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Freshmen Stress, Debt Worries Grow Higher

JeffersonMemorial_EN-US2610056053Results of the 2009 survey of over 200,000 first-year students at 4-year American colleges, administered by the Cooperative Institute Research Program of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, show that at least 67% of freshmen are concerned about financing their college cost, the highest percentage since 1971. Moreover, 53% of first-year students have taken out loans to finance college, 4% more than in 2008 and the highest percentage in the last ten years. 

The global economic downturn is having an impact on the characteristics, attitudes, and beliefs of incoming first-time students at four-year institutions. They are more concerned about finances, more likely to take out loans and need grants in higher amounts. They will likely be graduating with higher debts and have shifted majors and career aspirations away from business fields. Although the values of these students coming into college show a slight retrenching towards financial security and less towards social agency, there is hope that their increased desire for volunteering and community service will foster an increase in such attitudes during their college careers. — Pryor, J.H., Hurtado, S., DeAngelo, L., Palucki Blake, L., & Tran, S. (2009). The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2009. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA.

The students are describing themselves as being “below average” in their emotional health in higher numbers than ever before. The percentage of students who described their emotional health as above average fell from 64% in 1985 to 52%. Female students have a less positive view of their emotional health than male students, by a wider than ever margin: 18% of the men compared with 39% of the women. Female students also accounted for 60% of the number of students who reported having sought mental health services during their first year of college.

Among the principal causes of the increase in stress, the economy appears to play the major role, due to much greater financial pressures on parents and the students’ own worries about college debt and job prospects after graduation. 29% of the students surveyed reported that they had been frequently overwhelmed by stress during their senior year of high school, up from 27% last year.