Higher Education

Each year, over 4 million students in higher education
are socially and academically impacted by bereavement

Upwards of 30% of students enrolled in higher education report being within two years of losing a close friend or family member, yet less than 1% of higher education institutions have student-specific bereavement policies.


Empirical data shows that grief and bereavement have profound effects on higher education students, including impacts in the physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and interpersonal domains. 


For students in higher education experiencing grief and bereavement, the social and academic domains are most impacted. Unfortunately, negative impacts on these two domains lead to an increased risk of student drop-out. When comparing bereaved students of higher education to their non-grieving peers, experiencing a loss is connected to:


      • Lower overall GPAs during the semester of loss
      • Poorer exam performance
      • Decreased support 
      • Decreased sense of belonging
      • Prolonged assignment completion timelines 
      • Increased isolation and 
      • Difficulty concentrating

How Can Faculty and Administrators Make a Difference?

Know the Signs

Signs manifest as lethargy, changes in appetite, insomnia, loss of interest in hobbies, social isolation, and aggressive behaviors are key signs. These behaviors can negatively impact grades and may result in drop-out. Be observant and reach out if you suspect a student is grieving. 


Convey Compassion

Listen and be kind. Resist the urge to require proof; in the wake of death, requiring students to provide proof of a loved one’s death can be perceived as insensitive. Regarding coursework and deadlines, seek to use supportive rather than punitive measures. Recognize that different cultures/religions/ethnicities handle grief and loss in diverse ways.  


Provide a List of Resources

Even in the absence of a student-specific bereavement policy, many institutions offer resources for crisis mitigation, mental health, and academic support. Check with your campus directory to point students toward counseling services, academic success and tutoring centers, and 24/7 campus housing crisis hotlines. 



Follow up, ask questions, and work to facilitate a safe space for students to share their worries and concerns. Virtue signals like reaching out often communicates to students that you care.

Getting Started on Student Bereavement Leave


Values alignment

Aligning values is critical for any organization seeking to implement policies or make institution-wide changes. Institutions must appraise their organizational climate and whether policies, such as those related to student-specific bereavement, are cohesive with the institution’s strategic goals, mission, vision, and values. This concept can be extended to students, faculty, staff, and administrators within the context of higher education. 



Institutions leading the way

Ball State University led the way in establishing the first student-specific bereavement policy. This policy was later used as a framework to develop the successful Grief Absence Policy for Students (GAPS Policy) at Purdue University. Overall, the dial has moved minimally with regard to student bereavement policy adoption. Today, of the nation’s over 3,500 recognized institutions of higher education, less than 100 currently have student-specific bereavement policies. This lack of policy is shocking because such policies are typically extended to faculty, staff, and other employees within the realm of higher education, as well as K-12 students.



Jurisdiction of bereavement leave varies

While extended by many organizations, bereavement leave and associated policies are not required under federal law. In the absence of federal guidelines (with the exception of military families), bereavement policies have been left within the jurisdiction of state and local governments, as well as private sector leaders (see Evermore’s employers page here). Only a handful of states mandate bereavement leave in the workplace, including California, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, and Washington. Moreover, there is no universal oversight of higher education in the United States. Therefore, each public institution is again under the jurisdiction of its respective state. This void of federal policy is likely due to a general lack of understanding regarding the scale, scope, and prevalence of student bereavement in higher education.



How to implement student bereavement leave

Interested in learning more about how to begin the process of implementing a student bereavement policy at your institution? Reach out here and we will be happy to help get you started.

Higher Education (1)
Higher Education (2)

Without adequate bereavement support, many higher education students experience unnecessary hardships that can lead to dropping out of school.

Together, we can make a difference in students’ lives.