Well-Being Mental Health

More than half of transgender students in colleges or vocational programs report poor mental health

“Experiences of discrimination against transgender people are not unique to high school,” the report’s lead author said.

Story at a glance

  • 55 percent of transgender students in a new Williams Institute report said their mental health had been poor while attending a vocational program, four-year college or graduate school.

  • About 20 percent of transgender students said they chose to attend a school in a different city or state from where they grew up because they believed they would be more accepted there.

  • Williams Institute researchers recommended higher education programs adopt nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity and invest in things like LGBTQ+ student resource centers and gender-neutral restrooms to make transgender people feel safer and more welcome there.

More than half of transgender students that have been enrolled in higher education programs in the U.S. say their mental health was especially poor while in school, according to new research from the Williams Institute, a public policy think tank focused on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Of an estimated 218,000 transgender students ages 18 to 30 in the U.S., just over 20 percent have attended vocational, technical or trade (vo-tech) programs, Williams Institute researchers wrote in a report published Thursday. Close to 60 percent of transgender students have been to a four-year college or university and roughly 9 percent have attended graduate school.

Of those that did attend a higher education program, about one-in-five said they selected a school in a different city or state from where they grew up because they believed being an openly transgender person would be more accepted there.

More than 42 percent of transgender students surveyed by the Williams Institute said they had at some point in their lives felt isolated at school because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, although nearly 60 percent said they felt a sense of belonging while enrolled in college or a vo-tech program.


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Still, looking more closely at the data, fewer transgender people reported feeling like they belonged in vo-tech programs and community colleges (45 percent) than those who attended a four-year college or graduate school (73 percent).

“Experiences of discrimination against transgender people are not unique to high school,” Williams Institute Research Director Kerith J. Conron, who is also the report’s lead author, said Thursday in a statement. “They also occur in higher education settings, where they can have a profound impact on the mental health and lifelong potential of transgender students.”

Nearly a third of transgender students in the Williams Institute report said they had been treated unfairly in higher education programs by teachers, staff and administrators, and more than 38 percent said they had experienced bullying, harassment or assault in higher education settings.

More than a quarter of transgender respondents said overcoming unfair treatment, harassment or bullying because of their identity was a major hurdle in achieving academic success. Just over 9 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning (LGBQ) cisgender students reported the same, according to the Williams Institute.

“It’s clear that universities and schools are not doing enough for transgender students,” Jorge Valencia, chief executive at Point Foundation, which helped fund the Williams Institute report, said Thursday in a statement.

“When transgender people are reporting high levels of poor mental health, in part because of their mistreatment at the hands of staff or faculty, it’s time for institutions of higher education to make a change,” he said. “We are advocating for schools to audit their policies to ensure the protection of LGBTQ students, to ensure LGBTQ people are being listened to and supported by funded programming and centers, among other things.”

Williams Institute researchers in their report said higher education environments for transgender students may be improved by implementing nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity at colleges or vo-tech schools. 

Information about transgender people should also be included in diversity and nondiscrimination training for faculty and staff, researchers wrote, and institutions of higher learning may benefit from investing in things like LGBTQ+ student resource centers and gender-neutral restrooms.