You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

Multiracial group of young people standing in circle and smiling at camera

A thriving student population has positive impacts for individual students and the institution, so it behooves leaders to collaboratively align initiatives.

Kar-Tr/iStock/Getty Images Plus

In my dual roles at Butler University, I have a unique viewpoint to various approaches to supporting holistic student well-being from institutional, divisional, office and program levels. As the director of student affairs assessment and strategy, I have a front row seat to the multifaceted programs and services; as well as the planning and assessment of that work; happening at Butler. On the other hand, in my role as executive director of the Institute for Well-being at Butler, I work with institutions of all types on a national level, assisting them in assessing well-being supports and finding ways to address challenges through the lens of well-being.

Given these perspectives, and on the heels of excellent conversations at many of our professional associations’ national conferences this spring, certain core rationales for an institutional focus on holistic student well-being, as opposed to a mental- or physical-health focus alone, have coalesced in my thinking.

Institutions should focus on holistic student well-being because:

  1. Increasing well-being in dimensions beyond mental and physical health helps to support mental and physical health.

We are all aware of the conversations around student mental health and the need for greater access to counseling, opportunities to learn coping and resilience skills, and strategies for decreasing anxiety. However, I would argue that our counseling centers cannot and should not be the only places where institutions address these issues. By ensuring equitable access to basic needs, academic, social and financial support, for example, institutions can go a long way toward addressing many areas of anxiety and stress in students’ lives. Lowering stress and anxiety in one or more areas of a student’s world helps students focus on other aspects of their college experience. The approach also engages faculty and staff outside of the counseling center in supporting student mental health.

  1. When well-being increases, so do positive outcomes at the student and institutional levels.

Not only does supporting students’ holistic their well-being make intuitive sense (i.e., we all want to see our students feel well), there is also a body of research showing that such support increases positive outcomes. For example, there is evidence that involvement across a variety of student organizations and leadership roles supports greater psychological well-being after four years of college, and that hope and optimism positively influence student affect and academic performance. Burnout was shown to negatively affect academic performance in one study, but good sleep habits and nutrition can positively influence GPA. Teaching students mindfulness practices may improve retention, as does living on campus and engaging with residential programming for first-years and sophomores.

Clearly these interventions are outside the traditional realm of the counseling and health center, but have the opportunity to influence well-being and success in important ways. The Student Well-being Institutional Support Survey (SWISS) collects student feedback on institutional support for their well-being (rather than individual student levels of well-being), and can provide a roadmap for campuses looking to track well-being efforts in every corner of the institution.

  1. Centering well-being as an institutional focus helps to align programs, services and academic efforts.

Because a thriving student population has positive impacts at the individual student level and the institutional level, it behooves leaders to collaboratively align initiatives. Not only does cross-departmental collaboration and communication increase the range of people at the institution who see themselves contributing to student well-being, it also has the potential to streamline programs and services to align with a cohesive mission. When faculty and staff across campus know the institution is focused on holistic student well-being as a primary goal, we can all move in the same direction together.

  1. Making student well-being a priority at the institution level increases legitimacy and accountability for these efforts.

Setting holistic well-being as part of the institution’s strategic plans and goals puts this work front and center for everyone in the organization. In addition, the act of weaving well-being into institution-level guiding documents, plans and outcomes clearly shows its importance to audiences outside of the institution. Parents, families and prospective students can see that the institution is a place that cares for all aspects of its students. The increased awareness and accountability inherent in placing well-being into plans and outcomes may also drive additional resources to these efforts, increasing the likelihood of their success.

I encourage us all to think about how we can support our students by uniting our efforts collaboratively and strategically across offices and divisions within our institutions. Let’s broaden the tent and bring more voices to the table in our well-being work.

Bridget Yuhas is executive director of the Institute for Well-Being at Butler University in Indianapolis and the primary investigator for the Student Well-Being Institutional Support Survey (SWISS), administered at nearly 30 institutions.

Next Story

Written By

More from Views