What It Really Means to Prioritize Well-being on College Campuses

About the author : Brett Ladd

CEO, Sodexo Campus

Published on : 9/13/22
  • The concept of wellness has become ubiquitous. It seems that everywhere we turn, we’re met with messages about improving ourselves and achieving a new level of well-being. In 2019, the global wellness industry was valued at nearly five trillion dollars. The idea of actively prioritizing one’s own health and wellness—something that was once relegated to runners, yogis and health-food aficionados—is now mainstream, with more people realizing the importance of self-care on a day-to-day basis.

    When we think of wellness, images of early morning gym sessions and green smoothies may come to mind. But our notions of wellness are changing as we begin to recognize what a complex and nuanced subject human well-being can be. It turns out that health and wellness are about more than calculating the ideal protein intake or achieving an impressive mile time.

    When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, health became a top priority, and wellness became more than a buzzword. As we altered every aspect of our daily lives to address an urgent threat to public health, we began to take note of what it means to truly be physically, emotionally and mentally well.

    This year’s President to President thought leadership series applies this lens to higher education, examining what it means to have a “well” campus. The series, titled "The Well Campus: An In-Depth Look," thoughtfully explores the various dimensions and applications of wellness and examines how campuses can support meaningful improvements to the lives and experiences of students, faculty and staff. This series dives deep into the many facets of well-being, which include physical and mental health, as well as academic, intellectual, moral and interpersonal well-being. Over the course of 10 chapters, college and university presidents will share insights into how the physical environment, resources available to students and positive relationships with the surrounding community all contribute to creating a well campus.

    In the first chapter, "Educating for a Civil Society," Western New England University President Robert Johnson, Ph.D., explains why it is critical to teach students how to engage in civil discourse. He illustrates the benefits of encouraging those with widely divergent viewpoints to come together and respectfully participate in meaningful conversations. These efforts support students’ emotional and mental well-being and help create a healthy and thriving community built on mutual respect and buoyed by an ability to work together despite differences of opinion.

    Re-examining the concept of health and wellness has led to a deeper understanding of what students need to thrive. Sodexo’s 2022-2023 Student Lifestyle Survey revealed how crucial mental health and overall well-being are to students’ success. The report found that more than 60% of today’s students report feeling overwhelmed and anxious on campus, a 50% increase since 2020. Among the one-third of students who have considered dropping out, mental health was the top reason. This is a big change from previous years, when financial considerations were the top factor. These findings illustrate that students now place greater importance on their well-being, but they need more support than ever before.

    Perhaps due to the growing awareness of how essential social interaction is to overall well-being, a sense of belonging on campus is now paramount for students. A whopping 82% of college students surveyed stated that they selected a college based on the perceived friendliness of a campus, making this the number one factor in enrollment decisions. Students want to attend a college where they feel like they fit in and will mesh well with the campus community.

    Dining together is a great way to build healthy social engagement and provide the sense of connection that bolsters students’ well-being. In fact, campus dining is the number one way to improve student engagement on campus. That’s no surprise, given that 87% of student s say that eating together is the most typical way that they socialize with friends. Creating a welcoming dining environment and offering fun, engaging programming and delicious food that students enjoy can directly improve student engagement and support overall well-being.

    Although nutrition and exercise are still the foundation of physical health, we’ve learned that there is so much more to achieving overall health and well-being. College campuses are uniquely poised to support students and help them thrive by understanding what it means to have a truly “well” campus.

    We look forward to a thought-provoking year of the President to President series, together with the editors and authors exploring the broader topic of wellness and all the places it impacts higher education as a whole.