Many college students have been affected negatively by the pandemic. While the fall session resumed online a few months ago at many colleges, we have seen the impact of COVID-19 on college students.
There is a large student population that the staff and faculty members are concerned about. Many students are struggling with the online transition, especially those who started their first college year completely online, including first-generation students. Those are the students that haven’t seen the sense of community that the college campus can give them and are unfamiliar with the programs and services the campus offers.
One of the main concerns that many colleges have is mental health. A recent COVID-19 study on the mental health of college students has shown that anxiety and depression have increased compared to the previous years. Many students are spending their time in a 6ft x 6ft room (usually their bedroom) where they stay all day long, attending their virtual classes, working, doing homework, and meeting their classmates. Besides the deteriorated mental health, physical health is also a concern.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report stated that 25% of adults aged 18–24 years said that they had seriously considered suicide within the last 30 days. The majority of the students that attend college are within this age range.
One of the problems is that we are not getting to see students face to face as we used to when we were physically on campus. With many of the virtual tools that are being used, students have the option to not turn on their cameras when they are in the classroom or in the advising session, which makes it harder to detect certain cues with mental health. In return, it makes it difficult to refer students to the services that they need.
According to a survey by Active Minds, college students stated that they want increased academic support, mental health resources, focus on soft skills, more opportunities for social connection, and engaging in long-term planning.
When it comes to academic support, we have to ensure that we are offering students the accommodation that they need to complete their assignments. One example is removing any punitive measures, such as taking points off, if assignments are turned in late, as many students may not have access to the Internet or may have other barriers to turn in assignments on time. Therefore, making sure that we are using equitable practices is important. Another accommodation that needs to be considered is making sure that attendance is not mandatory, as there are many international students attending those courses and the time zone makes it difficult for certain students to attend during that specific time. Therefore, making sure the staff is available multiple times throughout the day is important to ensure that students can access them when needed. Staff members can do a mandatory check-in throughout the semester to ensure that students’ needs are met and to catch any red flags.
Since everything has been moved to an online setting, it is important that we are still hosting events and social meetings where students can meet with each other virtually. Canceling planned events is not helpful. However, colleges should think of creative ways to replace those events and services with virtual ones.
Another severe impact that coronavirus has on students is their economic stability and career expectations. According to a survey, many students are delaying their graduation, some have lost their job, internship, or job offer, and 29% expect to earn less at age 35. Many students are unsure if they will find jobs after they graduate. There is a lot of uncertainty.
As staff and faculty members, we need to make sure that we are supporting students to the best of our abilities and that everyone who works on campus takes part in the initiative of checking on the student and ensuring that all of their needs are met. With the pandemic, everyone needs to help with the students. In addition to that, all staff members on campus should have training in mental health and triaging possible dangerous situations.
There is an urgent need to develop interventions and preventive strategies to address the mental health of college students, as many of those students will likely continue virtual instruction during their next semester.
Dema Youhanna is a Master’s Program Advisor at the University of California, San Diego, and has a Master of Science in Counseling.
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