Dr. Kent Ingle: COVID and college students – 5 silver linings from a challenging year on campuses

Studies indicate that despite all that students faced in 2020, they came out stronger

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The past year has been one many of us wish to put behind us – particularly in higher education

Colleges across the nation saw an alarming increase of mental health issues in students as they dealt with the anxiety brought on by the unpredictability of the pandemic. There was also a sense of loss many students faced while not being able to participate in on-campus experiences and make in-person connections with peers and faculty. 

Yet, recent studies indicate that despite all that students faced in 2020, they came out stronger. 

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While colleges enforced many COVID restrictions, including social distancing, students worked together to keep themselves and their communities safe. They learned to adapt to a different normal – taking classes via Zoom and only interacting with people in their COVID bubbles. It required them to make sacrifices and learn new technologies.  

As colleges anticipate the start of a new academic year in August, here are five bright spots from this past year. 

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The pandemic made students more resilient. Although it’s true that students experienced an increase in stress and anxiety, a Pearson study showed that many said they became stronger due to the pandemic. A majority of college students (70%) believe the difficulties they encountered in 2020-21 made them more flexible, self-motivated and emotionally resilient.  

With many classes being offered in a virtual format, students had to stay motivated and focused in pursuing their education from home or from the comfort of their dorm room. It also taught students how to go with the flow as unpredictable circumstances called for flexibility.  

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A growing number of students are interested in pursuing careers in health care. In fact, medical schools across the nation have seen an 18% increase in applications this year compared to the previous one, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). This is promising as the AAMC reported that the U.S. will face a shortage of physicians by 2033. Nursing schools also received a 6% increase in applications. At Southeastern University, nursing is the fastest-growing program we have on our Lakeland, Florida, campus.  

It’s rewarding to see the next generation eager to help others in health care-related fields. The pandemic definitely helped us appreciate the sacrifice and dedication of health care workers across the world. 

It created an awareness for social issues. Two-thirds of college students said they became more aware of social issues, including health care needs as well as racial equity, according to the Pearson study. One of these issues includes the right to the internet.  

As we transitioned to online classes during the onset of the pandemic, it created an awareness for our university of how some of our students didn’t have access to the internet or laptops at home. In these instances, our faculty members worked with students individually to help them succeed and keep up with assignments.  

College students around our nation should be commended for their strength and dedication throughout the 2020-21 academic year. 

Students picked up new hobbies – and even turned them into businesses. Over 75% of college students said that they picked up new hobbies over the past year. Some of the most popular hobbies were cooking, reading and gardening. Close to half of those who picked up a new hobby ended up earning money and turned it into a side job. A majority (79%) said they plan to continue the hobby even after the pandemic is over, according to a study by LendingTree.  

At Southeastern, several of our students started new hobbies and turned those into businesses. Some of them even sold their products at an event we hold on campus, known as Market Day, where students can set up booths to showcase their products. 

Students gained new technological skills. With a shift to virtual or hybrid learning, students had to quickly learn how to use various types of technology. Attending class via Zoom became the norm. As teachers used different types of technology and apps to keep their students engaged and connected to each other, students became more technologically proficient.  

These newfound skills are crucial to the future of students’ careers. A study by Burning Glass Technologies found that more than 80% of middle-skill jobs require digital skills. At Southeastern, one of our professors used the Marco Polo app to stay connected with her students and alumni.  

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If anything, college students around our nation should be commended for their strength and dedication throughout the 2020-21 academic year. 

And, there is much we can learn from the examples set by these students. Although they encountered great adversity, they rose above their circumstances and gained new perspectives.  

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