Popularity of Happiness Course Shines a Spotlight on Student Mental Health

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Yale University’s most popular course ever may be one of the best indicators of the mental health of incoming and current college students.

Psyc 157, “Psychology and the Good Life,” a twice-weekly lecture that tries to teach students how to live happier lives, enrolled nearly a quarter of the entire student body this semester. It is reportedly the most popular course in Yale’s 316-year-long history.

The course is led by psychology professor Laurie Santos who speculates that the college admission process and the high-pressure campus environment it fosters are behind the class’s popularity. In high school, she said, students had to deprioritize happiness to gain admission to school, leading them to adopt unhealthy and harmful life habits that culminate in “the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.”

“Students want to change, to be happier themselves, and to change the culture here on campus,” Santos told The New York Times. “With one in four students at Yale taking it, if we see good habits, things like students showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections, we’re actually seeding change in the school’s culture.”

This isn’t the first time a university has seen a huge interest in a so-called happiness class. In 2006, a similar course at Harvard enrolled more than 900 students.

“In reality, a lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb,” said Alannah Maynez, a freshman in the Yale course told The New York Times. “The fact that a class like this has such large interest speaks to how tired students are of numbing their emotions — both positive and negative — so they can focus on their work, the next step, the next accomplishment.”

A recent survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors found that anxiety was the top concern of students seeking mental health services on campus.

About 51 percent of college students who visited an on-campus counseling center in 2015-16 reported struggling with anxiety. The other most common concerns were depression (41 percent), relationship issues (34 percent), suicidal ideation (20.5 percent), self-injury (14 percent), and alcohol abuse (10 percent), according to the survey.

Ashley Dobson is NACAC’s communications manager for content and social media. You can reach her at adobson@nacacnet.org.

Summer Camp Helps Special Needs Students Prepare for College

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Adjusting to campus life can be tough for any student.

But for teens with Asperger’s syndrome and high-functioning individuals with autism, making the transition to college can be especially challenging.

The University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire is attempting to help such students succeed by preparing them for the stressors they will face as undergrads. The university, a NACAC member institution, holds a week-long residential summer camp to help high school juniors and seniors get ready for college. 2018 marks the 10th year it has offered the camp.

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Survey: Majority of LGBTQ Youth Face Negative School Environments

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The majority of LGBTQ youth experience negative and even hostile school environments, according to a new report from the Human Rights Campaign.

The advocacy group surveyed roughly 12,000 students between the ages of 13 and 17 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, and found that 70 percent had been bullied at school because of their sexual orientation.

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Georgia State Lauded for Student Success Initiative

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Georgia State University has reinvented itself.

“By focusing on retaining low-income students, rather than just enrolling them, the college raised its graduation rate to 54 percent from 32 percent in 2003,” according to a recent New York Times article. “And for the last five years, it has awarded more bachelor’s degrees to African-Americans…than any other nonprofit college or university in the country.”

Officials from the university — a NACAC member institution — say data analysis and targeted supports have helped boost student success. Advisers monitor the daily progress of the school’s 40,000 undergrads and act quickly to provide assistance at the first sign that a student is struggling.

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Update: Spots Available for Students at More Than 550 Colleges

The number of colleges still accepting applications for Fall 2018 continues to grow.

More than 550 institutions have openings, financial aid, and housing available to qualified freshmen and/or transfer students, according to NACAC’s College Openings Update.

When survey data was first posted on May 3, the list included 422 colleges and universities. Since that time, dozens of additional institutions have added their information. The update, which includes public and private schools, will continue to be modified by colleges and universities through July 2.

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Charter School System Embraces New Approach to College Counseling

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About 40 percent of undergraduates at four-year institutions do not complete a degree within six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And the number is even higher for low-income students.

One charter school system wants to change that statistic for their alumni. They have retooled their college counseling program and instead of focusing solely on getting into college, they now address what it takes to graduate from college.

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A Counselor’s Thank You to Teachers

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Editor’s Note: National Teacher Appreciation Day was celebrated on Tuesday, May 8. National Teacher Appreciation Week runs through Friday, May 11.

We hear about all the great teachers in the counseling office. The one who set the times tables to the tune of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” ensuring kids will remember them forever, even if it will take a while to get to eight times nine. Mr. Jones, the history teacher who dressed up like Benjamin Franklin for an entire week and never once broke character. The 10th grade English teacher who finally explained “i after e” in a way that made sense. When you put that much thought into a lesson, it makes for memorable teaching.

Of course, that’s not the only way teachers become memorable. The teacher who said just the right words at just the right time to the bully who had incredible art talent, making the student more comfortable with who they really were, and less of a bully. The teacher who wore the cut-rate perfume a special needs student gave her at Christmas, every time that student had a spelling test—the same perfume she’d wear when attending that student’s graduation from medical school. The teacher who shows up at the Saturday soccer league and cheers loudly for all her students on the sidelines, even though her students are spread throughout both teams, and it’s 40 degrees out.

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New Report Highlights Changes in International Student Population

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The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has released its biannual SEVIS by the Numbers report comparing international student data from March 2018 to March 2017.

The report highlights a 0.8 percent increase in the number of international students with F and M visas enrolled in higher education degree programs.

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Study: Students of Color Disproportionately Affected by Inequitable College Spending

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Students of color are facing yet another barrier to college access and success.

A recent study from the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that two-year and four-year public colleges spend about $1,000 less per year on students of color than on white students. Collectively, this means public colleges are spending about $5 billion less per year on these students than on their white counterparts.

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