Recession Takes Emotional Toll on College Freshmen

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The emotional health of college freshmen fell to an all-time low, a new survey found, as students are increasingly bogged down with financial hardships at home and high tuition costs in school.

Just 51.9% of students rated their emotional health as being above average or falling in the top 10%, a decline of 3.4 percentage points from 2009, according to a nationwide survey from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. Moreover, this represents a decline of about 11 percentage points since the annual survey was first launched in 1985, and is officially the lowest percentage on record.

According to the researchers behind this survey, the declining emotional health of college freshmen corresponds with a record number of students relying on federal grants and scholarships, as well as student loans to pay their tuitions. At the same time, the survey found that 5% of students say their fathers are unemployed, which is also at an all-time high.

"The increasing cost of higher education poses a significant barrier to college access for today's students," said Sylvia Hurtado, co-author of the report and director of the Higher Education Research Institute. "Students and families are now charged with the task of becoming more resourceful and strategic in finding new and creative ways to pay for college."

Female students were significantly more likely than men to feel worse, with just 45.9% of women reporting high levels of emotional health compared to 59.1% of men. But for women, the issues seem to go beyond money matters.

The survey, which is based on responses from more than 200,000 freshmen at 279 universities around the country, found that women were nearly twice as likely to report feeling overwhelmed by their workload and preparation as high school seniors, a fact that may contribute to students’ feeling increasingly stressed and worried when entering college.

"Stress is a major concern when dealing with college students," said John H. Pryor, the report’s lead author. "If students are arriving in college already overwhelmed and with lower reserves of emotional health, faculty, deans and administrators should expect to see more consequences of stress, such as higher levels of poor judgment around time management, alcohol consumption and academic motivation."

Still, for all the stress that first-time college students are feeling, they remain as ambitious and confident about their abilities as ever. Nearly three quarters of those surveyed rated their academic abilities as above average, and 76% rated their drive to achieve as above average as well.

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