students walking up the stairs at University of Ottawa Learning Commons

10 Ideas for Promoting Student Wellness on Campus

In my conversations with colleges and universities across the globe, I’ve noticed one consistency — institutions are seeing a rise in the use of wellness services, including health, mental health, fitness, recreation, and student spaces on campus, and, as a result, are examining the programs and services they offer to determine if they are meeting student needs.

Data supports what colleges and universities witness firsthand. The National Center for Education Statistics shows that of the 20 million students enrolled in institutions of higher learning in 2019, 19.9 million experienced mental health challenges, including depression, eating disorders, anxiety, addiction, and suicidal ideation, and the American College Health Association sites that 60% and 40% of students also suffer from anxiety and depression, respectively.

While these statistics and percentages are staggering, there are things we can do to help. A recent Virtual Adaptations panel uncovered creative ways to promote wellness on campus. The following tips are courtesy of: 

  • Rick Ezekiel, MSc, Ph.D., Vice-Provost, Student Affairs at Dalhousie University
  • Erin M. Hoffman, Ph.D., Vice President for Student Life, Nebraska Wesleyan University
  • Daniel Levangie, MA, Associate Vice-President, Student Success, Capilano University
  • Jean Zu, Ph.D., Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer, Jr. School of Engineering & Science at Stevens Institute of Technology

1. Create Care Teams

Implement a team of faculty representatives from counseling, academic support, athletics, and other departments on campus to identify common problems faced by the student body and provide recommendations for the best support services available. Upon implementing care teams at Wesleyan, Dr. Erin Hoffman reports two-fold benefits: increased interdepartmental communication for faculty and better pathways for students to access wellness-related services.

2. Design Wellness-Oriented Living Communities

In addition to offering centralized recreation and gym facilities on campus, consider including them inside student residences. This approach eliminates distance, climate, and operational barriers for students whose busy schedules and preferences may prevent them from integrating regular exercise into their academic routines.

3. Get Personal with Students

Provide an informal space for students to meet with mental health counselors to access resources and guidance. Sometimes this serves as an entry point to therapy for students who may not otherwise seek help.

4. Form Wellness & Fitness Programs

At Capilano University, on the north shore of Vancouver, Daniel Levangie, MA, shares that their “Move More North Shore” program provides access to well-being coaches for students. Moreover, students from their kinesiology program designed it, enabling them to put their classroom experience into practice to create a program supporting other students and community members.

5. Implement Mandatory Wellness Training for Faculty

Training faculty to recognize mental health warning signs, like slipping grades or a subtle, consistent change in demeanor, and informing them of resources available, like counseling services and wellness programs, empowers faculty to help students overcome unique challenges and get back on track.

6. Offer a Variety of Living Arrangements

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for living accommodations on campus. First and second-year students are better fits for residential life as these facilities are designed to foster community. In contrast, third and fourth-year students may benefit more from apartment-style living to prepare for independence after graduation.

7. Mitigate Barriers for Marginalized Students

Ensure your faculty is representative of student body demographics and offer opportunities for peer-to-peer connection. Creating student unions is a great place to start, as they foster inclusion and support the emotional and mental health needs of students with marginalized identities. From his research in 2016, Dr. Ezekiel found that students with marginalized identities experience languishing mental health at 1.6 to 3.4 times the rate of their peers who aren’t marginalized on the same binary.

8. Consider Commuters

Offer equal opportunities for commuters to access wellness services on campus by creating a space for them on campus that promotes and offers access to the same wellness resources as their on-campus peers.

9. Leverage Technology

Offer as many in-person wellness services as possible in online formats – for example, online therapy and academic advising – and be sure to use social media to inform students of in-person and virtual wellness services at their disposal.

10. Prioritize Team-Based Learning

Design curriculums around team-based learning to provide opportunities for hands-on learning and student bonding. Dr. Jean Zu shares that although Stevens prioritizes team-based learning as much as possible, it’s more difficult to facilitate in the science program than in engineering. For this reason, Stevens has made it a point to offer a variety of professional clubs on campus to give students lacking peer engagement in the classroom additional opportunities to connect.

Why Student Wellness Matters

As planners and designers, it is beneficial for us to understand what colleges and universities are grappling with on campus. The more conversations I have around student wellness, the more I am convinced that providing the tools, resources, and environment for students to embrace their well-being helps them become resilient in facing life’s challenges.

headshot of Leila Kamal
Education Director