You are passionate about student success and retention and that’s why you invest in multiple student affairs departments: health, finance, recreation and fitness, academic support, career, counseling, etc. Even though these departments have different areas of expertise and support students in different ways, they have the same objective: to help more of the students you recruit graduate from your school. As a whole, student affairs is multidimensional, yet the departments are all fundamentally connected by an underlying thread, and research shows that they all impact student success and retention.
The underlying thread that’s common to all these departments is not always obvious. We can look at each department and see how it fits into one of eight dimensions of your students’ overall wellness. Yes, wellness.
The term “wellness” is incredibly broad and describes more than simply a healthy body and mind. Financial, social, and environmental wellness are not always top of mind; however, research shows they have a significant impact on student performance. Just as a student struggling with a physical or mental health concern may have a more difficult time succeeding academically, so too will a student struggling to fit in with colleagues or pay for appropriate housing or food. These are a few examples of the eight wellness dimensions that are discussed below, and they all work together to help students’ occupational and financial goals for the future. Each of these plays a role to build the support you need to increase student success and retention.
Research suggests that by cultivating student health and wellness, you can help students thrive academically which can help them to succeed and complete their degrees at your institution. Although you may not think of the Financial Aid or Sustainability Offices as supporting student wellness, the following eight dimensions demonstrate how each department under the Student Affairs umbrella is integral to achieving these goals.
What most often comes to mind when we think about student health and wellness is physical wellness—addressed by your recreation and fitness, dining, and health services departments. Unsurprisingly, physical wellness has been widely studied in relation to education. Studies show a positive link between healthy behaviors (e.g., getting enough sleep, partaking in regular physical activity, eating nutritious meals), physical health, and improved academic performance (e.g., higher GPA scores) in university students.
A 2018 study in Sleep Health showed that sleep disturbances in undergraduates predict academic problems like lower GPA and higher probability of dropping a course. Researchers also found that about three quarters of students have never received information about the importance of sleep from their university.
Similarly, a recent study looked at the physical health and wellness habits of students at Central Michigan University. Researchers concluded that schools should develop programs to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors, including nutrition and healthy dietary habits.
College administrators are in an excellent position to positively influence student behaviors through informational content centered around healthy lifestyles like maintaining a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, promoting fitness, and other physical health and wellness principles which go hand-in-hand with higher academic performance.
Emotional wellness revolves around effectively dealing with life’s challenges and supports students through your counseling services department. Students who have stable emotional wellness are able to cope with stress, handle their feelings and actions, and create and sustain healthy, meaningful relationships. They are also able to build resiliency, which in turn helps them feel more confident in their abilities to cope with and work through difficulties.
Several studies show that stress and mental health affect academic success in college. For example, symptoms of depression significantly predict a lower GPA and higher probability of dropping out. This link is particularly strong for students who also have symptoms of anxiety. Researchers suggest that campuses that invest in mental health resources are better equipped to support these students toward higher GPAs and lower dropout rates. Their financial calculations concluded that colleges can see a net economic return by investing in mental health services.
For students, occupational wellness indicates not just their career goals, but their overall satisfaction with their academic experience, including finding enrichment in their studies and establishing a healthy school-life balance. Studies show that satisfaction with one’s work affects academic success—including many statistically significant links between student satisfaction and GPA. In one study published in The Journal of Higher Education, for example, researchers assessed data from 1,518 students. They found that, ultimately, a student’s satisfaction impacted their GPA more than the reverse.
Understanding both academic and non-academic responsibilities of students can help them overcome obstacles in pursuing their academic careers, according to a recent study published in BMC Medical Education. The researchers in this study suggest there are opportunities for training programs and support for students to ensure their career development once they leave your school.
By viewing your career services department as aligning with your students’ occupational wellness you can help your students overcome obstacles, achieve higher GPAs, and establish better career opportunities.
Intellectual wellness goes beyond getting good grades. It involves recognizing and believing in one’s own unique creative abilities, and seeking out ways to expand one’s knowledge. Intellectual wellness is fostered through activities that encourage mental growth, such as reading books, magazines, or newspapers, participating in stimulating activities, learning new skills, or engaging in a creative hobby. In a 2014 study, researchers found that students who develop intellectual wellness awareness and seek out these types of activities experience a positive impact on their academics.
Your academic support services departments help your students build their intellectual wellness, which can promote motivation, enhance academic performance, and improve overall well-being. It can also help them to become more self-directed so they are prepared to learn and develop the necessary skills for their current and future needs.
Social wellness relates to a sense of connection and belonging, as well as having an established support system. Several of your school’s departments help in this regard: student government and union, residential life, and disability services, for example. Several studies show that when students have a sense of belonging (when they feel supported, respected, and connected) they’re more likely to have a higher academic performance and stay in school longer.
Research on students at Southeastern University found a link between the sense of belonging felt by college freshmen and their academic self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation, and task value. Another study published in the journal CBE Life Sciences Education found that when a school implemented programs to help students feel like they belonged and were supported, there was a significant improvement in the number of students who successfully completed their courses.
Schools can support social wellness and cultivate connections with others to help students find academic success. This is especially beneficial to students who feel as though they have less social support than their peers.
The overall aesthetic of a space on campus doesn’t always get a lot of attention. However, the condition of areas in which students study and learn can play a large role when it comes to student success and their health and well-being. This is where environmental wellness and your Offices of Health Promotion and/or Sustainability come in. An organized desk or a comfy chair by a window can help students feel calm and get in a better headspace to approach their work successfully.
Having an environment conducive to safe physical activity, such as accessible green areas, improves physical and social wellness by providing space for students to be active, socialize with one another, and relieve stress. All of these benefits can enhance the academic success and intellectual growth of students.
The same applies to the physical space inside your buildings. A study conducted at Kennesaw State University looked at the impact of the classroom environment on student satisfaction and student evaluation of teaching. Courses held in classrooms that were upgraded to include tiered seating, better-quality lighting, and noise control were found to be more enjoyable and rated higher for learning, and the instructors in those classrooms were considered to be more organized than those in standard classrooms.
By fostering environmental wellness, administrators can cultivate improved student experience and academic performance.
It should also come as no surprise that financial wellness is essential for student success. In fact, a student’s financial status is one of the most restrictive factors when it comes to whether or not students complete their academic programs. When a student can approach their education feeling confident with their current and future financial situation, they are better able to focus on their work—this is where your Financial Aid Office comes in.
A recent report published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that people from the lowest-income families are five times less likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree by age twenty-four than people from the highest-income families (11 percent versus 58 percent).
Several recent studies have looked at the impacts of college students’ financial wellness on other areas of their health and wellness. The results consistently show that a student’s negative financial situation affects many other dimensions of their health. The most profound effects are seen on their mental and physical wellness. Researchers consistently emphasize the importance of financial wellness for college students and recommend that schools incorporate financial wellness programs.
Many college students accumulate a lot of debt and live on the edge of financial crisis, yet many are not familiar with effective money management practices. Researchers consistently emphasize the importance of financial wellness for college students and recommend that schools incorporate financial wellness programs. Schools are in an excellent position to provide education in this area for all of their students—regardless of their discipline.
Students who become more financially literate, build healthy financial habits, and practice sound financial management are able to break these cycles, and are better equipped to fully dedicate themselves to their studies.
Spiritual wellness revolves around finding a sense of purpose in life and is reflected in your school’s faith-based and interfaith services, chapels, and meditation programs. Attaining spiritual wellness looks different from student to student, but it could take the form of religious communities, meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, or anything else that helps one find inner peace and connect to the present moment.
There are several benefits of promoting spiritual wellness in academic settings. For example, a study published in Sociology of Religion revealed that students who cultivated spiritual wellness reported higher GPAs, were more satisfied with their social life, and overall rated a more positive college experience (when compared to students who were not as spiritually active).
Applying the eight dimensions of student health and wellness
By looking at the benefits of all eight dimensions of wellness, you can see how they each support students beyond just physical health. Coordinating these multiple strategies can help your students achieve the academic success that we all want them to have.
You can leverage the impact of your multiple student affairs departments with one cohesive online platform that unifies your school’s services. It includes individual departmental webpages and consistent messaging around all eight dimensions of wellness—with no change to how your departments currently operate. Through our CampusWell online publication, students have year-round access to relatable, evidence-based content created with input from subject matter experts. Each feature provides students with actionable steps to enhance all eight areas of wellness in their lives.
Administrators play a significant role in strengthening all areas of student health and wellness, ultimately helping students reach their goals and get the most value out of their educational journey. By providing your students with these tools and resources—and communicating them cohesively—you help them achieve wellness and grow as both students and individuals. We can work together to help your students progress toward graduation.
Now that you’ve learned about the benefits of a campus-wide approach to student success and wellness promotion, find out how CampusWell’s interdepartmental initiative can benefit your school.
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