Affordability, campus environment top campus stressors
College students across the world typically report medium levels of stress and anxiety, with causes ranging from region to region, according to a new analysis by Sodexo which tracked responses from more than 4,000 students in six different countries.
“We’ll use [the survey] to figure out if we’re doing the right thing, but also communicate with the industry to be better at what it does,” says Pat Connolly, the CEO of Sodexo Schools and Universities Worldwide. “I think the data tells us we have a lot of work to do to tell what makes students anxious. What can we do to change the way students choose schools, how they assimilate and what they do when they get there?”
American schools below the global average for stress, but there's still room for improvement
The survey indicated that students in the United States reported slightly lower levels of overall stress in comparison to the global average, though countries like China and India reported lower levels than the U.S. The survey found student expenses and the potential for finding a job after their postsecondary education to be chief stressors. Students reported that colleges and universities needed to “demonstrate value for money,” according to the survey.
Student accommodation and cost of living expenses are very worrisome to 36% and 34% of U.S. students respectively — higher than the worldwide average for both categories. A recent survey by the Flatiron School found 32% of 18-29 year-old respondents did not attend college due to high tuition costs, and according to the Sodexho study, nearly half of American students said institutional financial support is a main factor in choice of college, with the report finding about a third of respondents made the decision based on career and social services availability.
In the first weeks of college, American students report similar levels of stress as other countries, but the stress tended come from sudden independence and need to budget. Connolly says it's vital for higher ed administrators to understand the specific stressors within student populations, even though it may be offering generalized services.
“We can employ stress relievers of a general nature, but we have to understand our own consumers,” he said, suggesting that higher ed institutions work with industry to foster employment pipelines and help allay potential financial anxieties. “We have to help students see what that success looks like.”
Many institutions across the country have been working with industry and state legislators to try to achieve this — for instance, Rhode Island has made efforts to grow its commercial fisheries industry through higher ed apprenticeship program, and San Antonio has a tech industry partnership through UT San Antonio to create a high school that will offer specialized courses focusing on industry needs.
Still, Connolly noted that many students feel stress about these perspectives, because they often believe that if they want to do a job “that matters,” they may not find much financial stability.
“Stereotypically you think doing something that matters doesn’t offer much money,” he said, noting schools could try to broaden students' apprenticeship opportunities. “You can work here and have a career focused on something that really matters to the world, but also be working for a corporation.”
Campus environment makes the difference in whether students feel comfortable or want to attend
Though digital marketing and social media often assist students in making a decision on which college to attend, 43% of American students actually reported that they made their decision on whether to attend a school “based largely on their first impressions of the physical campus environment.” Another 83% of respondents reported a ‘friendly atmosphere’ on campus was more important in making an enrollment decision than on the reputation of a particular higher ed institution.
Though some education experts say ornate dormitory construction has actually hindered university enrollment numbers, the Sodexo survey indicates higher ed institutions ought to continue putting resources toward bettering their facilities.
Connolly also said there are benefits to giving students a role in solving issues regarding stress and anxieties on campus. He pointed towards a Sodexo co-partnership with Northwestern University School of Engineering/Design for America, working within a “think-tank” model of design strategy.
Students would be tasked with coming up with potential solutions for how to help first-year students in adjusting to a postsecondary education and how to help students find better ways to communicate in universities. These types of student-driven programs could offer insight that administrators may lack, and also garner student buy-in to participating in campus solutions.
“It’s very similar to the kind of disruption we see in corporations in the world. It’s not necessary succeeding or failing yet; it’s at the beginning,” he said. “I see more universities doing more work that’s incubator-related, and the work I see at the start is very positive.”