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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Higher ed anxiety: What can colleges do?

Students with mental-health problems, especially anxiety and depression, are flooding college health centers.

The most selective colleges have the most fragile students, writes Jonathan Zimmerman in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania, “where at least 14 students have taken their lives since February 2013,” he writes.

“Many of our students grow up in an atmosphere of hyperachievement, so they think they have to be perfect in every way,” he writes. “And social media reminds them that there is always someone, somewhere who is better — smarter, sexier, and more successful — than they are.”

Nearly two-thirds of college students report experiencing “overwhelming anxiety” during the past year. Almost one-third reported feeling so depressed that they had trouble functioning; nearly half said they had felt “things were hopeless.”

Zimmerman suggests reducing stress by admitting qualified students on a lottery basis. Colleges would set a standard for grades, test scores and extracurriculars, then pick randomly.

The colleges would end up admitting students who were every bit as accomplished and talented as our current crop, but they would be less inclined to view admission decisions as a reflection of their ultimate worth. And that would improve their mental well-being, which is already too dependent on external validation.

He also wants to require college clubs to admit all interested students and to de-stress senior year by banning recruiters from campus. I think graduating seniors would be even more stressed if they couldn’t get interviews with potential employers.

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