Stress is no new concept in the life of a college student, but a recent study indicates that the emotional health of freshmen is worse than it was 25 years ago.
Only 51.9 percent of freshmen had above average emotional health, according to a press release from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program. This is a 3.4 percent drop from 2009 and a decline from the 63.6 percent of freshmen in that category in 1985.
The study is based on freshmen’s self-ratings of their emotional health over the past 25 years. The CIRP surveyed 201,818 full-time freshmen at 279 of America’s four-year colleges and universities last fall alone. The CIRP Freshman Survey is the largest and longest-running survey of American college students, surveying more than 15 million students since 1966.
John Delony, assistant dean for residence life, said he believed the national trends extended to ACU. However, he believes the rise in stress is more connected to economic uncertainty than an increase in the intensity of school loads.
“I don’t believe that study is indicative of just college students,” Delony said. “I think that if they did that study for society in general, they’d find the same trends.”
The study confirmed that the economy and financial strains on students’ families played a part in freshmen stress. The unemployment rate of students’ fathers (4.9 percent) was at an all-time high and the rate of unemployed mothers (8.6 percent) showed increase as well. The amount of students getting college loans is at 53.7 percent.
Carly Henderson, freshman biology major from Edmond, Okla., agreed that college is more stressful for freshmen today than it was 25 years ago.
“I think it’s probably a combination of the economy, tuition and the idea of not being able to get a job when their done,” Henderson said.
Henderson said her family had difficulty covering tuition. She also worries about her future career, which she hopes will be in the medical field. Delony said uncertainty caused by systemic changes in the economy is driving students to stand out academically.
“My generation and beyond was told that you go to high school, then college and then get a job. That narrative I think is changing,” Delony said.
Delony said the notion of having one job or profession for an entire career is gone.
The survey may support this idea, as 75.8 percent of freshmen rated their drive to achieve as “above average,” showing an upward trend. Further, 72.7 percent of freshmen – the highest rate ever -believed that “the chief benefit of college is that it increases one’s earning power.”
Far fewer female students reported high levels of emotional health than male students, the rates at 45.9 and 59.1 percent respectively. Henderson said she observed much more stress in herself and other female students than in her male classmates.
Delony said he believed that investing in experience-based education is paramount in these times where challenges and opportunities are great. Any students experiencing high stress can take advantage of the Counseling Center, or approach ACU staff and faculty.
Henderson said she is trying to manage her time better than she did last semester to reduce her stress. She is also going to church more and reading her Bible more regularly.
“Whenever I have my God time, it kind of helps me pull in my stress and get my thoughts in order,” Henderson said.