Twenty U.S. universities, including Butler University, Sacramento State and The University of South Alabama are making changes on campus in support of student physical, mental and financial health after implementing the Student Well-being Institutional Support Survey (SWISS).
SWISS is an assessment of schools’ wellness education and services, powered by Qualtrics, a provider of experience management.
Butler University in Indiana used the Qualtrics XM Platform to create SWISS in order to give its leaders actionable information at the campus level about how to improve student well-being.
The assessment goes beyond simply measuring wellness. By asking students a research-backed set of questions about their physical health, nutrition, financial situation, mental health and sense of belonging, it identifies specific needs across demographic groups and reveals gaps in critical services, ranging from mental health care to affordable food offerings.
Overall mental health has declined for college students since the start of the pandemic, and nearly one in three (30 percent) say they do not feel connected to other students. At the same time, students are dealing with rising costs of living. Now, as college administrators use the summer months to prepare for a new school year with more in-person activities, they are looking to address students’ needs for support and connection, which have grown during two years of the pandemic.
“Education institutions need dynamic systems that can sense and respond to the needs of students,” said Omar Garriott, global head of education at Qualtrics. “This is especially true in this time of rapid change. Schools that rise to the top in the coming years will be those that not only listen to students — but really understand and improve the experiences they are having on campus with respect to their mental health, basic physical and financial needs and their ongoing sense of belonging.”
Re-building a sense of belonging
Butler University developed and first administered SWISS on its own campus in 2020, when many students were feeling disconnected from their peers due to COVID restrictions. Findings prompted Butler to implement multiple new programs to meet students’ needs and address social connection campus-wide.
The results revealed sophomores in particular were struggling with COVID fatigue more than others. Butler used the data to create residence-life programming specifically for sophomores, including activities and social gatherings focused on helping students find common interests and make meaningful connections.
“Our RAs noticed immediate results as students began to make new friends,” said Shannon Mulqueen, director of residence life at Butler. “It happened because we administered the SWISS survey and took action based on the results.”
Prioritizing mental health
At Sacramento State, wellness is one of the school’s six strategic initiatives, with mental health as a top priority. The school implemented SWISS in 2022, and it showed 59 percent of students said mental health concerns were a top stressor, second only to academics (75 percent). Students also reported a lack of emphasis on attending classes or workshops that would help build resilience and grit, self compassion, mindfulness, empathy and keeping an open mind.
“If we’re trying to solve mental health issues, there’s a lot of room for advancement there,” said Kate Smith, director of student wellness at Sacramento State. “The end goal is to use this data to really inform our decision making as we set our strategic plan moving forward.”
Addressing food insecurity
The University of South Alabama adopted SWISS in 2022 to understand strengths and weaknesses related to student health. They found a large number of students were struggling with food insecurity, despite the school offering a food pantry with free groceries for students in need. A third of students (33 percent) said they don’t always have enough money to pay for food.
“That was pretty eye-opening,” said Brian Allred, director of campus recreation and wellness at the University of South Alabama. His department is launching a wellness website this summer that will highlight food resources. “Food insecurity wasn’t even on my radar prior to the survey, so this has impacted the direction we’re going to take.”
“You can make a big impact when you have actionable feedback to work with, rather than vague goals to increase student well-being by X percent,” said Bridget Yuhas, creator of SWISS and director of student affairs assessment and strategy at Butler. “We’re happy to see so many universities recognize the power of listening, understanding and acting on experience data, because we all win when students thrive.”
Material from a press release was used in this report.
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