by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
John Sailer writes for the Martin Center about one negative impact of an overemphasis on college education.
Long before Covid, mental health experts declared a different sort of pandemic—a precipitous decline in mental health on college campuses.
One 2019 survey by the American College Health Association found that over the course of a year, 55.9 percent of students reported feeling hopelessness, 65.6 percent reported feeling very lonely, 70.8 percent reported feeling very sad, and 65.7 percent reported overwhelming anxiety. Nearly half said that at some point in the year they felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.
This data creates an odd disjunction. College, after all, publicly signifies opportunity, success, and even the American Dream—and yet, far from feeling empowered by these supposed institutional vehicles of success, many students buckle under the weight of loneliness and anxiety.
According to one common explanation, college life simply puts too much pressure on students, who feel the need to perform academically so they can get a good job. While certainly a feature, the pressure to perform falls short of explaining the problem. Economic pressure exists everywhere, so why does college uniquely lend itself to anxiety? Why depression and loneliness?
Along with the rigors of the university, our national obsession with college shares at least some of the blame. While college often alienates students, our public policy and culture increasingly mandate that all young people pursue a college degree—and this is a recipe for our campus mental health crisis and its attendant consequences. …
… While politicians and education leaders talk up the benefits of college, they rarely mention the non-monetary costs. For most students, attending college means leaving friends, family members, and longstanding communities. This broad network of support—social capital, to invoke the sociological term—plays an important role in the formation of young people.
Deep communities can be hard to replicate on campus, but they’re vital to good health.