Science Summary

Dana Humphrey / December 16, 2016

On-Campus Child Care Access and Affordability
Although 4.8 million student parents need on-campus childcare, a recent state-by-state analysis of institutions by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that this support has been steadily decreasing across the country. The report, which analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education, found that while low-income parents have access to financial assistance for childcare through subsidy programs, there is drastic variability by state in the actual affordability. Some states enforce strict eligibility rules including work requirements, limitations on degree type, or time and academic requirements, which create barriers for student parents in receiving the financial support they need. The report also showed that states increasingly have waiting lists for these childcare subsidies.

Difficulty finding and affording childcare contributes to the low rates of graduation among student parents; two thirds do not attain a degree within six years of enrollment.

Healthy and Fulfilling Lives Post-Graduation
Do students graduate from college equipped to find jobs, succeed financially and lead healthy and fulfilling lives? Gallup and Purdue University developed the Gallup-Purdue Index in 2014 in part to answer that question. The Index measures alumni perceptions of their college experience, and how that relates to post-graduation wellbeing, feelings of preparedness for life outside of college, and career success, among other measures. The study showed that preparedness for life is linked to having six positive experiences during college: (1) at least one professor who made them excited about learning, (2) professors who cared about them as a person (3) a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams, (4) a long-term project (5) a job or internship where students applied what they were learning, and (6) extensive involvement in extra-curricular activities. The study found that the “big six” experiences are also associated with time it takes to complete a degree, as well as later in life outcomes like employee engagement and wellbeing. Furthermore, the percentage of alumni who report being prepared well for life after graduation increases with every additional “big six” experience. Eighty two percent of graduates reporting all six also said they were prepared for life after college, and only 5% of those who did not report any of the six experiences said they were prepared. However, only 3% of college alumni say they experienced all six experiences, only 22% report having a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals, and 20% reported being very active in extracurricular activities.

Efficacy of Mandatory Alcohol Interventions
A recent meta-analysis on the efficacy of mandated alcohol interventions – disciplinary actions including required alcohol education and counseling – found that it is an effective short-term strategy for risk reduction. “Alcohol interventions for mandated college students: A meta-analytic review” looked at 31 studies that surveyed students in mandated alcohol programs, measuring alcohol use as an outcome. Students who participated in a mandated intervention reduced their alcohol consumption, frequency of drinking days and heavy drinking, and alcohol-related problems in the short term. At an intermediate assessment, the researchers also found changes in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems. However, in the long term, only one measure of alcohol consumption, typical blood alcohol content, was found to have decreased significantly. While the effects of mandated alcohol interventions seem to diminish over time, the authors believe that the data provide empirical validation for the use of alcohol risk reduction interventions as tools for institutional enforcement.

Civic Engagement and Campus Climate Related to Mental Health
Some experts have argued that to improve college student mental health, students must participate in civic engagement, such as service-learning and volunteering. In “Perceptions of Campus Climates for Civic Learning as Predictors of College Students’ Mental Health,” Mitchell, J.J. et al examined the way that students’ civic engagement behaviors and their perceptions of a campus climate for civic learning is related to their mental health. The data showed that mental health was significantly and positively predicted by students’ perception of a campus climate that promoted civic learning, which is made up of several characteristics: supporting the development of students’ ethical and moral reasoning, promoting students’ commitment to contributing to a larger community, and developing the skills necessary to change society for the better. Additionally, researchers found that civic engagement through participation in community service was a weak positive predictor of mental health; individual experiences with volunteering contributed less to mental health than campus climate. This study provides evidence for administrators that the development of a campus culture embedded in civic engagement could have a large positive effect on mental health on campus.

Food and Housing Insecurity on Campus
A joint report by four campus-based groups seeks to understand food insecurity on college campuses and the impact it has on students and their academic achievement. The report highlighted the recent findings of a study of 3,765 students in 12 states at eight community colleges and 26 four-year colleges and universities. The data showed that 48% of students had reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days, including nearly a quarter with such low levels of food security that they qualify as hungry. Food insecurity was more prevalent among students of color and first-generation college students: 57% of black students and 56% of first generation students reported food insecurity compared with 40% of white students and 45% of students who had at least one parent who attended college. Among college students, food insecurity often accompanies housing insecurity, which can include difficulty paying rent, mortgage, and utility bills. In this study, 65% of food insecure students reported a degree of housing insecurity, and 15% reported some form of homelessness over the past year.

Thirty two percent of the food insecure students in this study reported that food or housing insecurity had impacted their academics, some unable to buy required textbooks, others missing or dropping classes.

The Effect of Bullying on Mental Health
A recent retrospective study examined the association between multiple forms of childhood victimization and mental health in college students. The study found that students who were victims of bullying were more likely to have health problems later in life, including higher levels of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. Furthermore, being bullied was the strongest predictor of post-traumatic stress of all types of victimization studied, including abuse by an adult and exposure to community violence. The study also found that young women were more likely to experience long-term mental and emotional health consequences than the young men surveyed.