Higher education’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic rests largely on its executive leaders, whose varying responses to the crisis will make an imprint on their institutions for years to come. This is particularly true of their response to student mental health, an issue that was already top of mind for presidents before the crisis imposed a new level of anxiety and isolation. As leadership teams move to address student mental health during the pandemic, this brief provides high-level considerations for both short- and long-term planning.
According to recent surveys of college presidents conducted by Inside Higher Ed, over 90 percent reported being very or somewhat concerned about student mental health during the COVID-19 crisis, making it their top concern (Lederman 2020). The data likely reflects presidents’ fears about how the disruption and uncertainty of school closings and distance learning will affect students’ already-rising rates of anxiety and depression. It also reflects just how aware presidents are of the impact of student mental health on a range of higher education outcomes—from well-being and readiness to retention and completion.