Paying more attention to student mental health

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Eight out of 10 university and college presidents say that student mental health has become more of a priority on their campus than it was three years ago, according to a new American Council on Education (ACE) survey.

The percentage was about the same among public two-year college leaders, with 79 percent indicating student mental health was more of a priority, and 21 percent saying it was about the same. The percentage was higher among public four-year institution presidents: 87 percent said student mental health was more of a priority with 13 percent saying it was about the same.

ACE this spring surveyed 410 college and university presidents, 21 percent of whom lead public two-year institutions.

Biggest concerns: addiction, food, housing

When asked for the top mental health concerns they hear about, three-quarters of presidents cited anxiety (75 percent) and depression (74 percent). At public two-year colleges, the responses were 64 percent for anxiety and 52 percent for depression.

However, two-year colleges indicated they heard more about students’ concerns regarding addiction, food insecurity and housing insecurity than other higher education sectors. Among two-year college leaders, 41 percent noted drug and alcohol addiction was an issue they heard more about from students, 41 percent indicated food insecurity and 32 percent cited housing insecurity. That compares to the average of 32 percent for addiction, 23 percent for food insecurity and 15 percent for housing insecurity. (See chart, below)

Allocating resources

About seven out of 10 presidents (72 percent) reported they had reallocated or identified additional funding to address student mental health issues compared to three years ago. Presidents at four-year institutions (82 percent) were more likely to have identified or reallocated funding than presidents at public two-year colleges (57 percent). Two percent of surveyed two-year college leaders said less funding was allocated.

Student mental health and well-being is a campus-wide priority at most institutions. Eighty-three percent of presidents indicated that student well-being is mentioned in their strategic plan. For community colleges, it was 80 percent. Also, 43 percent of their strategic plans mention mental health specifically, compared to 31 percent of two-year colleges.

When it came to how well presidents felt regarding their knowledge of student mental health issues, leaders of two-year colleges didn’t feel as knowledgeable as other leaders, nor did they feel as strongly as other leaders that they had the tools to address the issues.

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