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College students continue to report elevated levels of anxiety, depression and overall emotional distress, requiring institutions to find creative solutions to servicing elevated health and wellness concerns.
A new report from design firm DLR Group, titled “Evolution of Campus 4.0,” solicited insight from higher education leaders regarding the barriers and potential opportunities for student health support. The report focused on the eight dimensions of wellness: emotional, social, financial, occupational, spiritual, intellectual, physical and environmental health.
Researchers interviewed 51 leaders from 40 institutions who serve in facilities, student affairs and related areas during the spring and summer of 2023. Interviewees came from four-year public institutions (53 percent), four-year private institutions (25 percent) and community colleges (22 percent).
Roadblocks: Through conversations with campus leaders, researchers learned there are five main concerns:
- Financial and spatial barriers at the institution make it difficult to effectively impact student well-being.
- A lack of allocation of funding can be attributed to misidentification of mental health and well-being. “Without a shared definition of holistic wellness, it is a challenge to collaborate and direct funding to meet student needs,” according to the report.
- Unprecedented social, political and financial upheavals faced by today’s students make it hard for officials to anticipate their needs.
- Some colleges and universities are less resourced in general due to size or location, which can make new or innovative programming difficult.
- Officials also find it hard to establish a return on investment for investing in spaces for wellness, because there is no precedent or evidence for the practice at scale.
Current solutions: Despite the challenges, many institutions have found unique approaches to improving student well-being that they are presently implementing. Researchers divided solutions based on the dimension of wellness they target:
- Emotional wellness: Colleges provide digital resilience programs, student care reports and apps dedicated to mental health support.
- Spiritual wellness: Institutions have constructed buildings dedicated to spirituality, featured mental health and chapel personnel, and implemented mindfulness programming like laughter yoga.
- Intellectual wellness: Technology such as device-lending programs for hybrid courses, AI programs and early-alert systems for emotional distress activities (change of major, for example) can help aid in student wellness.
- Physical wellness: Colleges are encouraging healthy eating through culinary classes, allergen-free dining experiences or on-campus farms for fresh food. Other institutions provide sexual health supplies via private mail or advertise napping spaces on campus with a map.
- Environmental wellness: Some colleges have continued to maintain the outdoor tent spaces created during the COVID-19 pandemic for students to gather.
- Financial wellness: Budgeting and financial wellness courses can support student well-being, and colleges can remove additional fees for amenities such as student parking.
- Occupational wellness: Campus employment scholarship funds and a clothing closet for professional attire alleviate stress around finances for internship or career experiences. A social media literacy workshop or discussion can help students understand their online presence and how it can impact their job hunt.
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