College students pursue higher education beyond high school, including students attending four-year university, community college, tribal college, and/or technical college. College students are a diverse group that includes first-generation students, students of color, veterans, international students, parents and caregivers, working adults, and young and emerging adults with various backgrounds, interests, and goals, following their unique pathways into post-secondary education.
Higher education unlocks many opportunities and equips individuals with invaluable knowledge and skills. It is a powerful lever for upward social and economic mobility and fosters personal growth and development. Yet, the promises of higher education are not realized for all. Higher education's inaccessibility stems from financial burdens and lack of resources and support networks, which especially impacts disadvantaged students. The recent affirmative action verdict by the Supreme Court reveals the ongoing need to remove barriers by establishing inclusive admission policies, equal access to educational resources, and support structures that level the playing field students, regardless of their racial or socioeconomic backgrounds.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated mental health issues among college students, with the abrupt shift to remote learning, social isolation, and uncertain futures taking a toll on student well-being. This heightened strain on college students' mental health has revealed gaps in school and university support systems, emphasizing the critical need for immediate rebuilding and strengthening of resources dedicated to student well-being. Students today face systems of privilege and oppression within higher education that perpetuate inequities.
Higher education is often associated with an improved quality of life and better health outcomes, as it opens doors to higher-paying careers and access to healthcare resources. Obtaining a college education can play a pivotal role in influencing positive health-seeking behaviors, strengthening social networks, and facilitating growth in income and lifestyle. Higher education institutions have historically played key roles in advancing women's rights, civil rights, and numerous social and technological innovations that continue to enrich our lives today.
However, some students encounter barriers that significantly impact health and overall well-being. Despite ongoing efforts to enhance equity, diversity, and inclusion across institutions of higher learning, significant gaps persist, deeply affecting college students' sense of belonging. Issues such as discrimination, unequal access to resources, and lack of representation continue to plague college campuses, profoundly impacting students of color, first-generation students, LGBTQ+ students, and their sense of belonging.
Creating a supportive and inclusive campus environment is crucial in supporting the well-being of college students. Prioritizing a student-centered, equitable approach that centers on shared stewardship is imperative in improving campus well-being. Student activism has played a vital role in empowering those changes throughout history, remaining a stagnant and powerful force for reform. Whether it's the Million Student March advocating for free tuition and debt relief, students championing equity and racial justice, or the fight for fair compensation for postdocs and graduate students, current campus leaders are presented with a unique and significant opportunity to establish fresh legacies rooted in inclusion, well-being, and justice within their own academic institutions, thereby fostering vibrant and inclusive campus communities.