College students are burnt out. Everywhere.
A study done at Ohio State University showed an increase in student burnout from 40 to 71 percent over the course of April 2020 to April 2021. The same survey showed an increase in the number of students who screened positive for anxiety and depression.
Additionally, more students reported resorting to drinking, smoking, and unhealthy eating to combat their stress and anxiety. On top of this, the number of students who reported getting physical activity, a crucial component of well-being, dropped from 35 percent to 28 percent.
Colleges and universities across the country have been taking action against the increase in student mental health issues. Here at UNC, Counseling and Psychological Services offers an array of resources including mental health assessments, group therapy, referrals to outside therapy services and workshops to help students deal with anxiety.
The University has also introduced “Well-being days” in recent semesters. These sporadic days off were put in place to support student mental health. While this is a step in the right direction, we propose that the University take things a step further — it is time we move to a four-day school week.
While universities have not shown any signs of moving away from the five-day week, the idea of a four-day workweek has been widely debated in recent years. Businesses worldwide have been testing out four-day workweeks, with studies conducted alongside these trials. In a survey done by Gallup in 2020, those working four-day weeks were found to have higher rates of well-being and lower rates of burnout than those working five- or six-day weeks.
Other trials have found similar results. Microsoft’s August 2019 trial in Japan showed a 40 percent rise in productivity. A similar trial in Iceland between 2015 and 2019 also showed increased productivity. All the signs point towards a four-day workweek being productive, so why not try it out in higher education?
An objection may arise from the ridiculous notion that college students are just lazy. At a university with an unhealthy culture of perfection like UNC, it would be silly for anyone to assume that moving to a four-day school week would lower student productivity. This drive for excellence that is so prominent here is a huge part of why student anxiety and burnout levels are where they are today.
While stress from school work is a big factor in student well-being, we must also recognize that college has grown into something much larger than merely learning in the classroom. In just the past 30 years, the percentage of people with a college degree has increased by 16.5 percent.
Simply having a college degree is no longer sufficient for many seeking employment post-graduation and it is time for university structure to reflect this. To stand out, students must be involved with much more outside the classroom. The extra day “off” would allow for a better balance of not only work outside the classroom, but also life outside the classroom.
This balance is key to the mental health of students.
It is easy to get overwhelmed with schoolwork alone. Add work, extracurriculars, and even a moderate social life on top of that, and falling into stress and anxiety becomes all too easy.
The University loves to talk about prioritizing student mental health and improving student life. This is how they can do just that.
Your move, UNC.
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