The SCICU Board of Trustees had a great meeting Oct. 13, during which I led a discussion on how students entering college today are very different from those of a generation ago.
Students were facing serious challenges before the pandemic but the last couple of years only magnified those issues. These are the students known as “Generation Z,” born between 1996-2015 — the pandemic transformed them into “Generation COVID.”
In their short lives they have known nothing but impermanence. They were young children during the Great Recession, and overheard their families talk of lost jobs and fractured family budgets – now they’re learning the definitions of “recession” and “stagflation.” They’ve witnessed terrorism and mass shootings. The only politics they’ve known is deeply, angrily partisan with wild shifts in majorities and leadership. Add to those the instability of COVID – of not knowing even if they would attend school in person.
Not surprisingly, even before the pandemic more and more students were wrestling with mental health issues. Take a look at the numbers from Sarah Lipson, an assistant professor at Boston University who is the principal investigator for The Healthy Minds Study, which has collected about 600,000 student responses at 600 campuses across the country.
Increasing rates of depressive symptoms:
2013 (22%) – 2021 (41%)
Increasing rates of anxiety symptoms:
2013 (17%) – 2021 (34%)
Increasing rates of suicidal ideation:
2007 (6%) – 2021 (14.1%)
Now add the stress resulting from the isolation and academic disruption so many students faced as a result of the pandemic and lockdowns. It’s no wonder that, according to the 2022 College Confidence Index, 40 percent of students considered dropping out last year.
Here in South Carolina students are fortunate to have the option of attending the 21 member SCICU colleges and universities who each offer a comforting sense of community while providing their own unique living and learning environments that put students first.
Being liberal arts campuses, they all offer academic programs that afford students the chance to put their lives, and struggles, in perspective – to understand the world through eyes of our greatest philosophers, artists and scientists. Not surprisingly, surveys show that people who have studied the liberal arts are happier.
Generation COVID has a lot going against it. And while in some quarters a liberal arts degree has been called into question, the well-being of a generation depends on it.