Students are exhausted, but just how exhausted are they and why? Discover data from the Student Satisfaction Survey about student exhaustion and fatigue.

If you ask your students how they’re feeling, it’s likely you’ll hear a chorus of “tired,” “exhausted,” or “low energy.” In this special two-part post, we’re going to explore the effects of exhaustion on students and how you can help exhausted students (without exhausting yourself). 

Like our two-part series on flexibility (Helping Students Fit Education Into Their Lives, Part 1 | Part 2), we’ll begin by examining data related to exhaustion, including what Ball State students have shared through the Student Satisfaction Survey. In the second part, we’ll suggest teaching strategies to help students dealing with exhaustion. 

How Many Students Are Exhausted 

Every semester, Ball State students share their experiences with their education through a Student Satisfaction Survey. Included in those experiences are the challenges students face – we have discussed those challenges in more depth in an earlier blog post

The Fall 2023 survey included 2,514 student responses. Three new challenges were added to the list of possible challenges: “exhaustion or fatigue,” “loneliness or isolation,” and “physical health and wellness.” 

Exhaustion or fatigue was the most common challenge at 76% of Ball State students, with 29% of students experiencing moderate exhaustion and 16% facing serious exhaustion. Exhaustion was the most common challenge for a wide range of students, including online (70%), on-campus (79%), undergraduate (78%), and graduate students (74%). For undergraduates, first-year students were the least likely to be facing exhaustion (74%) and sophomores and seniors were the most likely (85%). 

Students facing moderate or serious exhaustion are also more likely to be facing other challenges. In particular, mental health challenges (94%) and motivation to complete schoolwork (88%) are significantly more common among exhausted students. 

Exhausted students are less likely to agree that the amount of coursework is appropriate (68% online courses, 63% on-campus courses compared to 73% and 70% respectively). Exhausted students are also less likely to respond positively in areas related to course satisfaction, including the relevance of courses and course materials, opportunities to engage with instructors and peers, and flexibility with deadlines. 

What Students Say About Exhaustion

Comments from students about exhaustion help illuminate what exhaustion means for them and what may be behind their exhaustion. 

While students identify a number of reasons for exhaustion, many simply point to the wide variety of responsibilities they have to balance. For example, one student shared, “As a college student working two jobs, trying to balance work, friendships, family, and schoolwork is exhausting.” Another student shared, “I feel like I haven’t had a moment to breathe this entire semester. Every time I finish one project I already feel behind on the next one.” 

Some students point to specific responsibilities leading to their exhaustion, such as work, family, or being a student athlete. Overall, though, it’s clear that students’ busy schedules are leaving them with little time. As one student shared, “I literally could spend every waking hour doing work and still not get all the extras done.” 

One consistent theme that emerges is that students are lacking time for themselves: time to rest, develop or practice hobbies, see friends, etc. One student shared, “On days off, I just want to exist rather than do assignments to remind myself I’m a person.” Another student shared, “I don’t have time for personal health, I barely get sleep, I haven’t been to the gym in 2-3 months simply because I legit don’t have time.” It’s clear that exhaustion from a busy schedule is at least in part due to what one student called “losing valuable resting time.” 

Other, less prevalent issues that lead to exhaustion for students include dealing with illness, sleep issues (such as loud roommates or uncomfortable dorm accommodations), sick family members, etc. 

Are Students Burning Out? 

Exhaustion and fatigue are complex issues that can cover emotional, cognitive, and physical exhaustion. One way to consider this data is in the context of burnout, specifically the Job Demands-Resource (JD-R) model of burnout. 

The JD-R model of burnout, first proposed by Demerouti et al. (2001), suggests that people tend to burn out and disengage primarily because of high demands (such as working overtime or taking on emotionally draining work) and low resources to deal with those demands (such as receiving minimal feedback or not having autonomy). 

In the JD-R model, exhaustion is most closely associated with high demands, while disengagement is most closely associated with low resources. 

This model can be helpful for considering student burnout (and has been applied to student burnout). While faculty may have little effect on the high demands placed on students, we are one of the key contributors to the availability of resources for students. We can work to help students deal with the high demands placed on them through a variety of teaching strategies that help exhausted students. 

We’ll be taking this topic up in the next part of this two-part post, so stay tuned! 

What are your experiences with exhausted students? Share your thoughts in the comments below.  

References

Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., Nachreiner, F., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2001). “The Job Demands-Resources Model of Burnout.” Journal of Applied Psychology 86, no. 3 (2001): 499–512. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.86.3.499..

Jagodics, Balázs, and Éva Szabó. “Student Burnout in Higher Education: A Demand-Resource Model Approach.” Trends in Psychology 31, no. 4 (2022): 757–76. https://doi.org/10.1007/s43076-021-00137-4..

  • Eva Grouling Snider

    Eva joined the Division of Online and Strategic Learning in 2021. Previously, she taught professional writing courses in the English Department, including graphic design and web development. She launched Jacket Copy Creative (now known as Compass Creative), an immersive learning course in which students helped market the English Department (and now the entire College of Sciences and Humanities). She also served as a director of advertising at a social media advertising agency in Muncie. Her interests include UDL, digital accessibility, and design. She’s often busy “hacking” Canvas to do cool things.

    eva.snider@bsu.edu Grouling Snider (she/her) Eva
  • Carlos Lopez Mercado

    Carlos Lopez Mercado joined the Division of Online and Strategic Learning in October 2023. Carlos has an extensive background in communication, including his time as a graduate assistant where he loved sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Carlos is well-versed in media-related competencies, such as web design, digital marketing, training and development, and media management.

    carlos.lopezmercado@bsu.edu Lopez Mercado Carlos