The rumors of students dropping out are widespread across Whitter College’s virtual campus, with reasons ranging from mental health issues to not being able to keep up with classwork. This range of issues seems to point to one common trend: Whittier College students seem burnt out.
82 percent of Whittier College students believe this school year has been “harder than usual,” according to the Quaker Campus’ December 10 Instagram poll. Given that students are living through a pandemic while dealing with nationwide job loss and a new academic calendar, it is, perhaps, no surprise that data is trending toward negative perceptions of the 2020 – 21 school year. However, this data suggests more of a dramatic trend than expected, and the conclusion seems like one the WC community has been circling for a while: students have reached their breaking point.
The QC poll, which requested that only current Whittier College students participate, asked two questions to its sample size of 56 people. The first question was “Has your school year been harder than, easier than, the same as, or ‘other’ than usual?” The second question asked those who selected harder than usual, “If you answered ‘harder than usual’ please [select] why, if possible.” Participants could select a reason off of the list: the pandemic, new module system, conflict with Whittier College community members, financial hardship, mental health issues, or “other.”
The most common reason Poets cited for having a harder academic year was “mental health issues” at 32.3 percent, followed closely by “pandemic” at 30.8 percent. Though the reasons provided by the Quaker Campus were broad and likely interconnected, these two most popular options point to one key factor affecting students’ academic performance: social isolation.
As psychologists have been saying since March, limited social interaction due to precautions against COVID-19 can cause major negative effects on mental health, especially for young adult students like those of Whittier College. When the academic year was moved online, with limited opportunity to interact with WC community members, a large portion of WC students likely experienced worsening mental health, with many of whom possibly having mental health issues prior to the pandemic. Symptoms of social isolation are both physical, such as through fatigue and elevated systolic blood pressure, and mental, such as a lack of motivation and loneliness. Both fatigue and a lack of motivation can negatively impact academic performance. Jordan Garcia’s Nov. 20 article likewise reported 81 percent of its 64 survey participants feel that online classes decrease their productivity, and 95 percent feel that distanced learning negatively affects their mental health.
“Mental health issues are the leading impediment to academic success.” – Effects of COVID-19 on College Students’ Mental Health in the United States: Interview Survey Study by Changwon Son.
One survey participant for this article’s study, fourth-year Mary Rose Primosch, cites “social isolation” as the main reason for a harder school year. Primosch chose the module system as the biggest contributor to a harder school year, though it was not due to academic difficulty. “The biggest subcategory of [the new module system] for me was lack of social interaction/support/in-person contact with teachers and friends,” said Primosch.
The third leading cause for a harder school year, according to survey participants, was the academic year’s new module system. The module system, originally designed to limit campus capacity in the case of in-person instruction, divided the school year into four seven-week and one five-week modules, as opposed to the prior two 14-week semesters and an optional four-week JanTerm. However, as Primosch mentioned, the new system can have social effects as well as time management and academic effects. In this way, many of the survey’s answers are intertwined, which may be an issue with gathering representative data. An additional weakness of this study may be a small sample size that skews the true representation of Whittier College students’ opinions.
It is, sadly, not surprising that seven percent of students struggle most with financial hardship this year, given that the U.S. GDP dropped to its lowest ever in July, “unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession” (2007 – 2010), and over 85% of Whittier College students receive “some form of aid, some of which — in the form of exception funding — was cut this year. Financial insecurity and a lack of exception-funded jobs can mean students need to work in off-campus jobs, taking hours away from time that could be spent studying or in a classroom. Some students have even needed accommodations or struggled to complete their courses due to scheduling conflicts with their jobs.
While only 4.5 percent of survey participants answered that “conflict with Whittier College community members,” which comprises faculty, staff, and students, made their academic year harder, this is still an issue to keep an eye on, as individual experiences can mount into common, larger-scale issues.
Overall, the data suggests that Whittier College students are experiencing a worse academic year than in the past as a result of social and academic factors, many of which are intertwined. As to whether they have reached their breaking point, the data seems to suggest most students are unhappy under the many unprecedented circumstances they have faced this academic year.
Featured image: Photo Courtesy of Annalisse Galaviz/ Quaker Campus.