A new survey of college faculty confirms that they frequently are asked by students for help with mental health issues, with 46% of the respondents reporting that their students come to them with a mental health concern multiple times per month or more often.
The results come from a survey of 1,002 college faculty across the country. Commissioned by Course Hero, the popular course-material website, the survey was conducted from April 4-20, 2023, using a panel of respondents from Qualtric.
Among the respondents, 59% worked at a four-year institution, and 31% were employed at a two-year school; small percentages worked at trade schools or multiple institutions. The sample consisted of 62% men and 38% women. The respondents were relatively evenly divided among those at public (55%) and private colleges (45%); 49% of respondents were tenured, 24% were on the tenure-track, and 28% identified as contingent or other temporary faculty.
The survey covered a number of other topics related to the state of college faculty, including satisfaction with their jobs, their primary motivations for becoming a faculty member, and their perceptions of developing guidelines for and integrating generative artificial intelligence at their institutions.
Faculty Morale Is Improving
The results indicate that faculty morale appears to be on the rise. In September of 2020, a CourseHero survey found that about 40% of college faculty were considering leaving their job as a result of the impact of the pandemic. The new survey shows a substantial improvement in morale, with only 28% of the respondents reporting that they would leave their job in the next year if they could.
Even as some colleges and universities are facing financial struggles, more than three out of four faculty respondents remained optimistic or very optimistic about the future state of their institution. Faculty were also confident about their career growth, with more than 80% reporting they feel positive or very positive about their career prospects.
Despite overall optimism, 52% of women faculty who said they would leave academia within a year if they could pointed to stress and burnout as a reason to leave; only 38% of men said the same. Compensation was cited by 52% of women and 44% of men as a reason they would leave the profession.
Students Frequently Bring Mental Health Concerns To Faculty
Among faculty concerns, student mental health was indentified as a major issue. Respondents were asked “On average over the last six months, how often have students come to you with a mental health issue or concern?”
While almost half of faculty indicated that students come to them with such concerns multiple times a month, there was a striking relationship between the age of the faculty and how often they said students brought their mental health problems to them.
Millennial generation faculty (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen X faculty (born between 1965 and 1980) were more likely than their older, Baby Boomer colleagues (born between 1946 and 1964) to report students coming to them multiple times a month with mental health problems. The percentages were 60%, 44%, and 16%, respectively.
Overall, 45% of faculty reported that their students ask for mental health-based accommodations or work extensions once or multiple times a month, and 21% indicated that they received these requests once a week or more. Again, there was a substantial age difference associated with such requests: 33% of faculty aged 58 and older said students never cited mental health when asking for an extension or accommodation.
Full-time faculty were almost three times more likely (47%) than part-timers (16%) to say that a student had cited a mental health issue when requesting an extension or modification.
Faculty were also asked if they or a faculty member they knew had experienced a personal mental health concern. Overall, 43% reported that they or a faculty member they knew had faced a personal mental health issue more than monthly on average over the last six months.
Generational differences were again noted. Among Baby Boomers or older faculty, 65% reported no mental health issues for themselves or peers over the last six months, while 61% of Millennial faculty and 41% of Gen X faculty reported mental health concerns occurring at least multiple times a month.
Faculty perceptions of their students’ mental health concerns confirm other data about the severity of the problem and that it’s becoming worse. According to a recent Healthy Minds survey of 96,000 college students during the 2021-22 academic year, more than 60% met the criteria for at least one mental health problem, representing a 50% increase since 2013.
In that same survey, 44% of students reported symptoms of depression; 37% said they experienced anxiety; and 15% acknowledged they were considering suicide, the highest rate in the 15-year history of the survey.
At the same time, students appear to be obtaining more professional help for their mental health problems than in the past. Thirty-seven percent said they had received mental health counseling in the past year, up 7% from 2020.
The Course Hero survey suggests that faculty are often on the front line of students’ mental health worries, and it highlights the importance of supporting them with specialized training such as mental health first aid, which teaches early intervention techniques and helps responders understand, identify and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges.
“Higher education faculty— like their classroom peers in K-12 schools— are increasingly serving as mental health support, in addition to their roles as educators,” said Sean Michael Morris, Vice President of Academics at Course Hero. “Creating the right support systems and professional communities for our faculty enables them to effectively support students in the long term, while also preserving their own wellbeing.”
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