The Pandemic’s Massive Impact on CUNY Students
By LIDA TUNESI
More than 80% of CUNY students said they experienced a loss of household income as the pandemic got under way, and half worried about losing their housing, according to a survey of more than 2,000 CUNY students.
The survey also found that half the students were dealing with anxiety or depression, and half expressed a greater need for mental health support because of the pandemic.
Around 50% also reported some kind of food insecurity in the two weeks before the survey, whether that meant having less money to buy food because of the pandemic, or having gone hungry.
The survey was conducted shortly after the pandemic shutdown began last year, in April 2020, and the results were published in the February 2021 issue of Journal of Urban Health. Professors Heidi Jones, Meredith Manze, Victoria Ngo, and Nicholas Freudenberg of the Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy authored the article along with Healthy CUNY deputy director Patricia Lamberson.
CUNY serves a high proportion of low-income and Black and Hispanic students, the authors said, and since these hardships could slow down students’ progress toward a degree, that could widen existing economic and social disparities.
The researchers invited 10,000 randomly selected students to participate, and 2,282 completed enough of the survey to be included in the study. Responses were weighted to prevent the results from skewing in one direction based on who responded and who didn’t—say, undergraduates versus graduate students or one race versus another.
The researchers noted that the hardships students reported are interconnected. Students with high food and housing insecurity were more likely to experience anxiety and depression. In open-ended responses, students described family members losing jobs or hours at work, and the household struggling to buy food or hold on to their housing as a result.
Because “a number of CUNY campuses rank highly among U.S. colleges for the upward financial mobility of their graduates,” the stressors of the pandemic could snowball and affect many students’ futures, the authors wrote. But understanding the effects revealed by the survey can better equip us to provide assistance and support.
What students need is an integrated, holistic approach, the authors said. They need affordable access to mental health services on campus and virtually, and increased access to financial aid. Policy-makers need to expand federal eligibility and benefit levels, and make the enrollment process easier for public programs like SNAP. Doing so would not only help students have enough to eat and a stable place to live; those things also feed back into a person’s mental health.