Self-Reported COVID-19 Infection and Implications for Mental Health and Food Insecurity among American College Students

August 2, 2021 – The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on higher education has been widely examined as academic disruptions, social isolation, and financial instability threaten dreams of college attainment. Now, a new study conducted by The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice of more than 100,000 undergraduates across the nation, reveals the negative implications of the COVID-19 virus on students’ health and well-being.

Analyzing data from the sixth annual #RealCollege Survey, conducted at 202 colleges and universities in 42 states in the fall of 2020, Hope Center researchers compared students based on whether or not they reported having had COVID. Almost 7 percent of students said that they had contracted the virus, a likely underestimate.

“Students are humans first, and their health affects how they do in school,” said Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, president and founder of The Hope Center. “This virus has put many at an even greater disadvantage. Higher education leaders need to proactively identify students who’ve had COVID and offer them support so they succeed in completing degrees.”

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Rates of self-reported diagnosis were substantially higher among Indigenous, Latinx, and Black or African American students compared to White students. Pell Grant recipients had higher rates of infection than non-recipients. Having children, maintaining a job, or being a student-athlete were also associated with a higher risk of self-reported COVID diagnosis.

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Infection from COVID-19 is associated with negative outcomes as it pertains to students’ mental and physical health. The results of statistical models reveal that the odds of experiencing anxiety or depression are 1.4 times greater for a student who self-reported COVID-19 infection than students who did not. The odds of experiencing food insecurity were 1.7 times greater.

Read the full report on our website.

About the Hope Center

The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice is an action research center redefining what it means to be a student-ready college with a national movement centering #RealCollege students’ basic needs. Our work is guided by five pillars: action research, institutional transformation, policy and advocacy, communications, and sustainability.

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