COVID and the Delta variant continue to dominate higher education headlines this week as schools begin the fall semester. Clemson University created a mask mandate hours before faculty threatened to walk out concerned about teaching to unmasked and unvaccinated students. More institutions are making adjustments to their fall term: Houston Community College shifted classes online for the first four weeks of the semester and California State University Stanislaus made a similar announcement. Additional vaccine mandates were announced this week with Washington State requiring vaccines of public college employees and Philadelphia giving all students and employees at its colleges and universities until mid-October to get vaccinated. Institutions are enforcing vaccine mandates in unique ways; Quinnipiac University is fining unvaccinated students and cutting off their Wifi access until they demonstrate proof of vaccination.
Concern About New Student Mental Health
The Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement data released this week highlights new students’ mental health concerns ahead of the start of their college experience. While many incoming students are optimistic about a new beginning, “they are also struggling with mental health and academic challenges created by the pandemic.” Fifty-three percent of first-year students reported a substantial increase in mental and emotional exhaustion in their survey responses. The major take-away for institutions: expand mental health services. In addition, as colleges and universities return to in-person learning, they must address Black, Asian-American, Native-American and Latinx students’ needs and create campuses where these student populations feel safe.
Listen to our recent Friday 5 Live episode to hear college students from across the United States share their hopes and concerns for the fall 2021 semester.
Leveraging Data to Keep Students Enrolled
This week Diverse Issues in Higher Education reported on data collection efforts at Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) to help keep students enrolled. Leadership measured students’ experiences throughout the pandemic collecting both qualitative and quantitative data. The institution’s goal was to identify student challenges before they became problems or roadblocks to success. GGC created a peer mentor collective to provide student support at the times they were doing homework (1:00am-5:00am) when faculty and staff were not available. The institution is also committed to weekly check-ins with students and increasing mental health and wellness initiatives.
“The key was measuring students, qualitatively and quantitatively, at all points in the pandemic. We needed to understand, quantify, and benchmark what their experiences were in the classroom and outside of the classroom.” - Dr. Michelle Rosemond, GGC Vice President for Student Engagement and Success
Institutions Using Carrots and Sticks to Get Students Vaccinated
Over 700 institutions are requiring vaccinations, and these schools are addressing unvaccinated students in many different ways. At Wake Forest University, students who had not demonstrated proof of vaccination by August 1 were withdrawn from classes and housing. Rhodes College, which had initially charged a $1,500 semester fee to unvaccinated students, is now requiring vaccination proof by September 30 or students will take an “administrative leave.” Birmingham-Southern College took a different approach providing a $500 rebate to vaccinated students. Other schools like Piedmont Virginia Community College are providing bookstore vouchers to vaccinated students.
Yik Yak Returns to Campus After 4 Year Hiatus
Higher Ed Dive reports this week on the return of Yik Yak, the anonymous messaging app. Four years ago, Yik Yak was shut down after extensive complaints that it facilitated racism, discrimination and threats of violence on college campuses. Yik Yak will continue to enable users to post without their name attached. The new owners have promised to root out bullying or threatening language.
Author: Meg Foster
August 20, 2021