Through my position on the Engineering Society, I am a member of many different engineering-related Facebook groups. This helps me to keep up to date on student issues, to see what students are saying, and to communicate with them about upcoming events. This morning, I woke up to a post by a student who shared that they had dropped out of engineering due to an overwhelming workload and mental illness.
This student had been “chasing the engineering dream” for six years before effectively burning out. Although I do not know this student personally, the post saddened me—unfortunately it didn’t surprise me. I know many students, not just in engineering, who have been impacted so profoundly by the stresses of post-secondary education that the tone of their voice has shifted since we first met. Gone is the sound of excitement for university; all that remain are stress and anxiety.
For many students, coming to university is their first time living away from home. Their first time being pressured by their peers and carrying the tangible burden of achieving best-in-class grades. Not to mention the significant financial commitment. These issues still don’t begin to describe a student’s struggle through their university career.
Student wellness is not something that is easy to improve, as it takes a collaborative effort from everyone at the University. At least two sides must work together to facilitate change: concerned campus organizations, and faculty. The organizations on campus are doing a great job providing awareness and resources regarding mental health. However, when students really begin to stress themselves out about schoolwork, usually they forgo those resources in favor of reducing their workload. This is where faculty must come in.
I understand how difficult it is to change the structure of a program. With accreditation standards set high, this puts pressure on the faculties to offer the best education possible. However, the model usually consists of stuffing more content into lectures, to ensure that students are experts in all areas. I’ve taken classes where the professor has started by saying “You will need to spend a minimum of 40 hours per week on this course,” when everyone in the room has an additional five courses to worry about.
Where does it end? In 50 years, will students be arriving at class on the first day of school, and working for 140 hours a week until they graduate? What will Adderall consumption look like? What will students’ mental health look like? There must be a solution where students in intensive programs are able refine their work ethic and learn the material, while maintaining some quality of life.
It is difficult to predict what will change, or how and if it is even possible. But every day that the current situation remains the same, more students are burning out, and more students are losing their enthusiasm. It is hard to say that these are the “greatest days of our lives” when we don’t have enough time to enjoy them. Perhaps that simply comes with the territory of an intensive degree, but there must be room for improvement. Whatever the solution, there is one strategy that I know definitely won’t make the situation any better: raising our tuition!