Well-Being Mental Health

Survey finds no letup in emotional stress on college students

“While COVID-19 has become less of a burden, emotional stress remains one for most students.”
College campus

Story at a glance

  • Despite a return to in-person classes on most college campuses, many students report feeling emotional stress.

  • The challenge serves as a main driver for those who’ve considered taking a break from their programs.

  • Survey results show students pursuing an associate degree are more likely to consider “stopping out” than those in bachelor’s programs. 

The gradual fading of the COVID-19 pandemic has done little to ease college students’ emotional stress. 

That’s according to findings from the Lumina Foundation-Gallup State of Higher Education 2022 study, carried out in the fall of 2022. 

Results showed students pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree are no less likely to say they’ve considered stropping their coursework — defined as withdrawing from their program for at least one term — than they were in 2021. 

Just over 40 percent of students in postsecondary education programs say they’ve considered “stopping out” in the past six months, compared with 37 percent in 2021 and 34 percent in 2020. 

Fifty-five percent of students who’ve thought about “stopping out” cited emotional stress as the reason in 2022, down slightly from 63 percent who said the same in 2021. Personal mental health was the second most cited reason students reported.

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Those pursuing an associate degree were also more likely to have considered stopping their program compared with students pursuing a bachelor’s degree. However, nearly 70 percent of students in bachelor’s programs cited emotional stress as the reason behind their consideration of “stopping out.” Fifty-five percent of associate degree students said the same. 

A total of 3,949 U.S. adults currently enrolled in an associate or bachelor’s degree program completed the online survey, along with 2,059 enrolled in a certificate or certification program. 

“Researchers have long warned of a growing mental health crisis on U.S. college campuses,” the report authors wrote.

“Students are increasingly likely to report problems with depression and anxiety, and demand for campus counseling services has risen past the capacity of many schools to keep up with it. The situation was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

In 2022, just fourteen percent of students said COVID-19 was the reason they considered stopping their coursework, down from 33 percent in 2021 and 46 percent in 2020. 

Students also cited affordability worsened by inflation and physical health as reasons for considering stopping their coursework. 

Overall, “while COVID-19 has become less of a burden, emotional stress remains one for most students. And it takes a heavier toll on bachelor’s students, female students and those from low-income households,” the report authors wrote.

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