College Student Bereavement: University Responses, Programs and Policies, and Recommendations for Improvement
The overall aim of this study was to conduct a comprehensive examination of bereavement among college students. There were three main objectives: (1) to assess the science behind the body’s physiological and psychological response to bereavement; (2) to evaluate the current practices used by colleges and universities to support bereaved students; and (3) to develop recommendations for future work in this area by synthesizing current policies and practices into programming that can be implemented across academic institutions. To address these objectives, the following research activities were conducted: an extensive review of the literature, a cross-sectional bereavement survey of 54 college and university administrators, and five in-depth interviews with expert informants. For the bereavement survey, counseling center directors, deans of students, and a “third administrator” at four-year, public, private, and geographically-diverse colleges and universities were asked about current practices, programs, and policies that were currently being implemented on their campuses to support bereaved college students. The data led to three major findings: (1) 100% of university administrators underestimate the prevalence of bereavement among college students; (2) administrators reported believing that bereaved students need support from friends more so than they do from counselors; however, only one institution has an established system in place to provide peer support; and (3) Deans of Students/Student Affairs report that programs that raise awareness and educate campus members about student bereavement are the most important new programs for universities to offer to the student body, faculty and administration; whereas, counseling center directors believe new academic policies and guidelines are most important. Recommendations are offered for use by members of the university community to improve the current practices, policies, and programs in place to reach and assist bereaved students.
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