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Education Station: Student success in higher education no longer just measured by academic standards

The definition of student success is expanding thanks, in part, to COVID-19.

BEREA, Ohio — Adjusting to the pace of college life at Baldwin Wallace University was overwhelming for Cincinnati native Emily Muench.

"The first semester here was really hard mental health-wise.  I was not doing well at all," Muench said.

She said depression and anxiety even landed her in the hospital during the second semester of her freshman year -- the same semester in 2020 when higher education institutions across the country canceled in-person classes due to COVID-19. 

"It's hard when you're so isolated. That can cause a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression," she said.

The ongoing pandemic is having a negative impact on the mental health of college students. 

"We're seeing a continued increase in anxiety, depression, suicidal ideations and self-harm," said Dr. Timeka Rashid, vice president for Student Affairs at Baldwin Wallace.

One of Rashid's top priorities in her new role is to change the culture at the 176-year-old institution to improve overall student well-being, with a focus on three distinct areas, including:

  • Self-care -- giving student life leaders room to take care of themselves first
  • Family connection -- including parents and families of students in the communication process
  • Providing training and resources to better address mental health issues

BW added JacketCare Telehealth service in 2020 and because of that, the university's over 3,300 students have access to free, around-the-clock medical and mental health care, all virtually.

The university also provides students with free counseling, support Muench utilized her freshman year when she also reactivated BW's Active Minds chapter -- an organization dedicated to raising mental health awareness.

"I hope people stop shaming people about their mental illnesses and try to understand where people are coming from," said Muench.

She also hopes the focus on mental health doesn't take a back seat once we adjust to COVID'S new normal. Muench said the most important way to help is to openly talk about mental struggles so students like her can continue to be successful.

RELATED: How COVID has changed the future of getting a college education

A recent global study from Instructure exploring how the pandemic has impacted higher education found that half of institutions surveyed offer in-person or virtual counseling services, 33% hold campus well-being events and 24% utilize mental health apps.  

Respondents were also more likely to agree that student success involves much more than grades.

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