COVID-19 has caused a financial crisis, which unfortunately has hit higher education institutions on two fronts. With social distancing keeping students away from campus and market volatility impacting higher education endowment funds, colleges and universities are taking a major financial hit that is as devastating as it is unique. Consequently, institutions are making budget cuts to get through this time. Some are freezing hiring, furloughing staff and cutting pay for employees. With many colleges and universities serving as a significant source of employment for their cities, regions and states, the impact of job loss and pay decreases will have a tremendous effect on the economy.
As economies shift and recover, there will be significant financial repercussions across every area of the college experience. But even as some experts project that a boom in enrollment may come for those institutions that can remain open during the pandemic, there’s no doubt that a difficult time is ahead. Now higher education institutions must determine how to uphold their core missions of delivering high-quality education and supporting students in their academic goals. As Principal and CFO at Academic Innovators Rick Gaumer shares in TimelyMD’s guide to Optimizing Higher Ed Resources During COVID-19 and Beyond to Support Students, the question becomes, “How can limited resources be deployed more efficiently and effectively to best serve students?”
The Impact of COVID-19 on Student Mental Health
At the same time, one of the many negative side effects to students being sent away from campus has been a rise in feelings of depression, isolation and anxiety. A recent survey of college students discovered that 4 out of 5 say their lives have been impacted in a way that goes beyond a sudden shift in digital learning — particularly around mental health. Additionally, 75% of college students who responded are dealing with higher levels of anxiety, depression and stress, and 52% have been laid off or had their work hours cut. The entire structure of daily life has fundamentally changed for many college students who have gone from learning how to live independently to living back at home. This shift, combined with the decrease or lack of accessibility to student medical and mental health services, creates a problematic situation for higher education: students are struggling and may not know where to turn.
“There are very few things we can predict for the immediate and near term future for colleges and universities and for students,” said Larry Moneta, nationally-known student affairs expert and former Duke University vice president of student affairs. “One thing we can expect with certainty is more stress, more distress and more need for mental health support.”
Reallocating Resources in Higher Education
Many colleges and universities offer health resources, but these resources may be limited or unable to manage the rising number of students requiring medical or mental health support during this pandemic. However, telehealth services enable medical providers to remotely assess the needs of students and allow mental health providers to offer emotional support and counseling virtually through a video or phone visit.
“Telehealth lowers the barrier to entry for healthcare,” said Dr. Alan Dennington, TimelyMD chief medical officer. “A student who may access care via telehealth may not otherwise have sought care. Telehealth meets students where they are to provide care when and where the student needs it.”
For campuses that already have healthcare services, telehealth offers 24/7 access that reaches students beyond typical business hours. “With 24/7 access to mental health resources, students can still access a supportive, knowledgeable provider even when the counseling center is closed,” said Dr. Jan Hall, TimelyMD executive director of mental health. “At the end of the day, into the night and even on weekends, students are able to receive emotional support for any need, including critical situations. The flexibility of telehealth enables students to get support anytime and anywhere, which is particularly beneficial if the student is not on campus.”
For higher education institutions without a clinic, telehealth can serve as the primary source of healthcare for students. If a student requires in-person care, a medical provider can direct the student to the appropriate facility based on the institution’s protocols.
As budgets get tighter in higher education, decision makers have to move beyond making budget cuts into looking at effectively and efficiently allocating resources. Telehealth provides efficient and cost-effective access and campus impact that optimizes existing healthcare resources to provide care for students when and where they need it. You can learn more about our commitment to transforming healthcare in higher education here.