COLUMN: College students’ motivation levels damaged from remote learning at home

What’s functionally a two-month-long winter break poses negative effects on college students.

Campbell Biemiller is a first-year journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about politics and entertainment for The Maneater.

Due to increased cases of COVID-19 in the greater Columbia area, the majority of MU classes remained remote for the rest of the fall semester. Many MU students decided to stay in their hometowns from Thanksgiving Break through the start of the spring semester.

Breaks are typically the only time out-of-state students return home to see their friends and family and have time away from school. Students often associate being home with time off from classes and relaxation. With the period between Thanksgiving and Winter Break, students have a distinct separation from relaxing at home by returning to school for finals. Extended winter break skews the final stretch of hard-work-motivation because we never separate work and home.

At this point in the semester, students switch from working for personal intellectual growth to surviving assignment after assignment. Motivation levels are stripped down to completing work for the sake of a grade.

Motivation levels plummet during this season at the worst possible time: finals week and the end of the semester. Attending in-person classes or on-campus events developed a sense of normalcy. Everyone builds their own routine and structure without needing to worry about others’ schedules. Psychologically, people thrive in coworking environments, like students at school.

At the end of the semester, students typically are overwhelmed and lack any motivation to complete their work. Since many students went home through the last stretch of classes and finals, there was an imbalance in our daily structures. We have to go back to our families’ schedules, deal with time changes and be away from the environment we were used to associating with school.

Many of us are moving home for a while, which feels like a step backward. There is a stereotype around becoming more independent from our parents or hometowns during college. Kids grow up watching movies that portray going to college as a huge ordeal and expect that for themselves once the time comes. When this concept isn’t fully executed, it feels like defeat and leads to depression.

A survey by the University of California, Berkeley and University of Minnesota showed anxiety and depression rose by 50% for professional and graduate students this year. Thirty five percent of undergraduates and 32% of graduate and professional students were positive for depression, while 39% of all participants were positive for anxiety.

Researcher Jennifer Caputo found young adults who lived independently were less depressed, better off financially and more likely to have achieved landmarks of adulthood like careers and marriage, according to Independent.

Being home, I worry more about how my schedule impacts my family’s schedules. I want to be with them and my friends, but I’m locked behind a screen for school all day and that adds a different level of stress because the system is depressing.

We got used to doing our work when we needed to, eating when we wanted to and socializing when we wanted to. Coming back for breaks, we’re limited by the rules set by our parents, despite their inability to control us from hundreds of miles away while we’re at school.

“Another factor vital for students’ motivation is understanding new perspectives of diversity, according to the AACU. Exposure to a variety of people provides greater insight and makes people more well-rounded. Many students' first time experiencing greater diversity is at college where they are exposed to people from across the world on completely different paths of life.

My hometown of San Diego is very diverse and has exposed me to a variety of cultures, but Missouri is an entirely different planet.

People have different dialects, take social cues differently and have different childhood education systems than I did. I had to adjust to this for months, and now have to readjust to my hometown.

Coming into freshman year is a whole new world. There are new people to learn from and the process is the same by coming home, said college admissions counselor and author Gabbriel Simone with USA Today.

Reverting to the same style of living before college feels like a downgrade. Most college students are motivated to be independent and show they can be successful. Combined with the dwindling motivation from the end of the semester and online classes, college students’ mental health takes a toll.

On the brighter side, this generation has had the experience of a lifetime and grown from it. While it may be hard, we can bond over the fact that we all have to do it and will have quite the story to tell in our futures. There is unity in this difficult, universal experience.

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Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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