About 70% of New Jersey college students felt more stress and anxiety related to COVID-19 last fall than when they first returned to campus in the first year of the pandemic, according to the results of a survey conducted by the state Office of the Secretary of Higher Education.

"There was more mental stress that students had to deal with, more concerns about their financial well-being that students had to deal with, this (past) fall compared to the fall of 2020," Secretary Brian Bridges said Wednesday.

Being able to continue to cover the many costs associated with college was a significant hurdle, the survey found. About half of respondents said paying for transportation (50.9%), housing (50.2%), and food (51.2%) were either major or moderate struggles.

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Once students took care of those essentials, 72% reported that they struggled to keep up with tuition and fees to some degree.

College struggles
New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education

While white students posted the lowest percentages of the ethnic and racial groups measured in these categories, even nearly two-thirds of those respondents (65.6%) said they found it tough to pay tuition due in the past year.

According to Bridges, both the responses of students at public, four-year colleges and universities, and those at community colleges, paralleled the overall percentages, suggesting COVID concerns resonated across the board.

"College students, who many people perceive as financially well-off, also were impacted by this in a negative way," he said.

College stress levels
New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education

Bridges said approximately 60% of New Jersey students felt they had faith and confidence in their particular institution's COVID mitigation measures.

But as those protocols limp toward the end of a second academic year, with cases and rates of transmission now dropping, the secretary said the next step for colleges is to respond to a form of post-traumatic stress disorder many students may start to feel.

Bridges' Higher Education Restart Advisory Group continues to meet to shape schools' emergence from the health crisis, and later this month, his office will issue a playbook designed to guide those who've incurred financial hardship toward obtaining public benefits.

"We want to make sure that we try to figure out how we can help, to continue to help, those students navigate the pandemic," he said. "We won't know the full impact of COVID for years to come, maybe 10, 20 years down the road before we know the full impact of COVID, but we're doing everything in our power to try to help students and their institutions."

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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