Higher Ed in the News: 8/24/2020

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

This week on Higher Ed in the News, a look inside the minds of incoming freshmen and some important points about burnout in academia. You can read last week’s edition of this weekly feature here.


The sacrifices of this year’s incoming freshmen

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, some colleges and universities have started reopening their campuses. Given basic health and safety concerns, and the heightened threat of contracting a virus in the closed quarters that college campuses are known for, incoming freshman students are weighing their long-awaited opportunity to have their “college experience” against their individual health, finances, and other determinants, as the Washington Post has reported.

In addition to the obvious concerns for their own health and safety, students say they’re worried about bringing the virus back home if schools were to close abruptly. With social distance restrictions reshaping dorm life, extracurricular activities and access to amenities are limited anyway, which puts a hard ceiling on the value of this fall’s college experience. 

High school seniors have many reasons for wanting to go off to college after graduation, whether it’s an opportunity to get out of the house, reach new scholastic heights, or escape a harmful culture in their high school or town, among many others. Yet, many are begrudgingly putting their college dreams on hold. 

For some, the educational detour involves enrolling in a local community college or online school to save money on tuition and room and board. For others, it could mean a gap year where they pursue non-academic interests. In either case this could result in lost scholarships or placement at coveted colleges. No matter what route these young adults choose, these decisions are likely to reverberate throughout their lives, highlighting the need for increased empathy towards students in this situation.


It’s the first day of class, and you’re already feeling burnt out

If you’re a member of faculty or staff in higher education, the possibility of burnout among you and your peers at this time probably does not need to be explained. But as Kevin R. McClure, an education professor at UNC-Wilmington, writes for EdSurge, “It’s not a question of whether higher education institutions will see a significant uptick in burnout among staff, faculty and graduate students this fall. The more important question is how college leaders will address it.”

“Burnout is associated with a range of other problems for individuals and organizations,” McClure continued, “including less creativity, more anxiety and insomnia, more interpersonal conflict, lower job performance, more unexpected resignations, and more sick leave. All side effects colleges would like to avoid as they enter one of the hardest semesters in recent memory.”

After a summer that has been busier than any other for most in academia, multiplied by other life anxieties caused by the pandemic, we may be on the precipice of a perfect storm, especially when stressed-out students are added to the equation. McClure finishes his article with a set of recommendations, including breaking the stigma around this topic, simplifying and reducing workloads, improving work conditions, and embracing flexibility.

Georgetown faculty and staff can learn about mental health/telehealth resources on the university website.