But I am disappointed that we didn't have those when I was in college.
Student Wellness sometimes referred to as student well-being is an often spoken about and communicated topic on every college campus. Every school devotes some space on its website to student wellness. Some institutions have even changed long-standing department names to reflect the significance of student wellness to student success. The Office of Student Life & Well-being at UMass Lowell is just one example https://umlconnector.com/2022/03/umass-lowell-introduces-office-of-student-life-and-well-being/.
Critlib (critlib.org) adapted the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health to define student wellness as “both freedom from physical mental and emotional malaise, and the capacity to take appropriate measures to address the challenges of being a student in this current social cultural economic and political moment.” http://critlib.org/student-wellness/#:~:text=Student%20wellness%20is%20defined%20as,sociocultural%2C%20economic%20and%20political%20moment.
In the past student wellness may have included bringing a petting zoo on campus during finals, nap pods (cover image courtesy from Decoist) in the library or student center, or even offering free massages. Although these practices still exist, almost all colleges go deeper and now focus on Dr. Peggy Swarbrick’s 8 dimensions of wellness. I referenced Dr. Swarbrick’s work in my blog post “I’m living the dream” https://www.on-sitemedservices.com/post/i-m-living-the-dream-maybe-not. What is interesting and not that common in higher education is that each school is trying to find a unique way to deliver on the promise of student wellness. Historically the model within higher education has been to focus on what others have had success with and replicate that. But that trend has been changing to a more institution-specific model based on a school's specific student population.
In a College Raptor (www.collegeraptor.com) article, the health and wellness priorities of eleven schools were presented https://www.collegeraptor.com/find-colleges/articles/student-life/11-colleges-putting-health-wellness-first/. Interestingly, not one of the eleven followed exactly the same model. One of those schools, Loyola Marymount University, added a Master’s degree in Yoga Studies while another geographically not far away, the University of Maryland, has focused on healthy meal plans and a “wellness hut”. These eleven are just a small sample of 100’s of colleges and universities that are developing a health and wellness identity (emphasis added).
While there has been a concerted effort to add services and support for students a recent Boston University study shows that one segment of wellness, mental health, is getting worse on college campuses https://www.bu.edu/articles/2022/mental-health-of-college-students-is-getting-worse/. These results also showed that mental health issues take a toll on students of color unequally. Interestingly, colleges have been aggressively trying to address mental health issues and have hired more counselors, and counseling firms, and added robust Telemental health services. Yet the prevalence of mental health issues is outpacing treatment.
To develop and implement a campus-wide strategy for improving student wellness more schools are hiring a Chief Wellness Officer (CWO). This EAB whitepaper describes the benefits of adding this senior-level position to an organization https://eab.com/research/student-affairs/whitepaper/rise-chief-wellness-officer/. This is a significant step for many schools but to be successful the organizational structure of the institution needs to change and that can result in real challenges in parochial settings like higher education.
While almost all colleges and universities continue to emphasize the need for improving the wellness of their students, developing a comprehensive strategy that accomplishes that goal will be a significant challenge. Schools will need to pivot faster than they have historically when they face new wellness issues. Will they be willing to think outside the box as it relates to finding solutions? Most importantly, how will they measure the success to deliver on the promise of student wellness, and will they be willing to abandon a particular service or program if it doesn't yield results? Only time will tell but the movement in the right direction has begun.