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Six wellness strategies for colleges and universities

Posted by Alyssa Malmquist on August 10, 2022
Alyssa Malmquist
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If you're part of a college or university administration, it's likely you can name several resources already available to students, faculty, and staff for increased wellness—such as a health center or a fitness facility. But as the needs of today's students evolve, what once was considered good enough may now only be seen as the bare minimum.

The need for services has become greater than ever. For example, according to the World Economic Forum, mental health and well-being issues on university campuses are growing quickly. In just the last six years, student anxiety at higher education (Higher Ed) institutions jumped from 17 percent to 31 percent.

This isn't just a U.S. challenge, either. A survey of Higher Ed students and staff in 10 countries, done in 2020, found that 76 percent of students and 73 percent of staff struggle to maintain well-being, even though it's one of their top priorities. That means wellness isn't just a "nice to have" bonus for colleges and universities, it's an important part of meeting the needs of those on campus, no matter who they are. 

college wellbeing

Here are some strategies to consider as a starting point:

1. Survey, survey, survey

You could put the greatest wellness programs in place, but if they're not utilized, it's a squandered investment. Instead of anticipating what the needs on campus might be and offering programs with potentially lackluster results, first, find out what your community wants. In some cases, it might be a scaled-down version of what you had planned, o even a wildly creative idea you might have missed. Survey your audience to collect data that can guide your wellness strategy and make a solid impact on individuals.

2. Create a wellness team with every type of stakeholders

Having a student committee or a staff group might be helpful, but it's even better to have a team with both, as well as faculty representatives. Wellness services on campus should be all-inclusive when it comes to health, rather than focusing only on students.

3. Expand everyday movement opportunities

Prolonged sitting and less physical activity are linked to numerous health risks, but not everyone wants to spend time in a fitness center—even one that's new and comprehensive. One alternate tactic is to make it easier for people to get movement throughout the day, which might mean more walkways with better lighting, increased use of bike lockers, designated biking routes, signage that encourages using the stairs, and more green space overall.

4 ways to make it easier for your college or university to get more exercise

4. Redefine physical education

Fitness plus social time adds up to considerable health benefits. That means having a range of free classes can be a boon. For example, Wellesley College has 45 different activities, from yoga and Pilates to Indian Kathak dance, strength training, archery, self-defense, and rock climbing. Some are designated for first-year students only as a way to get them engaged in building strong social networks.

5. Strengthen anti-discrimination policies

A recent study from Boston University found that the mental health of college students has been on a consistent decline for at least the last eight years, and these issues take a toll on students of color unequally. Although more students are seeking mental health services on campus (which is good news) the researchers note that prevalence seems to be outpacing demand. As you ramp up your mental health resources, it's a good idea to focus on prevention efforts as well. For example, policies that address and work to eliminate discrimination on campus can reduce some mental health risk factors.

6. Boost interest in healthy eating

Changing what's in the cafeteria or taking a look at the mix of eating options on campus is important, but unless you also tackle the main challenges at your particular school, those efforts might not be as successful. This is also where doing surveys can come in handy. For example, a study that asked for ideas from 39 students identified personal barriers like poor dietary information and a busy lifestyle, and also highlighted student ideas like offering discounts at local supermarkets, providing classes on healthy cooking, and varying the food products in a school cafeteria.

boost healthy eating university LI

Wellness promotion is an ongoing effort, and should be flexible enough to accommodate changing needs among students, faculty, and staff members. As wellness continues to roll out, be sure to make surveys and feedback collection into a key part of program development, which can help you stay ahead of what would be best received—not to mention helping you use your wellness funds wisely.

To continue learning about building a wellness strategy, download our ultimate guide.


Disclaimer: The content in this blog post represents the clinical opinions of the providers at AllWays Health Partners and is based on the most currently available clinical and governmental guidance.

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