UW School Mental Health Assessment, Research, and Training (SMART) Center, says a tier system is the most effective way to deliver mental health services. Lyon explains that tier one consists of providing support and mental health literacy to all, tier two involves small group interventions, and tier three entails long-term targeted support for individual students. 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Diverse Education reports on a conversation between U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and 11 participants who discussed their experiences as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, Dreamers without DACA, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders. Cardona, a first-generation college student himself, remarked, “It is my goal to serve as Secretary of Education and unapologetically address achievement disparities, opportunity disparities, to make sure that our students have access to higher education.” For many undocumented individuals, the pandemic has raised fear and uncertainty about their protection. Participants spoke of navigating their undocumented status and how it has impacted their eligibility and access to higher education, advocating for permanent protection. 

After Howard University’s board of trustees decided to dissolve the classics department, the only classics department at a historically Black university, an online petition to preserve the department has received over 5,000 signatures. Reasons to disband the department were due to low enrollment and limited funding. Dr. Anika Prather, an alumna of Howard University and adjunct professor of humanities in the classics department, said that “seeing the department dissolved was still disheartening at a university that had been a beacon for the study of antiquity from a Black perspective.”

In an Op-Ed for Diverse Education, Dr. Christine Johnson McPhail, President of Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina, says the “promise of equality cannot be achieved when fundamental injustice exists” in education. With today’s increasing demand for social justice and addressing issues of inequity, McPhail emphasizes that it’s important for senior leadership to set a tone for social justice, stating “Higher education leaders must lead to implement social justice, not just include it in their mission statements. A social justice-minded institution boldly examines its policies and practices and consistently encourages all stakeholders to examine its core values critically.” 

Higher Ed Dive covers the Michigan Reconnect free college program, which targets adult students 25 or older who have a high school diploma but no higher education credential. The program is part of Michigan’s Sixty by 30 goal, which aims to increase enrollment of recent high school graduates into postsecondary education, as well as encourage adults to attend college of some kind. Within six weeks of launching, the program received more than 60,000 applications. The program provides adult students with “success coaches” at the community colleges and is hiring additional advisers to help students with the application process. Michigan is also hoping to bring back some students who left college without a diploma by forgiving some of their debt. 

Sexual Assault and Title IX

Tracey E. Vitchers, the Executive Director of It’s On Us, writes about confronting campus sexual assault with fall school reopenings approaching. Despite challenges from the pandemic to increasing survivor support education and prevention, the It’s On Us campaign hosted virtual sexual assault prevention and education, created digital campaigns to create safer campus environments, offered remote peer-to-peer advocacy, and provided free ride-share credits from Lyft for individuals experiencing intimate partner violence to relocate to domestic violence agencies. The fall semester approaching presents concerns about increased partying, heavier drinking, and more casual sexual activity in attempt for students to make up for lost time. It is essential, Vitchers says, to promote sexual assault prevention education during these spring and summer months before students return to what is known as the fall semester “Red Zone,” the timeframe when over 50% of all college sexual assaults occur from increased partying and first year students experimenting with alcohol consumption for the first time.

Student Success

In an opinion piece in Higher Ed Dive, Sharon L. Gaber, the chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte explains how the school’s 49erNext and 49er Finish programs bring in transfers and those who have stopped out of school. According to Gaber, UNC Charlotte has steadily increased access for low-income students over the past decade. Approximately 75% of students receive financial aid, 37% are first-generation undergraduates, and a similar percentage come from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds. The 49erNExt program partners with community colleges to offer a seamless path to transfer from partner community colleges, and offers collaborative advising, financial aid planning and career exploration. Additionally, the program helps students connect to UNC Charlotte through opportunities to get involved in athletics, clubs and activities.

College Affordability

Three new proposals for the Pell Grant would expand eligibility, increase funding, and allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to apply for the first time. Congress set the maximum amount of the grant at $6,495 for the 2021-2022 school year. At a Tuesday hearing, Senator Tim Kaine advocated to increase short-term credential programs for unemployed workers. Kaine says the funding will allow for people from all backgrounds, including those who have been historically marginalized, to access post-secondary training. 

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, VT). and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D, WA) introduced the The College for All Act, which would make community college tuition free for all students, and four-year public and private minority-serving colleges tuition free for families that earn less than $125,000 a year. The legislation would also double the maximum Pell Grant award for the next academic year. “While President Biden can and should immediately cancel student debt for millions of borrowers, Congress must ensure that working families never have to take out these crushing loans to receive a higher education in the first place,” Jayapal said in a statement.

The College Promise campaign, a national, non-partisan, non-profit initiative that aims to build support for free college programs, unveiled a new proposal for a partnership of federal and state governments that could make public community and two-or four-year colleges and universities completely free for qualifying students. 

Basic Needs

The Washington Post reports on recent progress after Congress passed $35 billion in emergency aid, “the largest federal investment in grants to rescue students in crisis,” last spring. The funding provides needed assistance towards student housing, employment, and food insecurities. Experts in higher education weigh in, saying they hope emergency aid programs can continue even after the pandemic. 

Policy and Politics

According to a government watchdog report, colleges claimed about 90%, or $5.6 billion, of emergency student grant funding provided under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act at the end of November. 

Coronavirus: Safety and Reopening

The Chronicle is live-updating a list of colleges that will require vaccines prior to the start of the fall 2021 semester. University systems include the University of California system, the University System of Maryland, and the Massachusetts State University system. While the majority of the list consists of private institutions, a number of public institutions may soon announce the mandate as well. However, six states (Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Texas) have “enacted legislation that prohibits government agencies, including public colleges, from requiring people to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.” 

An article in The Chronicle looks at how colleges are preparing for the fall semester and deciding on whether they should mandate, encourage, and/or incentivize vaccinations. 

With more universities mandating vaccines, students are looking forward to a return to campus life. Antonio Calcado, Executive Vice President of Rutgers University, says students are generally compliant with getting the vaccine if it means they are able to return to college activities and see more people on campus. Many students are excited to see their friends and socially connect with others for the first time in what will be about a year and a half.

According to a Higher Ed Dive brief, almost 200 colleges reported to the National Association for College Admission Counseling that they still have available spots for more students to enroll this year. More schools are expected to be added to the list after May 1, the day students traditionally commit to colleges.