One year into the coronavirus pandemic, Kentucky’s college students report spikes in anxiety and mental fatigue, greater difficulty in affording tuition and a shaken sense of confidence in their long-term postsecondary education plans.
Those are just a few of the findings the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a nonpartisan education advocacy group, uncovered in a new survey of nearly 1,000 Kentucky college students.
One finding in particular peels back the veil to offer a window into students’ mental health: 74% report an increase in mental or emotional exhaustion due to COVID-19. Another 57% of current students report experiencing an increase in anxiety that has disrupted their daily lives, and even more troubling – 17% reported increases in suicidal thoughts.
“The need for mental health supports has come through loud and clear,” Brigitte Blom Ramsey, the Prichard Committee’s president and CEO, said in a news release announcing the results of the Coping with COVID Postsecondary Impact Study on Wednesday. “These survey results from postsecondary students are a call to action to ensure high-quality mental health supports are available for students of all ages as they persist on their path to skill up for the future.”
The reports from students were mirrored in what Kentucky colleges told the Prichard Committee, with 92% reporting they are somewhat or very concerned about the mental health of their students due to COVID-19.
Ninety percent of colleges surveyed said usage of their student mental health services jumped in the pandemic.
Survey respondents came from a cross-section of Kentucky’s colleges and universities, with 57% representing public four-year institutions, 21% from public two-year community or technical colleges and another 20% from private four-year schools.
Other key findings show that learning remotely has yielded mixed results at best and that students’ concerns about basic needs such as food and housing have grown amid the pandemic. More students are struggling to afford college, and the pandemic caused many to rework their education plans.
“We hope the results from this survey will help educators, students, parents and families, community leaders, and policymakers better understand the challenges students have faced throughout the pandemic,” Ramsey said. “The data will surely be useful for plans to better support students on their path to college graduation.”