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Five Resources for Getting to Know Your Students

Posted by On Thursday, September 3, 2015

It is useful to understand the attitudes and behaviors of today’s young adults to prepare your campus for the academic year. Here are a few things we learned from recent surveys and studies about today’s students and five resources to help you learn more about your students.

The good news is that recent surveys suggest that today’s students are in many ways more responsible than those in the past. Monitoring the Future (MTF), a national survey of secondary and post-secondary students’ attitudes and behaviors, found that in 2014 both alcohol and cigarette use among teens were at their lowest points since the survey began in 1975.

Though in many ways young adults are drinking more responsibly, they are still drinking: According to MTF, in 2014 “27% of 8th graders, 49% of 10th graders, 66% of 12th graders, 79% of college students” tried alcohol.

And students do still have some unhealthy habits. In 2014, about 1 in 5 of high-school seniors reported binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) in the past two weeks. We also know that while college-bound seniors report binging less than their non-college bound peers, they overtake their peers once they’re in college.

The data on drug use is less clear cut than the data on drinking. In general, drug use among teens remains relatively stable with some small declines. Worth noting, however, are significant declines in the use of prescription narcotics like Vicodin, codeine, and OxyContin.

While the data on students’ drug and alcohol use is promising, there are some suggestions that college students’ mental health is declining.

According to the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), in 2014 college first-years reported the lowest emotional health since the survey began. 9.5% of students reported feeling frequently depressed. Directors of counseling centers are also reporting increases in anxiety disorders and crises requiring immediate response, according to the National Survey of College Counseling Centers.

The rise in self-reported mental health issues, however, may not be due to college students’ deteriorating mental health. At least some of the change may be related to increased awareness around mental health, which may be leading more students to reach out for help.

The Chronicle of Higher Education just released a series of articles covering the rise in self-reported mental health issues on college campuses. You can also read our discussion of the college mental health crisis here.

These national surveys, however, only show us one side of today’s undergraduate population. Here are some stories and websites that reveal other valuable aspects of students to help paint a broader picture.

What’s it like Being 18?

Ninna Gaensler-Debs of KALW, a Bay Area public radio, asked a group of high school seniors to tell her what it’s like being 18 today. The 2-3 minute vignettes span a variety of topics from battling depression to applying to college as an undocumented teen. This excellent series lets young adults speak for themselves.

‘Ask Me’: What LGBTQ Students Want Their Professors Know

This video and accompanying article explore ways to make LGBTQ students more welcome on campus and in the classroom. The Chronicle interviewed over a dozen students, who shared the challenges and safety issues they faced as LGBTQ students. The students talk about gender identity, pronouns, name changes, and housing concerns.

Helping Homeless Students

The Chronicle ran two articles on the plight of homeless students and how some colleges and universities are reaching out to them. The articles shed light on the struggles and challenges these students face trying to stay in school and the programs that have helped them. While there is little research on homeless students, students can identify as “unaccompanied homeless youth” on their federal financial aid forms. Nationwide, close to 60,000 students have chosen that designation, according to the Chronicle.

Beloit Mindset List

If you haven’t already seen it in a chain email or heard about in your president’s welcome address, you should definitely check out the Beloit College Mindset List. Released every year, this not-very-scientific list chronicles the popular culture of this year’s incoming class. Of particular note this year: “Cell phones have become so ubiquitous in class that teachers don’t know which students are using them to take notes and which ones are planning a party.”

Data from Campus Climate Surveys

More and more schools are administering climate surveys on their campuses to gauge the well-being and safety of their students. Many schools are also making the data from these surveys public. While the information is particular to the schools, it does provide one more glimpse into student life. We’ve written about getting started with climate surveys, and we’ve also provided a useful rundown of what experts are saying about campus climate surveys.

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