College students turn to ‘adulting’ classes for life skills

Many students entering college haven’t mastered basic life skills such as changing a tire or balancing a checkbook, so some universities are responding with noncredit workshops sometimes called “Adulting 101.”

Kansas State University in Manhattan offers a series that teaches practical skills. Wichita State University has offered a workshop on budgeting, the University of Nebraska-Kearney taught a tax preparation workshop and a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill workshop focused on building credit, The Kansas News Service reported.

While older generations might scoff at millennials and Generation Z for not knowing how to perform these tasks, educators say today’s college students grew up under intense pressure to pass college entrance exams and achieve high grade point averages — giving them little time to learn life skills. Hovering parents and a decline in traditional home economics classes also contributed to the problem.

When high schools began focusing on core subjects for testing, classes known as home economics or family and consumer science began to decline. By 2012, fewer than 3.5 million students were taking such classes, a 38% drop in a decade.

“It’s not considered to be a core area, and so it’s easier to say, ‘maybe we don’t need this,’” said Duane Whitbeck, the chair of Family and Consumer Sciences at Pittsburg State University.

Students working with Kansas State’s health center organized workshops because they had few opportunities to learn life skills.

“We don’t have classes on how to change a tire at school,” said student Frankie Skinner. “We lack knowledge of just basic adulting.”

Educators hope learning those lessons will help students cope with what they say is a mental health crisis, caused by increased academic pressure and expectations.

“In high school, I felt really pressured to take a lot of college classes to succeed because there was a huge race for valedictorian and being top of the class,” said Kansas State student Anna Traynham. “No matter how high your GPA was ... everybody was still stressed. ... You had to be perfect all the time.”

Mental health advocates say it’s not just high-achieving students who feel stressed. They believe adulting classes can help prepare already-overwhelmed students for life’s challenges and make students more resilient to better deal with setbacks.

“When we’re not given the tools to solve problems, we are not able to be resilient,” said Megan Katt, a health educator at Kansas State.