Current and prospective college students in Maryland and beyond are struggling with pandemic-related disruptions which can jeopardize their studies, a new survey found.

It also showed how much people view college degrees as key to finding the right job and improving their quality of life. The report from Gallup and Lumina Foundation revealed about one-third of bachelor’s degree students have considered stopping out in the past six months.

Stephanie Marken, executive director of education research at Gallup, said the study shows just how much students are struggling with stress, even more than in similar research conducted at the height of the pandemic.

“Mental health challenges have really been on the rise for the last decade in most higher education institutions, nationally,” Marken reported. “This has been a long-term challenge for most schools, especially as they consider how do they staff appropriately to serve the higher need they find from the student population.”

The report was informed by a Gallup survey of more than 11,000 students, currently or recently enrolled, and prospective college students. In a 2020 survey of University of Maryland college students, 92% of undergraduates reported the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health.

The survey also highlighted the experience of students who recently “stopped out” of college. More than half said the cost of higher ed has played a role in why they haven’t continued their studies.

Courtney Brown, vice president of impact and planning for the Lumina Foundation, said making college more affordable is crucial.

“Financial aid packages were the number one reason that students stayed enrolled, even when they were feeling stressed about it,” Brown pointed out. “The fact that they were getting money to stay in school is really telling. We should do a better job of communicating where opportunities exist for financial aid packages.”

Excluding Washington, D.C., Maryland borrowers have the highest average student loan debt, at nearly $43,000.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

Emily Scott is a reporter and producer in Philadelphia. She previously worked at WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and is a 2018 graduate of Temple University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.

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