Who would benefit from a Fall break?

We should work to substantiate claims regarding academic performance and stress levels.

Anant Naik

A couple days ago, the Minnesota Student Association started a petition on the well-known Change.org to implement a fall break for students at the University of Minnesota. 
 
Some of the petitioners argued the break would help boost mental health and stress management. They claimed this would ultimately benefit academic growth. The real question is whether more breaks really do this. 
 
In order to determine whether this is the case, it first helps to look at the literature. Unfortunately for the petitioners, it is evident that frequent breaks in the academic calendar aren’t directly correlated with improved academic success. However, this doesn’t rule out the claim that students benefit from intangible mental health efforts. 
 
Regarding the direct impact of school breaks, there’s one area of research that we can look to. Year-round education has been a model recommended to boost overall academic performance, including test scores. Various forms of the model all have one underlying theme — to cut down on the long breaks students (i.e. a three month summer break) have and instead give students more (but shorter) breaks throughout the academic year. 
 
Empirically, research has suggested there isn’t a significant difference between year-round education and the traditional style of education. To that end, researchers from the 
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction found there was no academic gap between students in these two groups.
 
Another study from Ohio State University recorded similar results while comparing test scores in math and reading. One caveat exists — most of these studies look at students at much younger age groups. There aren’t many research studies that show how breaks impact students in college. 
 
However, the principle still remains the same — one likely reason why is that students are in class the same number of days. Breaks simply manipulate the distribution of 
those days. 
 
What’s a more persuasive argument to me is the need to use breaks to relieve stress. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80 percent of all 
college students face daily stressors. Thirty-four percent of all college students surveyed also reported being depressed in the past three months. 
 
Something that we don’t know, however, is whether more breaks will lead to improved mental health. In another study, the APA showed that things like frequent vacationing reduce stress. In the basic sense that vacationing is intended to be a break from work, more academic breaks could also yield a reduction in student stress levels. 
 
Ultimately, I don’t think there is enough direct evidence to support the claim that increasing the number of breaks would decrease stress or improve academic performance. I think there might be something else to look for if we want to justify more breaks. However, without looking at the data, the University probably isn’t going to do anything — the burden of proof remains with students.