- Colleges should identify which students are most likely to be caregivers and design policies to help minimize emotional and academic risks they face, according to new research published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, a peer-reviewed academic journal.
- Researchers working with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill surveyed over 7,500 undergraduate and graduate students and found that 5.6% identified as caregivers. Specifically, 3.2% cared for someone who was chronically ill or aging, such as a parent or grandparent, and 2.9% cared for a minor, with some overlap between the two groups.
- Caregiving students were disproportionately women, graduate students, financial aid recipients and were enrolled part time. Students who said they cared for someone three to five days a week had lower GPAs on average, and the likelihood they would report anxiety and depressive symptoms rose the more hours per day they spend taking care of others.
As the U.S. population ages and the cost of care rises, the number of students who are also responsible for someone else's welfare is likely to increase exponentially, researchers wrote. Chronic health conditions associated with COVID-19 may also increase students’ caregiving responsibilities as time reveals the extent of the symptoms' severity and duration.
But outside of broad social services, North Carolina, the study's focus, does not currently have formal policies to support caregiving students at colleges, according to researchers. The U.S. doesn't formally recognize or support higher ed students who give care, they wrote.
Without systems in place to find and assist caregivers, that population of students can fall through the cracks, they wrote. Researchers held up their work as an example of how colleges could feasibly identify students who are caregivers using large-scale surveys.
"Given the institutional structures in place for tabulating and identifying students who could benefit from services, the addition of a measure of caregiving students to university-wide surveys would be a small first step," they wrote.
Researchers sent out a campuswide survey in fall 2020, gathering responses from 7,592 undergraduate and graduate students. They then linked the results to verified institutional records, including records covering student demographics and academic performance. The 5.6% of respondents who identified as caregivers represent over 400 students.
Finding those caregivers could begin to address the unique challenges they face. Differences could be seen among students depending on the type of care they provided.
Students tending to someone elderly or ill took more days per week to care for them, but students caring for children did so for more hours per day. Those caring for adults for three to five days per week reported experiencing higher levels of depression and anxiety compared to non-caregivers. Students taking care of a minor were not significantly tied to the same emotional challenges.
The average GPA among all surveyed students was 3.49. But the average GPA dropped to 3.09 and 3.38 for students caring for a minor or someone ill or aging, respectively.