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September 2021: Back to School

Welcome!

Welcome to our new blog series about Iowa’s Community Colleges. Each month I’ll share my thoughts on critical issues facing our Colleges and things you may not know about this important sector of higher education.

Back to School Blues

Back to school time always fills me with emotion. As a kid I was always a bundle of nerves and excitement. I carefully labeled school supplies and took extra time picking just the right outfit. As a mom, it’s taken on even more meaning as I watch my kids grow and get ever more independent. As a higher education advocate, it fills me with hope and optimism for the lives we can positively impact.

This year is different. There’s some excitement, but trepidation. There’s hope for who’s showing up on campus, but fear about who we might be leaving behind. Since the pandemic began there has been so much focus on keeping our students, staff, and communities physically safe and well. As we (hopefully) move into a new phase, that sense of wellbeing must expand to focus more on mental health.

If you’re concerned, there’s good reason to be. Research from the American Psychological Association shows that in 2020 44 percent of students seeking help at their college counseling center had a severe psychological issue. This is up from just 10 percent 20 years ago. The pandemic has only exacerbated these concerns. According to a Spring 2021 BestColleges.com survey, 95 percent of college students have experienced negative mental health symptoms because of COVID-19-related circumstances and almost half believe the mental health effects have directly affected their education.

What Our Colleges Are Doing

Iowa’s Community Colleges have been stepping up their work in this area in recent years. Nationally, less than half of Community College campuses have mental health counselors. In Iowa, nearly all have licensed mental health counseling on campus. Students also have access to virtual and phone services, referrals to other providers, and partnerships with community organizations.

In acknowledgement of September being National Suicide Prevention Month, many of our Community Colleges are highlighting their mental services. Here are some:

  • Josh Van Zweden, a mental health counselor at Western Iowa Tech, will be hosting “Wellness Wednesdays,” where students will have the opportunity to come in, have some coffee, and talk about any issues they are having in a support group setting. Wellness tips will also be shared via video and posted on their social media channels.

  • Hawkeye will be hosting an event on September 22 called “Elevate” Your Mental Health, in which a local Waterloo service will share personal mental health stories.

  • Eastern Iowa has changed their counseling services to better serve their students with the new program, Student Assistance Program (SAP), that utilizes counselors who specialize in assessment and assist with stress before a bigger problem develops.

For More Information

If you are interested in more data, check out this academic article, “Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on College Student Mental Health and Wellness” and two Healthy Minds Studies: one covers 2018 and 2019 data, and the other covers 2020 data.

Lastly, if you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health disorder and need help, please reach out to a service like the National Alliance on Mental Health that provides free crisis counseling, resources, and information.

© 2021 Iowa Association of Community College Trustees. All rights reserved.