How to Reduce Burnout on College Campuses, Before It Starts

Reducing burnout. It’s a topic on the minds of every college campus. College burnout, otherwise known as chronic stress, manifests physically and emotionally to the point where students make a tough decision: take time off, or drop out of school altogether.

Enrollment is on the rise, yet so are the pressures and challenges that today’s college students face. From the university perspective, there’s a growing concern around how to minimize student burnout in order to not just retain students, but to give them a positive experience on campus that carries over into their life as alumni.

The Four-Year Myth

The first year of college is a particular adjustment, with students adapting to academic and social challenges in the transition to college. Four-year public and private universities are retaining 81% of first-year students across the U.S. That means that 19 of 100 first-year students who had their sights set on a college degree have deferred their vision. For two-year institutions, the number is double – 39 of every 100 first-time undergraduates are not completing their degrees.

There’s also the “four-year myth” – 80% of public university students do not graduate on time, and 6 out of every 10 students in private school do not graduate on time. There can be many factors at hand – financial, falling behind academically, transferring, indecisiveness on a major.

Connecting Mental Health to Burnout

Another growing reason that challenges retention rates is student mental health. Students may be dealing with these issues upon starting college, or they may come about as a symptom of stress that leads to burnout.

Mental health issues are prevalent among students. 37% of students screened positive for any depression as of 2016. 31% of students screened positive for anxiety, up from 17% in 2013.

Higher ed institutions have an incentive to address student mental health by identifying at-risk students, promoting social connectedness, and encouraging students to seek help. Addressing student wellness ultimately benefits students since mental health treatment can minimize the likelihood of early burnout.

Addressing student mental health also has end benefits for institutions themselves. For every 100 students who are treated for depression or another mental health condition, eight dropouts can be averted, resulting in more tuition dollars and other economic benefits for universities.

There’s already evidence that mental health has an impact on student burnout, particularly through its effect on academic performance. According to the latest Healthy Minds Study of over 60,000 students on 60 campuses, only 24% of students say that emotional or mental difficulties did not impact their academic performance. The remaining 76% say that these difficulties hurt their academic performance for at least one day, some six or more days, in the last four weeks.

And there’s still a need for connecting students to mental health resources. In the past year, 57% of students agree that they have needed help for mental health problems. An even higher number, a staggering 73% agree at some level that they currently need help for an emotional or mental health problem. Recognizing this need is an important step, and with the right tools, campuses can utilize their faculty, staff, and students to guide this group closer to help.

Addressing Student Burnout Before It Starts

Earlier this week we hosted a webinar with representatives from three universities to gather their lessons learned about mental health and first-year students. These universities are addressing student retention as early as possible to reduce student burnout and promote a culture that fosters mental health.


In the first three weeks of their semester, Pennsylvania College of Technology has had over 3,800 first-year students complete a Kognito simulation to train students to recognize signs of psychological distress among their peers and if necessary, motivate them to seek support. They’ve reached 97% of the first-year class since Spring 2016 with this training. The Kognito training was paired with sexual assault and alcohol abuse training, and distribution of resources and talking points for faculty and staff.




Knowing that stigma was a barrier to accessing mental health resources on campus and that students were unaware of resources, The University of Chicago requires Kognito training for all first-years before they set foot on campus. They have a 98% completion rate and have seen changes in the preparedness of the incoming class. For example, before Kognito 44% said they could recognize when a student is experiencing psychological distress, and that 81% could after completing Kognito. 87% of University of Chicago students said they would recommend Kognito to others.



The University of Dayton welcomed an online module to reach critical mass on campus. With their emphasis on campus culture, they wanted to build self-efficacy around student mental health. Their approach was to engage not only first-year students, but also continue to build skills for all students. Since over 90% of their students live on campus, they integrated Kognito with their residential curriculum. They also created incentives for faculty and staff to complete the training, for a holistic approach to develop skills for talking about mental health across campus.

Steps that Campuses Can Take

By engaging students early with mental health training, it can give them the tools to watch out for their fellow students during their time in school, and themselves. That means more conversations about mental health, an improved campus climate, and averted burnout when peers, faculty, and staff can guide students to get the treatment they need.

For more information on first-year implementation and other ideas on implementing mental health training on campus, check out our webinar on-demand.


Scroll to Top