Over the past year and a half, college students have been exposed to a world of continual job-loss, hospitalizations, and deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The concerns from older generations on the maturity and work ethic of today’s college students are high. However, it is evident that through the Covid-19 crisis, college students are coming out stronger on the other side ready as ever to make a meaningful impact in the professional world; but they need guidance.
Even before the pandemic rocked the foundation of a normal college experience, there was an issue with professors lacking ability to empathize with their students when it comes to the balance between academic and personal life.
The harsh expectations from many professors do not align with the challenges that today’s students are enduring mentally and emotionally, especially the stress that comes with attending college during a global pandemic. In order to be awarded a successful career or further education following graduation, college students need to be nourished from both educational and personal standpoints by the leaders who are teaching them.
A study completed by the National Association of Student Aid Administrators in July 2020 surveyed 22,519 undergraduate students across five public universities to discover what the biggest challenge of shifting to online courses for students has been. Some 76% of these students claimed that the lack of motivation caused by the shift from in-person to online classes was the most difficult obstacle they had dealt with.
Furthermore, 66% of low-income household students and 50% of upper-middle class and wealthy students in this survey felt that their distractions and lack of privacy in their homes created a disadvantage in their studies.
Many of these students explained that the motivation to do well in their courses decreases when they are unable to make meaningful connections with peers and professors, which was nearly impossible while only seeing them as an icon on a computer screen for the last year and a half.
As a current senior at the University of Connecticut who spent my entire junior academic year at home over one hour away, I felt the same way in that many of my professors were simply going through the motions to do their jobs and did not alter their teaching approach from when colleges were in a normal state.
The fix to these statistics is not as simple as a professor offering their office hours or individual meetings for students who need help catching up. The first step toward change is for university staff and faculty to accept that college students today juggle more priorities than academics, with 39% of them admitting a significant mental health condition according to a statistic from “activeminds.org.”
The next step is for professors to obtain a different generational standpoint than their own to understand the new challenges students face living in a pandemic-controlled environment. An article published on “insidehighered.com” by Madeline St. Amour in April 2020 titled, “As Times and Students Change, Can Faculty Change, Too?” discusses the likeliness of the generational disconnect between professors and students to increase as the pandemic creates even more personal challenges for students.
Amour included an interview with Tim Renick, a senior vice president for student success at Georgia State University, that delves into the specific example this university has set by implementing a staff who will help create well-rounded young adults.
Renick said younger millennial professors who are just entering the higher-education teaching realm often crave to make a difference in young students’ lives. However, these fresh and new voices are often overlooked: “In many cases, the university deadens that idealism because it’s such a big bureaucracy, and younger faculty want to change things, but they can’t,” said Renick.
A post on a higher education blog known as Faculty Focus is titled “Generation Z: Re-thinking Teaching and Learning Strategies,” and discusses the importance for higher education institutions to shift their teaching styles to fit the experiences Gen Z has endured.
“Understanding Generation Z’s unique characteristics will help higher education educators re-think what they are doing in their classrooms. We need to become conscious about our students’ learning needs,” said Carmen Miranda, English professor and author of this piece.
Between the pandemic, the rise of social media, financial instability, and political issues such as gun violence and police brutality, Gen Z students deal with chronic stress that many college professors are not able to empathize with. I am not arguing that our generation deserves to be granted an easy college experience where professors give us all A’s, but it is time for our professors as our leaders to alter their approach to be more caring and empathetic.
Even as the spread of Covid-19 is being controlled and most universities are transitioning back to in-person learning, this issue still stands. The uncertainty that overpowers the exciting future for college students cannot be changed, but professors and universities have the chance in their positions to bring that confidence and security back into the young minds that will soon provide the foundation for our future.
Grace Seymour is a senior journalism student at the University of Connecticut.