Colleges began pivoting to focus on students' needs within the past decade with most schools believing that wellness could be a major differentiating factor in enrollment.
We have heard, read about, or experienced the plethora of ways that colleges have used to meet wellness goals. This includes adding new staff positions such as Director of Wellness or Wellness Coordinator, adding programming focused on student wellness, providing additional counseling resources available through a smartphone app or 24/7 hotline, increasing services provided at the campus health center, and, in some cases, providing additional wellness days off during this semester.
Despite these efforts, recent studies show that more students than ever before face challenges regarding wellness. It raises the question of whether the current approach to wellness has been effective. But most colleges must believe so since they are continuing these practices and in some cases expanding them.
This month Temple University offered its first wellness day off since the pandemic. Similar days are now built into the school calendar. One student responded by saying "It gave me the inspiration to do something with my life," Dunleavy, 21, said earlier this week, sitting at a table off Liacouras Walk on a sun-splashed afternoon. "It's a good break mentally for everybody." https://tinyurl.com/4assncmm. Other colleges in Pennsylvania and around the country now use wellness days to deal with stress and other mental health challenges faced by students.
This practice also now includes more than just students at some schools. WPI has included four Wellness and Community Days and two Wellness and Rest Days in their 2022-2023 graduate and undergraduate calendar. In addition, their website states that “Managers and supervisors are asked to be flexible and support employee and graduate student participation in Wellness Days.”
This may be just the beginning as students will likely request more flexibility regarding scheduling and time off. This quote from a somewhat dated editorial from March 2021 in The Daily Free Press, the Boston University student newspaper, may still have some relevance to the expanding trend. “With BU’s infrastructure, it could have created a much more creative and meaningful alternative to Spring Recess. Instead, we got scraps. We deserve more. “ https://tinyurl.com/29e6hyu7
That said, there is some dissent regarding a college’s obligation to address student wellness. In an article in the November 2021 Macalester College student newspaper, The Mac Weekly, student columnist Jonah Henkle shares an interesting alternative perspective regarding wellness. “Indeed, schoolwork can be a source of stress; however, I reject the notion that simply by virtue of providing a rigorous environment in which students are inevitably going to be under stress, the college assumes responsibility for mending any “unwellness” that may come as a result of that stress. Subjecting students to difficulty and a high workload does not constitute harm, and thus students are not entitled to amends. When students see fit, they should give themselves a break but that does not mean there won’t be consequences.” https://tinyurl.com/aecj8e85.
There is no doubt that student wellness will continue to be an area of great focus for colleges for the foreseeable future. The challenge will be to find the right combination of additional resources, policy changes, new technology, and innovation to ensure that student outcomes from an education perspective remain intact. How a college evaluates these initiatives and their willingness to abandon the programs and practices which do not improve student wellness or run contrary to quality education will be the only true measure of success.