College freshmen under severe stress

UCLA’s annual survey of college freshmen found that a record number of students rate their emotional health as “below average”. “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010” survey released last week found that 51.9 percent of college freshmen reported that their emotional health was strong, a drop from 55.3 percent last year and significantly down from 64 percent in 1985. The survey included more than 200,000 full-time students from nearly 280 four-year colleges. UCLA has conducted the survey each year since 1973.


Experts point to unemployed parents, growing college loan debt, and concern that they will not get a job when they graduate as just some of the reasons this year’s college freshmen are reporting record levels of stress. In fact, young people who participated in the study reported a high level of parents who were out of work. The survey also found that 53.1 percent were relying on student loans to finance school and 73.4 percent on grants and scholarship, a 3.4 percent increase compared to last year, and the highest level since the survey began asking the question in 2001.


John Pryor, the director of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, told the New York Times:


     “Paternal unemployment is at the highest level since we started measuring. More students are taking out loans. And we’re seeing the impact of not being able to get a summer job, and the importance of financial aid in choosing which college they’re going to attend.”


The survey also showed a huge gender gap between men and women and their views of their emotional health. For example, just 45.9% of women described themselves having strong, emotional health as compared with 59.1% of the men. The survey also found that women were more than twice as likely as men to feel frequently overwhelmed, 39 percent to 18 percent. Experts are speculating this gap could be a result of how women and men spend their free time. Director Pryor told the Los Angeles Times that:


     “the guys are spending more time in stress-relieving activities, like watching TV and playing video games. The girls are more likely to be helping out with chores at home.”


There was some good news reported by the survey, however. A record number of freshmen said they expected to receive good grades and participate in clubs or community service. Nearly 58 percent said they would be satisfied with their college experience. This is the highest level since 1982.