Initiatives on student mental health and holistic well-being have historically been positioned as adjacent to overarching divisional and institutional strategic plans. However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, political stress, and displays of systemic inequities and mass violence, institutions of higher education have increasingly been called upon to center holistic student needs within their mission and practice. In doing so, the focus has shifted to fostering environments that promote students’ ability to grow and thrive, both in and out of the classroom.
Today’s college students have collectively endured a period of vast uncertainty and instability, which has simultaneously challenged and demonstrated their resilience. With campus life feeling closer to normal than it has in years, higher education practitioners are just now learning how the downstream effects of COVID-19 are impacting their student populations. Throughout this academic year, our partner success team has connected with our network of 200+ campus partners to better understand the ‘real feel’ on campuses across the nation, identify emerging trends, and troubleshoot innovative ways to meet students’ evolving needs. Through our conversations, it has become clear that students, university staff, and administrators are geared toward supporting student resilience, growth. and belonging. Here are some of the themes we’re hearing from our network:
- Students want to build active coping skills: For many young people, college is a time when stress is high and competing responsibilities make it difficult to find balance. In addition to normal collegiate stressors, we know that today’s students also had to contend with the psychological toll of the pandemic, re-entering an in-person learning experience, and navigating a new social landscape on campus. Despite the fact that mental health is the number one priority of college-aged students, a quarter of college-aged students are reporting that they are not doing enough to manage their stress. Throughout 2022, our team has seen students shift more toward accessing information and resources to proactively support their well-being and build key life skills, and our campus partners have echoed that students are searching for this on their campuses.
- Campus practitioners want to empower students to advocate for what they need and seek help when they need it: Even prior to COVID-19, college students demonstrated low levels of help-seeking behavior even when mental health services are available at their institution. With return to campus efforts, staff and admin have felt that fewer students than before seem comfortable advocating for what they need, despite the fact that many students are experiencing difficulty with their transition to college or distress stemming from other factors. With nearly three-quarters of the traditional college-aged generation feeling as though they could have benefited from more emotional support over the past year, helping get students to the ‘right doors’ on campus – whether physical or virtual – is key to supporting their well-being and likelihood to persist in school.
In this moment, one thing is clear: we must bring student well-being and success into the center of the end goals and practice of higher education. However, when considering how to boost student well-being in COVID’s endemic landscape, the question becomes how to deliver meaningful engagement and skill-building experiences to students at scale, based on their priorities.
For our network, that’s where YOU for Students comes in. The YOU platform is customized to each institution and personalized for every student. Through its ability to provide students with feedback on their unique strengths and growth edges, keeping them accountable while working toward the positive behavior change, and connecting them to resources on campus, YOU is a true all encompassing resource for the entire campus community to support student needs.
In a recent survey from spring 2022, 70% of students reported that they learned an active coping skill from the YOU platform, with nearly 9 out of 10 of these students working toward behavior change by integrating the skills into their everyday lives. When asked about specific areas of skill-building, students shared that they learned about active coping skills to help with stress management, mindfulness, time management, and academic goal setting – all of which are imperative to helping students thrive in college and beyond. Further, 71% students shared that the YOU platform helped them learn more about campus resources, with 80% of these students getting connected to the resource themselves or sharing it with a peer.
As a former campus health promotion practitioner, I recognize the immense potential for a digital tool like the YOU platform to transform the lives of students. Additionally, I recognize that implementing and promoting a platform like YOU on campus is no small feat. Luckily, that’s where our partner success team steps in to help. The YOU team has been committed to connecting with each of our campus partners to truly understand the unique needs of each campus environment. In the wake of the pandemic, we have pushed further to consult on ways we can collectively think ‘big’ about how to help students get connected evidence-backed tools, while also building a true network of campus partners that can collaborate with one another to strategize on how to support students nationwide. In doing so, we have seen our impact scale, created more cohesive campus communities, and ultimately evolved to understand how to better support the collective needs of students in higher education, ensuring long-term success through digital tools.