Originally posted in our April 2022 Top of Mind Newsletter.
Over the last two years, we’ve seen significant shifts in policy around COVID-19. Changes to school, work, and public life were all topped off with extreme ambiguity about when things would get back to normal. For many college students, this constant state of the unknown seems to have had more significant impacts than we first realized. Across the country, higher education faculty are reporting devastating rates of disengagement.
One student said of her return to campus for virtual learning, “I didn’t even realize how depressed I was…It felt normal because everyone was feeling the same way. If you walked up to someone and they were happy, it felt strange.”
“That feeling of ineffectualness has led to a more existential anxiety — specifically, a loss of confidence in themselves and their futures,” according to a psychologist and faculty member at one university.
What is interesting from our perspective is how these results are not necessarily new. COVID-19 and current affairs have created new challenges for teachers and learners at all levels, but we have seen a trend for over ten years of waning student engagement. Unfortunately, this trend seems related to the existential anxiety prevalent in current college students. Feelings of futility are often associated with a lack of autonomy. Long-time followers will note that autonomy is a keystone of an entrepreneurial mindset.
So, perhaps the path forward for students struggling in this uncertain time is not more rigidity. Rather, maybe it is all about embracing new options for flexibility and autonomous, self-directed learning.