By The Collegiate Staff
Going to college was a leap of faith for some, an expectation for others, and a way for all students no matter where they are in life to try to get a degree that can benefit them in the future. Or at least that is how colleges market themselves to potential clients that are interested in expanding their “horizons”. The reality of paying money that we do not have, into our education has become a frightening norm. In fact, the national average of debt that a student accumulates has been identified as $30,000.
With this much money being invested into the college system, it is disgusting how during the coronavirus epidemic, students were just seen as a number and their well-being was forgotten. In addition to spending hours on schoolwork, students have to balance a plethora of things. Over 40 percent of undergraduates work more than 30 hours a week in addition to being full-time students. Furthermore, students are in a limbo of balancing working, school, day-to-day. life struggles, and the uncertainty about the future. We are also on the brink of a recession, witnessing all-time high unemployment rates, also the prevalence of groups that are disadvantaged has come to light, yet again, and this includes racism and sexism. All of these setbacks and uncertainty can lead to a mental health crisis.
With students investing their time, effort, and their finances into getting a college degree, schools should see this as a wake-up call for more creative methods to reach out to students and help with strategies to combat this stressful time. Instead, they rely on a quick one-liner on professors’ syllabuses like before the pandemic, about how if a student needs help they can always talk to the professor or reach out to the counseling center.
This strategy is considered ineffective because the majority of classes are online and asynchronous. The lack of real-time class results in students feeling even more isolated and having no bond with the professor. The likelihood of a student that has either hit rock bottom or is just having a bad day reaching out to the counseling center is very low. Countless students don’t take advantage of the free counseling because colleges do not send a message that is inviting and encouraging students to reach out and get help. Instead, it feels as if school administrators decided to lean on just trying to stay afloat and treat the pandemic semesters like a game of cops and robbers.
At universities policemen patrolled campus shutting down any gatherings and partying. At Grand Rapids Community College we were told to take an assessment every time we were on campus about if we were in close contact with anyone that had COVID-19 or if we were showing any symptoms. Colleges took the hash position of doing their “duty” and stopping any opportunity students would have to possibly contract or spread COVID-19.
The majority of universities also took away spring break in order to stop the party scenes that horrified America last March. Mitigating the spread of COVID-19 is of course a crucial thing but forgetting to address students’ mental health in an impactful way has truly led to a crisis of its own. In fact, studies are starting to document how substance abuse is on a sharp uptick. RAND Corporation recently did a study that was supported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). It found that heavy drinking was up by 41% in adults. If these results are reflecting adults that already have careers and established lives just imagine the results of a study of college students who are uncertain about the future for themselves and often find themselves in an unstable environment.
Obviously many students even without a pandemic use alcohol and other substances as a way to unwind and combat stress. Unhealthy habits can be formed and then be negatively reflected later in life. Colleges not helping students find healthy ways to destress and not promoting getting help through counseling and other means is a sad reality. Instead many colleges are raising tuition, building shiny new buildings to attract high school seniors, and trying to promise this will eventually get better. This is a plea that this is the here and now. Sure in the future COVID-19 will be gone and parties will be allowed and people will fall back into paying ridiculous prices for college and say, “It was for the experience! I couldn’t stand living another year at home.”
Let’s not forget how many college students were forced at the drop of a hat to go home, regardless of their home situation, and pay the same tuition for virtual classes. Students need a break from the monotony of online classes and the textbook responses about the pandemic from schools.
Colleges have money behind them, they are never going away and of course, they have benefits and have changed many people’s lives for the better. However we must keep them accountable and if we are paying money for a service, we should be demanding to be treated better. Our investment in college should result in the college’s investment in our well-being.