Student Affairs Officers Identify Student Mental Health as Top Concern in 2020

Student Affairs Officers Identify Student Mental Health as Top Concern in 2020

Rory Kelly
Editorial Contributor, Christie Campus Health

Inside Higher Ed has published findings from a student affairs administrator survey that sought to better identify the demands and responsibilities of interdisciplinary student affairs roles and teams in both public and private institutions. IHE collected data in January and February of 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic upended US higher education. Though many colleges and universities now find themselves navigating uncharted territory in remote learning and student support, the findings from this survey still pertain to and better inform our understanding of the role of student affairs in college student mental health.

Over 70% of public and private institutions’ student affairs officers reported that student mental health at their institutions was fair or poor, and 76% of public institution administrators and 81% of those of private institutions reported an increase in student visits to campus mental health providers. The most telling questionnaire item asked administrators on which concerns or issues they spend the most time; the results show that nearly all student affairs professionals dedicate significant time and energy to student mental health (93% of public institutions, 96% of private) and student well-being (89% of public, 94% of private). Other top areas of focus for student affairs officers—hunger and homelessness, race relations, free speech, and substance abuse—fell to distant second, third, and fourth positions.

Student mental health and wellbeing are traditionally seen as the responsibility of college health and counseling services.  However, this Inside Higher Ed study documented the linchpin role that student affairs officials play in student health and wellness efforts, despite not typically working individually with struggling students or carrying an LICSW or LMHC after their names. Student affairs officers are at the center of many activities, communication links, and information chains that are essential to a well-run behavioral health support system at institutions of higher education.

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