‘The best four years of your life’. That’s the expectation that generations of students – past and present – have of their university experience. But ever-shrinking enrolment and retention rates are clear indicators that attending university isn’t quite as easy – or carefree – as it once was.
Against a backdrop of climate change, global political tensions, turbulent economies and a post-pandemic ‘return to norm’, the world is throwing a lot of uncertainty at our younger generations. Starting university has always been a momentous occasion; but for Gen Zers who are already experiencing high levels of anxiety, the mental strain is beginning to show.
Strains on students
Universities across the world have seen student mental health deteriorate in recent years:
- In the US, 63% of college students experienced overwhelming anxiety in the past year.
- In Australia, 30% of students reported low wellbeing, (particularly social wellbeing, associated with a sense of belonging and connection).
- In the UK, 48% of university students have considered leaving their course because of their mental health.
Causes of student anxiety
While institutions can’t solve world problems, the most common sources of anxiety that are specific to the university experience are a good place to start:
- Isolation/lack of support – university can be a lonely experience, regardless of whether a student physically leaves home, moves overseas or is studying online. In the UK, a massive one in four students admitted to feeling lonely most or all of the time – an incredibly sad reality.
- Financial pressure – for many, a university degree no longer guarantees a well-paid career. In the US, university and college fees continue to rise while post-grad salaries have stood still. Higher education is increasingly a huge financial risk and the pressure to select the right course and institution – to get the biggest bang for students’ buck – is greater than ever.
- Pressure to succeed – with a degree becoming a luxury that many struggle to afford, the pressure to do well is also incredibly high. Graduating with debt is one thing – failing to graduate with debt is quite another. In a recent UK study, 39% of students admitted to feeling stressed about their studies at least once a day.
- Balancing study and other commitments – The same study revealed that 22% of students experience stress due to ‘trying to fit study around work and social commitments. The reality is that fewer and fewer students have the luxury of full-time study, with many trying to balance work and family commitments with course deadlines.
While many institutions have prioritized mental health and provided both online and in-person support channels, up to a third of students don’t seek help and struggle in silence or drop-out.So, what else can universities do to help struggling students who aren’t reaching out to counseling staff or making use of online support?
Simplifying student life with search
Beyond encouraging students to make use of support services, the best approach institutions can take is to simplify or remove the potential sources of anxiety that can add to the already overwhelming experience of starting university.
A high-performing website search function, that enables students to find the information they need instantly, can help to ease student concerns, foster a sense of connection with university life and enable them to focus on study. Here’s how:
- Find relevant course information – for prospective students, the ability to find the right course information is critical to making an informed decision. Finding the information they need will not only increase the chances of enrolment – it ensures that students fully understand the course, learning outcomes and study demands pre-enrolment, increasing the likelihood of completing their degree.
- Easily access everything online – in the UK, 17% of higher education students have some form of disability. A highly accessible website not only benefits students with impaired vision or other accessibility needs, it makes for a more intuitive web experience enabling all web users to navigate your site and find what they need faster. Funnelback’s powerful accessibility auditor provides a range of quick-fix tools to ensure your site meets the latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
- Connect with social groups and events – an optimised search function, that makes use of refinements, filters and contextual recommendations, can help students to locate the exact social groups and events that are relevant to them. Finding like-minded peer groups will encourage students to participate in university events and significantly increase campus engagement.
- Discover support services – even though many students don’t ask for help, that doesn’t mean they don’t want it. In fact, 55% of Gen Zers say they have a high interest in using online mental health services. Helping students discover the full range of support services your institution offers is often the missing piece of the puzzle.