Leaves of absence deserve Tulane’s backing

Nketiah Berko, Views Editor

This month, a Tulane professor won a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the relationship between stress and mental illness. Such research echoes an increasing awareness of mental health’s significance on Tulane’s campus, from changes at Counseling and Psychological Services to student-led efforts to cultivate welcoming spaces. Tulane’s administration should expand on these efforts by ensuring that, upon taking a leave of absence, all students are guaranteed any scholarship they previously earned upon acceptance.

Currently, students are not guaranteed any scholarships awarded before a leave of absence.

“There really is no automatic one answer fits all, as factors may include the timing of a leave of absence, the duration of the leave of absence, the enrollment status upon return from a leave of absence, and whether a student is successfully satisfying the academic terms and conditions of their specific merit scholarship, ” Michael Goodman, associate vice president of university financial aid, said. 

To Tulane’s credit, resources currently exist to guide students through the process of taking a leave of absence. According to Goodman, students should consult the Leave of Absence Checklist distributed to students by Academic Advising and their financial aid counselor to understand the effect that taking a leave will have on their scholarships.

Nonetheless, this current system fails to sufficiently meet students’ needs. For one, students may not even be aware that a leave of absence is a possibility. Without this knowledge, they cannot be expected to reach out to the Office of Financial Aid or find the relevant information online. 

More significantly, the current system, with no guarantees of scholarship provision, is unnecessarily uncertain. At times, the factors which might make a student ineligible for scholarship retention, such as a low GPA, may be indirectly related to their leave. 

According to the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment, in the last 12 months 41% of college students report feeling so depressed they found it difficult to function, and nearly 69% report feeling overwhelming anxiety. Nearly one-third have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health disorder. College life exacts a mental toll, and students consistently find themselves paying it.

Almost half of Tulane students in the 2018-19 academic year received non-need-based scholarships and grants. These students, some of whom may be involved in various ways on campus, already face the stresses of college life on a daily basis. 

They shouldn’t have to worry on top of that whether taking a semester to catch their breath will leave them bankrupt.

These financial concerns are reinforced by a culture which pressures students to graduate in four years. Nationally, only 58% of college students earn a degree after six years. Though the undergraduate six-year graduation rate is 85% at Tulane, this statistic implies that colleges measure themselves on a six-year, rather than four-year, timetable. 

By making a loud-and-clear commitment to students that taking a leave of absence will have no effect on their financial status, Tulane can relieve many students of a pressing financial factor they might face. 

Moreover, this move would promote a healthier, happier campus by allowing students to graduate at a pace most conducive to their mental wellbeing.

Simply having such a nonrestrictive policy, however, is not enough. Tulane must dismantle the notion that students should graduate after eight semesters, and this starts by publicizing leaves of absence as an option for students. 

An undergraduate college education does not have to span four years. 

Tulane’s academic culture must shift, acknowledging the various stresses students face and accordingly allowing leeway for different paths to graduation. By guaranteeing scholarships to returning students, the Tulane administration can help cultivate such an environment.

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