How to Create Student Health and Wellness Programs

Learn how to design engaging college campus wellness programs for students. Create student health and wellness programming with Healthie.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen corporate wellness programs become a commonplace offering for many employees. The benefits of these programs are undeniable, in the ways they’ve been shown to improve employee health behaviors and job performance, and save employers thousands in healthcare costs. And now, corporate wellness programs are expanding to offer virtual services and interventions, allowing them to reach more employees than ever and increasing the convenience of improving their health.  

When we look at the success of corporate wellness, why could this not be translated to college campuses? Over the course of this year, the pandemic has put an extreme strain on college students, who are struggling to complete coursework online and find a socially-distanced community with their peers. University wellness centers and programs have the potential to support students during this difficult transition and period of their college careers, even more so than typical campus health services. Here, we’ve compiled our best practices for designing and implementing an effective college wellness program. 

The Need for University Wellness Programs

Attending college is a massive transition for most young students.  Very suddenly, they are in a new place, away from their families, forced to make new friends and create a new life, all while battling intense academic pressures and competition. This combination of stressors has been shown to take a toll on students; recent surveys show 60% of college students reported overwhelming anxiety, 35% felt so depressed it was hard to function, and 30% said stress had affected their academic performance. While some colleges offer mental health counseling and other wellness services, it’s clear these offerings are either not substantial enough or difficult to access, allowing students to continue to struggle. 

The beauty of college wellness programs is that they can reach every aspect of health and wellness for their recipients. By implementing wellness incentives on college campuses, faculty can create programs targeted towards alleviating student stress and depression, while fostering community and improving physical health. Offering student wellness programs have the potential to support your students in a new way

Designing a Student Health and Wellness Program

✓ Get Executive Buy-In

First, demonstrate to your university’s leadership team the need for student health and wellness programs and how they will benefit your campus. As we mentioned above, college students are stressed and burnt-out, in desperate need of additional wellness support. Gathering data from student surveys to both prove this and assess student interest can be a powerful tool for empowering leadership to get on board with the idea of student health and wellness programs. 

Though improving student wellness is the overarching goal of these programs, being able to demonstrate the return-on-investment for these programs will be key to winning over higher-ups. Right now, there is not much research to demonstrate the ROI specifically of campus wellness programs. However, corporate wellness programs have been shown countless times to lower healthcare costs and save employers money on employee health insurance. Companies that offer corporate wellness even have higher market valuation than companies who don’t.  Additionally, wellness programs increase productivity and decrease absenteeism. 

✓ Coordinate with On-Campus Health Services

When building your program, a great place to start gathering resources and creating programming would be your on-campus health services. University health centers interact with your target market every single day, understand their pain-points with current health resources, and know their day-to-day wellness needs. Consulting with on-campus providers allows you to learn more about the demographics of your student population and take the first step in creating a college wellness program tailored to them. Some faculty may even have experience in corporate wellness and transfer their knowledge to diffusing these new programs across campus. 

College wellness programming requires a full staff as well. Whether you run online or in-person programs, or a combination of both, you will need manpower to facilitate events and modules. To start, you may be able to leverage already existing staff within the campus health system. Find providers and administrative staff who may be looking to increase their hours or expand their reach on campus.  These providers are already part of your staff and have experience working with your students, therefore making them the ideal candidates for kicking off your programs. 

✓ Research Relevant Topics and Build Programming for Student Wellness 

These programs are meant to benefit your students; therefore, it’s crucial to fully understand their health and wellness needs. As we mentioned before, student surveys or focus groups can be a great jumping off point for gathering information on your student population. These surveys should ask questions regarding:

  • Students’ current pain points with student health services
  • Their current health and wellness status and potential needs
  • What they want to get out of wellness programs
  • Interest in potential programs

Once you have enough data on student health and wellness, you can begin to develop programs that meet students where they are. It may be helpful to analyze the data into categories, each one with its own intervention. For example, some students may be looking for more mental health support. Here, you could create a student support group, with a counselor as moderator, for students to talk through their stress and brainstorm relaxation techniques. Or, for students looking for quick, healthy meals, host a cooking demo (virtual or in-person!) with a few meal ideas that students can make on a budget. If you pull ideas directly from student input, students are more likely to participate and be engaged in your wellness programming. 

College campuses are home to extremely diverse student populations. When designing your programs, it's critical that you are considerate of this diversity on campus, and create college wellness programs that foster inclusivity. Designing and hosting interventions for different demographics, whether it be race, gender, sexuality, etc. will create a safe space on campus for each and every student. 

✓ Market Your College Wellness Program Effectively 

Marketing wellness programs to students will require a completely different strategy than when marketing to employees. It will be important to assess where and how your students consume their information regarding university activities. For example, initially, email marketing may seem like the best strategy for quickly diffusing information to the entire student body, but it is likely that most busy students don’t open or delete seemingly unimportant emails from their university. It would be beneficial to your marketing strategy to interview students about how they would prefer to learn about wellness programs; or leverage student interns to run your marketing strategy for higher authenticity and efficacy. Most college students are likely to use social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok; building an engaging and appealing online presence here will help actually communicate with students and allow you to demonstrate the value of your wellness programs in a way they appreciate.   

Additionally, while the possibility of improving their wellbeing may be incentive enough for some students, others may need a push to take the first step. Offer incentives for simply attending events, whether it be gift cards, cash prizes, or free university swag that will entice unsure students to simply come check out the programming. Once they have a chance to experience your college wellness programming and see how it can benefit them, they are more likely to participate in more and more activities throughout the semester. Overall, it’s key for you to market these programs in a relatable and appealing way to students. Many college students focus on school, their social lives, and extracurriculars, but tend to brush off potentially beneficial university-run events; the reasons for this could range from lack of time to not wanting to stray from what their friends are doing.  Many university events fall flat because of this, despite their potential to support students during the school year.  A well-developed and researched marketing strategy is the key to combating this outcome for your wellness programs.  

✓ Evaluate Wellness Program Outcomes

As with any wellness intervention, it’s important to measure key performance indicators along the way. When offering wellness programs on a large scale, it is unlikely you will be able to measure specific metrics for each and every student throughout the program. However, surveys and focus groups can be an effective way to evaluate program effectiveness throughout the semester. These give students the opportunity to provide feedback on your latest health and wellness programs, for you to then leverage to improve your programs so they can better meet the needs of your students.    

Healthie for Student Health and Wellness Programs

Healthie enables universities to streamline program processes, deliver on-site & virtual counseling to employees alike, offer expanded nutritional care programs, and track health outcomes. Healthie reduces the administrative time of corporate wellness programs by over 40%, and enables real-time communication within an organization and with clients.

 Healthie’s centralized web & mobile platform designed specifically for nutritional care enables corporate and student wellness organizations to:  

  • Deliver health and wellness programs automatically (videos, courses, surveys, e-mails)
  • Engage directly with employees in one-on-one or group, in-person or virtual formats
  • Bolster ongoing communication: message with employees to provide advice & recommendations, share information on upcoming events
  • Track outcomes and metrics from wellness programs

Read more about how Healthie can support your university wellness program here.

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