Why Are College Students
Reporting Record High
Levels of Stress?
By MAIA SZALAVITZ Thursday, January 27, 2011
College students are more stressed out than ever before — at least according to the latest findings of a large, national survey that has been conducted annually for the last 25 years. The survey includes more than 200,000 students attending nearly 300 colleges and asks them to rate how their own mental health stacks up with their classmates' — for example, is it "above average" or in the "highest 10%"?
This somewhat unusual methodology typically results in the statistical Lake Woebegon effect in which most people tend to overestimate themselves in relation to others (it refers to the fictional Lake Woebegon, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average"). But the most recent results indicate that fewer and fewer freshmen feel like they are in top form in terms of coping with stress.
A quarter century ago, nearly 70% of freshmen put themselves in the top 10% of mentally stable people in their class; today only 52% rate themselves that highly, down 3 points since last year. Students' self-esteem, however, is still robust: a full 71% of freshmen put themselves in the top 10% in terms of academic abilities.
It's hard to know what these numbers actually mean: obviously, it's not mathematically possible for 52% or 71% of people to be in the top 10% of anything. And, as I explored in this post earlier today, people's attempts to compare themselves with others are skewed in various ways. Nevertheless, the finding is in line with previous research, which found that almost half of all college students who seek counseling now have a major mental illness. That's more than double the rate seen 10 years ago.
It's hard to know what these numbers actually mean: obviously, it's not mathematically possible for 52% or 71% of people to be in the top 10% of anything.ReplyDelete
It means that they aren't good at math or quantitative reasoning.
This is all based on self-reporting, though, and you can't adjust for socially acceptable responding. It may just mean that we're more aware of these things now than we were when the first study was done.ReplyDelete
The obvious explanation:ReplyDelete
There are more students in college now than 10 years ago (and a hello of a lot more than 25 years ago); therefore, there are more ill-prepared students enrolled than ever before.
Factor in a generation of NCLB and helicopter parenting combined with self-esteem curricula K-12. Now, just add alcohol and stir....
It's fascinating to me that this comes after the release of "Academically Adrift," which states that students aren't learning much of anything in college. Does the "not learning" stress them out?ReplyDelete
@ The_Myth: I think you've nailed it.ReplyDelete
@ Allison: Actually, learning less might indeed stress them out. I know that when I go to bed after a long day of productive work, I feel better, sleep better and just am better. If my day is muddled or I feel like I just goofed off, wasted time, procrastinated, etc. - I sleep poorly, feel like crap and the stress is actually greater. Students have always been distracted, but today they might well be more distracted - and hence under more stress, even though they may do less academic work or do it at a lower level.
Especially when kids are going to college right out of high school because there's this expectation that that's what you do. Maybe taking a year off would give them a better idea of who they are, bolster their work experience, and help alleviate this extra college stress. http://bit.ly/gnrRKQReplyDelete
That's because they're trying to buy their books at the library and don't know how to read a class schedule or course name!ReplyDelete
@Allison: I think it does. I'm often amazed at the enormous amount of time and effort some of my students put in - not into learning, but into finding ways to pass my class without learning. Scouring the syllabus for loopholes, memorizing ways to answer a question without understanding it, paying no attention through term then working 20-hour days to study a 3-month course in the one week before the exam; it's very hard work. It's stressful too, because you can't be sure it will work, and the threat of failure is always on your mind. It gets more stressful as the years go on and you find you didn't understand the prerequisites for your present courses.ReplyDelete
The New York Times also reported on it and that article included this important stat:ReplyDelete
While first-year students’ assessments of their emotional health were declining, their ratings of their own drive to achieve, and academic ability, have been going up, and reached a record high in 2010, with about three-quarters saying they were above average.
Even without knowing what the "average" academic ability actually is, it's obvious that 75% of college students can't be "above average." It looks to me that at least 25% of students are overestimating their academic ability (perhaps Crazy Math Professor will intervene here with a corrected interpretation). Of course they're stressed - a big chunk of average and below-average students are expecting their own performance to be above-average. Instead of accepting that they'll have to work harder to be above-average, they believe it should come to them easily and when it does not, they are stressed.