Center study finds mental health of Gen Z at
a troubling low point

The second installment in a five-year study shows a host of concerns for school leaders and policymakers.

Contact: Ron Mackovich, [email protected], Ted Kissell, [email protected] or Ross Brenneman [email protected]

August 9 — As students prepare for a new school year, a new survey of K-12 and higher education shows that their reasons for wanting to go back to in-person schooling are primarily social, and that mental health is a major struggle.

The results of the quarterly survey by the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism are one sector from the five-year project tracking seven key sectors and aspects of daily life to understand how the world changes as it battles and then emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The USC Rossier School of Education’s Center for Engagement-Driven Global Education
(EDGE) is partnering on the education sector.

A preview of the second quarter results, presented today at the ASU+GSV Summit in San Diego, shows:

  • Students most miss face-to-face time contact with friends (69%) and interaction with classmates or other students (60%).
  • Only 36% of respondents from Generation Z (18-24 years old) rate their physical health as good or excellent — this compared to 46% of those over 65+ rate their physical health as good or excellent.
  • While 48% of all respondents rate their mental health as good or excellent, only 22% of respondents ages 18-24 do so.

“The data are clear that when COVID—the greatest disruption ever to interfere with education—ends, learning will never be the same,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of USC Annenberg’s Center for the Digital Future. “There are things about remote learning that we liked and expect to see some of them incorporated into school learning as we move into the future.”

And while students generally expressed a preference for attending classes in person, a significant number (20%) said that they enjoy learning online more than in-person instruction, and 31% said they can achieve the same grade in online classes. In addition, 26% of parents interviewed preferred their students being in online classes.

While many leaders have promised a return to in-person instruction, participant attitudes—and the continuing pandemic—suggest that those leaders should also be committed to improving online learning experiences beyond what students have experienced for the past 17 months.

“This ongoing survey demonstrates that the pandemic has greatly exacerbated the underlying challenges and stress fractures already facing K-12 and higher ed, in ways that will forever reshape how we teach and learn,” said Alan Arkatov, founding director of USC Rossier’s Center EDGE.

Seven sectors are surveyed, and the results are published quarterly. All except the learning sector include 1,000 people who are over the age of 18 matched to census data. The learning sector is 1,000 divided between a) 7-12 grade students b) parents of K-12 c) undergraduates college students.

A summary of the highlights on learning is here.