A survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles shows that the challenging economic landscape and grave unemployment rates are among the primary reasons that students are coming to college with high levels of stress and emotional tension.

The 2010 CIRP Freshman Survey, which sought responses from over 201,000 first-time, full-time students entering four-year colleges and universities across the United States, has revealed a record low self rating of emotional health by these students as they begin undergraduate studies.

Less than 52 percent of students reported that their emotional health at that juncture was in the highest 10 percent or above average - which is less by 3.4 percentage points since the previous year, and the lowest ever since 1985 when the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) started measuring self evaluated emotional health among students.

The report identifies that the vulnerable economy which has led to high unemployment among parents and the steep costs of higher education are affecting students' college experiences. US unemployment overall was 9.6% around August and September when students would be starting college. Among surveyed students, paternal unemployment was reported at 4.9% and maternal unemployment at 8.6%. Thus the freshmen and families were naturally burdened with the task of finding effective and strategic ways to finance their college education. Their preferences also had to be balanced with considerations of cost of study.

53.1 percent of students surveyed reported using loans to fund their college studies, with a record high of 73.4 percent saying that they had received grants or scholarships.

The drive for greater achievement and academic performance was also higher, which though positive in one way, may have been fuelled in part by the pressure of justifying the cost of study and added to a sense of pressure.

The overall low emotional health definitely does not augur well for a system that is increasingly witnessing cases of depression, angst and often violent outbursts. As John H. Pryor, lead author of the report and director of CIRP, says If students are arriving in college already overwhelmed and with lower reserves of emotional health, faculty, deans and administrators should expect to see more consequences of stress, such as higher levels of poor judgment around time management, alcohol consumption and academic motivation.