Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Emotional Health Envy

The adage that the grass is greener on the other side could resonate with this year’s freshman class, who rated their emotional health in comparison to their peers’ at the lowest level in 25 years, according to results published by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA from its 2010 Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) freshman survey.

The CIRP is administered to incoming freshmen during summer orientation or the first few weeks of class and is designed to gather information about students’ experiences leading up to college and their college expectations, life goals, attitudes, and experiences, says Linda DeAngelo, assistant director of research for the survey. The report reveals that the percentage of students reporting their emotional health was in the “highest 10 percent” or “above average,” when compared to their peers, dropped by 3.4 percent from 2009, from 55.3 percent to 51.9 percent—the lowest level since the question was first asked in 1985. Women are 13.2 percent less likely than men to report high levels of emotional health.

“This signals to us that students are perceiving that their emotional health is lower than what they think it should be, in terms of being lower in comparison to their peers,” says DeAngelo.

The HERI recommends higher ed leaders help combat these findings by encouraging students to be active and socialize with their peers, and DeAngelo says it’s important for college and university leaders to be aware of the implications mental health can have on being successful educationally.

“Students who are under emotional stress and overwhelmed don’t always make the best decisions in terms of time management,” she says. “Universities really need to think about how to outreach their wellness services so students who need those services can take advantage of them.”

The study—which also covers student financial concerns and views on the economy and politics; numbers of students identifying themselves as having a disability; beliefs on gay and lesbian adoption rights; and expectations of satisfaction and participation in college activities—was based on responses from 201,818 students at 279 colleges and universities. A summary can be viewed at www.heri.ucla.edu; the full report is also available for purchase online ($15 for a PDF, $25 for a hard copy). —K.D.

Originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of University Business.

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