Mental and Behavioral Health
A university in the UK announced that it will monitor student social media posts, among other data, in an effort to determine suicide ideation among students. The project is part of a pilot program, called Early Alert Tool, that uses aggregate data to identify whether someone is dealing with mental health issues as a way to reduce suicide rates among university students. According to a press release, the university already looks at data like academic standing, lecture attendance and library use to flag potential mental health issues. The data will be protected, and the program will be opt-in, so students will have to consent to sharing information.
Penn State’s class “The Art and Science of Human Flourishing” has been so popular among students, it will now be offered at seven of the school’s campuses and will be evaluated for possible outcomes in increased student health and well-being. Penn State joins the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin in conducting a quasi-experimental, control group study using pre- and post-test data from students to evaluate possible outcomes from the course, including increases in mindfulness, empathy, compassion, meaning and purpose; and aspects of mental health, such as decreases in anxiety and depressive symptoms. “There is a growing body of research around mindset issues and the psychology of belonging that suggest that even small interventions can have a big impact on student success,” said Jeff Adams, associate vice president and associate dean for Undergraduate Education at Penn State.
The Ohio State University student newspaper, The Lantern, reviewed the state of mental health services at OSU over the 2018-2019 academic year. In April 2018, when two students fell from the same OSU parking garage within days of each other in apparent suicides, University President Michael V. Drake created a Suicide and Mental Health Task Force aimed at developing suggestions of how to improve the mental health resources at Ohio State. In February, Ohio State’s Digital Flagship initiative kicked off the creation of a university resource-specific mental wellness app. Also in February, the task force began recruiting students for the Buckeye Peer Access Line, a non-emergency phone line staffed by trained students during late night and early morning hours.
Gerald Shreiber, president and CEO of J&J Snack Foods Corp. in New Jersey, has committed $3 million to create an animal therapy program at Rowan University. Shreiber’s gift will establish an endowment for a self-sustaining program that will make certified therapy dogs regular fixtures in several student-support efforts.
According to The Spartan Newsroom at Michigan State University, graduate students face increased stress from financial pressures and isolation. Kevin Bird, a board member of the Graduate Employees Union at MSU, says that many students have family or long-term relationships and find it hard to juggle their studies and financial responsibilities. “This culture of overwork really feeds into isolation,” Bird said. “People feel like they’re failing their duty as a grad student if they’re not working enough, or if they take time to be social.” The issue of isolation and not feeling like you belong, sometimes known as “imposter syndrome,” plagues the university community at large, but especially graduate students, said Quaneece Calhoun, a pre-doctoral psychology practicum counselor at Wayne State University and a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan School of Psychology.
Ursula Whiteside, a University of Washington clinical psychologist, created NowMattersNow.org, an immediate and accessible resource for people experiencing suicidal thoughts. Now Matters Now includes videos of people who have dealt with suicidal ideation and been able to live successful lives sharing their stories and methods they used, specifically dialectical behavior therapy techniques, to overcome severe depression. The website has been found to significantly reduce the intensity of negative emotions in under 10 minutes. “I wanted to be able to make it so these stories were really accessible,” Whiteside said. “Not only showing that they survived but how they survived.”
Preliminary results from a new study suggest that there is a dose-response relationship between insufficient sleep and mental health symptoms in collegiate students. The data show that for every additional night of insufficient sleep, an increase of more than 20% for various mental health symptoms including depressed mood (21%), hopelessness (24%), anger (24%), for anxiety (25%), desire to self-harm (25%), and for suicide ideation (28%).
An elective class on mental health first aid at Washington State University has had a waiting list since its inception three years ago. “Historically our focus on mental health has been the medications and treatments available,” said Jennifer Robinson, the creator of the class and associate dean for professional education at the pharmacy college. “I wanted to give students some more soft skills and good tools so they can respond appropriately when somebody within their sphere is struggling.” Robinson previously led the college’s student services, where she experienced the issue firsthand. “I’d see students in the hallway and it would appear they had everything together, then they’d come to my office and it was clear that their world was crumbling around them,” she said. “There were using all this energy to be able to hold on to the façade that everything was OK.”
Diversity and Inclusion
Morehouse College, the nation’s only historically Black all-men’s school, will begin admitting transgender students who identify as men in the fall. In April, the school’s board of trustees approved a Gender Identity Policy that will allow individuals who self-identify as men, regardless of the sex assigned to them at birth, to be considered for admission. “In a rapidly changing world that includes a better understanding of gender identity we’re proud to expand our admissions policy to consider trans men who want to be part of an institution that has produced some of the greatest leaders in social justice, politics, business, and the arts for more than 150 years,” says Terrance Dixon, vice president for enrollment management at Morehouse. Dr. David A. Thomas, the president of the college, says the decision to admit transgender students was driven by a greater awareness of gender identity and the college’s need to have a clear policy moving forward.
Like many U.S. colleges, Indiana University Northwest is seeing a sharp rise in enrollment in Latinx students. But, according to the Hechinger Report, support for these students is lagging. At IU Northwest in 2017, Latinx students had a six-year graduation rate of just 28 percent, while the graduation rate for white students was 35 percent. Those numbers reflect a nationwide gap: Latinx are half as likely as non-Hispanic whites to hold a bachelor’s degree, and the gulf has widened since the early 2000s. In response, some universities are starting to cater to their growing Latinx populations, adding more diverse faculty, introducing cultural programming and establishing counseling and mentoring programs to help Latinx students overcome academic resource gaps.
The University of Illinois at Chicago announced recently that it will offer in-state tuition to Native American students residing anywhere in the country. In an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, Dr. William Scarborough, research assistant at the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at UIC, Dr. Amanda Lewis, the director of the Institute, and Dr. Angela Walden, a research assistant professor in the Department of Medicine and a clinical assistant professor in the Institute for Juvenile Research at UIC, commend the policy change while remarking that much work remains to be done locally to provide Native American young people in Chicago and in Illinois a path to prosperity.
Following gender equity complaints and charges of bullying that triggered a human resources investigation, Rowan University’s president announced that the athletics director will retire. Rowan entered the national spotlight when female athletes complained that they had been banned from wearing sports bras without shirts because their bodies distracted men on the football team.
This winter, the University of Washington was one of 50 schools nationwide to pilot the new Environmental Context Dashboard tool from the College Board, which helps admissions officers measure the degree of hardship an applicant faced along the way to college. UW officials argue that the tool gives a more precise picture of the obstacles a student might have faced in high school and earlier. It gives “better, richer, more complete data” than what the UW itself has been able to develop, said Philip Ballinger, associate vice provost for enrollment management.
The success of the roughly 200 college-in-prison programs nationwide is measured by whether someone who’s been released will return. In a story for WBUR, some argue that this is not a good metric for success, saying that recidivism data don’t reveal enough about what happens to people when they leave prison, including homelessness, depression or violence.
In 2010, Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University student, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate used a webcam to record him kissing another man and posted it on Twitter. Clementi’s death put a national spotlight on the issue of cyberbullying and forced colleges and universities across the country to rethink how they support their LGBTQ communities. In 2013, Rutgers launched the Tyler Clementi Center, a national research center that examines the impact of bias, peer aggression, and campus climate on students holding marginalized and/or stigmatized identities. Recent legislative efforts, in the name of Tyler Clementi, are now bringing increased attention to the plight of LGBT college students. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., reintroduced legislation that would require higher education facilities to adopt policies against harassment and LGBT bullying. The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Act has 21 co-sponsors in the Senate and 47 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rural high schools, which often struggle with college guidance support, are now getting some new resources. College Possible, a nonprofit that has long worked to help low-income students in urban high schools get into college, started a program to pair high-achieving rural students in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Oregon with coaches to guide them virtually through the application process. Another advising program is being piloted this fall at two rural Texas high schools. College Advising Corps, will rely primarily on video conferencing counseling dispensed by recent college graduates, many of whom are fulfilling their AmeriCorps service. These programs are relatively untested and currently reach only a small share of rural students but their advocates say that if they prove successful, they could help address a significant problem: teens from rural communities who, despite graduating high school at higher rates and earning better overall test scores than their urban and suburban counterparts, remain less likely to attend college.
Sexual Assault and Title IX
James Heaps, a former gynecologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, has been charged with sexual battery in relation to two patients he treated at UCLA. A statement released by Gene Block, the chancellor, and John Mazziotta, vice chancellor of health sciences, said, “Sexual abuse in any form is unacceptable and represents an inexcusable breach of the physician-patient relationship. We are deeply sorry that a former UCLA physician violated our policies and standards, our trust and the trust of his patients.” The statement said that in 2018, “in response to allegations of sexual misconduct against Dr. Heaps, UCLA investigated his conduct, removed him from clinical practice, informed him that his employment was being terminated (after which he announced he was retiring) and reported him to the Medical Board of California and law enforcement.”
Two women at Central Washington University reported that a renowned music professor had kissed them on the face and made inappropriate comments. After a review by the university, one of the women also alleged that the music department dropped her from her performance major in retaliation for filing the complaint. According to records, the university then offered the student free tuition for a year, among other benefits, as long as she remained silent about “the contents of this settlement agreement.” In a recent interview with The Seattle Times, the former student recalled that university officials said she would be sued if she made details of the case public. She ultimately signed the May 2015 settlement. That agreement, released to The Seattle Times under public-disclosure laws, gives a glimpse at how some of the state’s public universities have worked to prevent embarrassing details from becoming public. While Washington state lawmakers have limited the power of nondisclosure agreements in the wake of the #MeToo movement, nothing appears to prevent the universities from including such requirements when settling with students.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has launched a report calling for a new level of awareness and collaboration by college presidents and trustees to address college student alcohol and drug use. The new report, titled Addressing College Drinking and Drug Use: A Primer for Trustees, Administrators, and Alumni, jointly authored by Dr. Amelia Arria, professor and the Director of the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Center on Young Adult Health and Development, and Greta Wagley, ACTA’s editor and research associate, emphasizes that the most effective approaches to college substance use must be tailored to the culture and particular challenges faced by each campus community.
Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights
Despite restrictive abortion legislation adopted in Georgia and other states, local abortion-rights advocates are making sure college students understand the new ban is not yet in effect. Local reproductive health activists worry that many college students in the affected states may believe abortion is already banned and be confused by media coverage that doesn’t make clear that legal challenges may keep the laws from being implemented. The activists are in the midst of an aggressive campaign to inform the public that abortion remains legal for now, but the prospect that abortion services could disappear has especially galvanized college students. “There’s a beautiful movement building in the face of this ban,” said Wula Dawson, spokeswoman for the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta. “We’re really hopeful and inspired to have had an influx of donations and volunteers engage with us. They’re skewing younger, making $5, $10, $15 donations. It’s scary, but there’s a positive story of stepping up and coming together to protect this constitutional right.”
Michael Horn, a higher education writer for the Christensen Institute, spoke with WBUR‘s Morning Edition about what’s causing the decline in college enrollment. According to Horn, the downturn is fueled by a decrease in community college enrollment, which tends to decrease as employment increases in a strong economy.
Student loan debt has reached a staggering $1.6 trillion – more than double the amount just a decade ago. The Seattle Times reports that the debate over college affordability, which involves issues of equity, class privilege, and government spending, has divided Democratic presidential hopefuls and created a gap between the candidates and those on the front lines of college affordability. Many presidential candidates are touting free college, but, according to the Times, higher-education scholars see serious shortcomings in those plans. Free college plans tend to give the most benefit to Americans who need a boost the least. “It is hard to do stuff to make higher education cost less that is universal without tilting those benefits to higher-income people,” said Matthew Chingos, vice president of education data and policy at the Urban Institute. Moreover, many of the plans being discussed in the campaign fail to put a priority on the biggest problems that lower-income students grapple with – principally living costs. “A lot of the plans being rolled out,” in the campaign and in statehouses, “are focusing on students on the higher end of the economic spectrum, who are not facing the most dire circumstances,” said Mamie Voight, vice president of policy research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a Washington-based think tank.
Researchers at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, have found that many “free college” programs, despite “astonishing” growth, are falling short of expectations. A recent analysis found that there are now 22 free college programs spread across 19 states, and funding for the programs has risen by an average of $107 million per year over the past three years. According to the report “Policy Design Matters for Rising ‘Free College’ Aid,” in some states there has been a reluctance to commit to truly universal “free college,” and this has meant that as few as five percent of all students may actually qualify for program benefits – and, often, the students most in need are left out because of the eligibility requirements.
In the Hechinger Report, Jeff Abernathy, the president of Alma College in Michigan, writes that many of the “free college” programs aren’t actually free. According to Abernathy, the fine print can have huge implications for students and their families.” Abernathy argues that the response should be an investment in an existing federal program – Pell Grants. Pell Grants give low-income students money to help pay for college and associated expenses. Students receive the grants based on demonstrated family need. The maximum award, however, is $6,095 per year.
Rochester Institute of Technology created the Spectrum Support Program in response to an influx of RIT students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The initiative, which grew organically, started out serving a group of first-year students who were paired with a graduate psychology student as a “coach.” When they were awarded a two-year, $200,000 National Science Foundation grant, administrators extended the services to all students with autism who were STEM majors and later covered the costs for all students on the spectrum.
A new filing in a lawsuit alleges that Indiana University at Bloomington pressured its health center to deemphasize the likelihood that student illnesses had been caused by dorm-room mold. The university denies the allegation. Colleges in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland and elsewhere have also been experiencing what appears to be mold-related illnesses in what experts say is a trend resulting from deferred maintenance, campus expansions, and extreme weather.
Prominent Maryland lawmakers are concerned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s adenovirus outbreak protocol didn’t do enough to protect University of Maryland student Olivia Paregol, who died in November after contracting the disease. “We are concerned that the guidelines … leave immunocompromised people like her at risk of serious illness or death,” U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer and Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen have requested a briefing with CDC officials.
Colleges nationwide are using text messaging to communicate with and motivate their students to adopt healthier lifestyles. Psychology Today summarize three recent studies that sought to change college students’ smoking, eating, and drinking behaviors, and described how they leveraged texting to get their message across.
The New York Times reports on a verdict of a lawsuit brought by a bakery near Oberlin College in Ohio, where an altercation between a white shop owner and three black students triggered student protests. The jury sided with the bakery, which sued the college after protesters accused it of racism, delivering $11 million in compensatory damages against Oberlin College and one of its administrators. The verdict raised questions about the responsibility of institutions of higher education to police students’ speech and behavior, as well as broader First Amendment issues.
Earlier this year, a University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee student held a sign bearing a swastika and a hateful message directed at students celebrating Israel’s independence: “Gas,” the sign said. Many felt the response from the university failed to condemn strongly enough the hateful message. The university’s chancellor, Mark Mone, has issued two public statements since the May 6 protest, while more than 1,400 people have signed an online petition urging the school to expel the sign-holding student. “What [the student] did was not just an expression of speech,” the petition says. “… It’s incitement of violence against the Jewish community on campus.” University officials have promised campus-wide efforts to engage students in further discussion on free speech rights and constructive ways to respond to deeply offensive opinions.
Hunger and Homelessness
A new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) study shows many students experience social stigma when they use their campus food pantry for food acquisition. For her master’s thesis, UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences graduate student Aseel El Zein looked at food insecurity and how it impacts several physical and mental health characteristics and academic performance in first-year students across eight universities. About 19 percent of respondents were identified as food insecure, lacking consistent access to nutritious food, while another 25 percent experienced anxiety about food shortage. Through this work, El Zein found that food insecure students are also at a higher risk of experiencing stress, poor sleep quality, disordered eating behaviors and overall lower grade point averages than students who are food secure. “Today, many low-income and first-generation college students are pursuing higher education opportunities,” said El Zein. “Tuition, fees, and other costs associated with attending college exceed the financial means of many students. As a result, students have to prioritize their available budget for rent, tuition and utilities, while using the remaining insufficient balance for food.”
USA Today reports on the ongoing plight of homeless college students citing a survey by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice that found that homelessness affected 18% of respondents attending two-year colleges, and 14% of those attending four-year institutions. The number who said they had experienced housing insecurity, such as difficulty paying rent, was 60%, among those attending two-year schools, and at 48% for those enrolled in four-year institutions. A combination of factors, including rising tuition, financial aid packages that fail to keep up with the costs of food, gas and child care, and an overall lack of affordable housing have fueled the homelessness crisis among college students. A growing number of community organizations, colleges and lawmakers are trying to address homelessness. The California Assembly has passed a bill that would require every community college in the state to provide a safe parking lot where homeless students can sleep in their cars overnight. Massachusetts launched a pilot project this year that enables students at four community colleges to live in campus housing at nearby four-year universities. Tacoma Community College in Washington has partnered with the Tacoma Housing Authority to provide 150 vouchers to help pay the rent for students in need. And Jovenes, a program based in southeast Los Angeles County, helps out homeless students by paying their rent and providing a few apartments that they can share.