2 actions to take to address wellbeing in higher ed

Action number 1: Assess the wellbeing of all students

Provosts and other university leaders need a clear picture of their students’ psychological wellbeing. First-year programs, academic advising orientations, and counseling and psychological services outreach initiatives are natural places to conduct universal assessments. People pay attention to what they measure—so choose your scale carefully, preferably one that focuses on aspirational goals and attributes of human flourishing.

Emotionally and psychologically healthy young adults possess the following qualities or attributes, which can be measured by the Ryff Psychological Wellbeing Scale:

  • Autonomy – self-determining and independent, able to resist social pressures to think and act in certain ways, regulates behavior from within, and evaluates one’s self by personal standards
  • Environmental mastery – a sense of mastery and competence in managing the environment, controls a complex array of external activities, makes effective use of surrounding opportunities, and is able to choose or create contexts suitable to personal needs and values
  • Personal growth – a feeling of continued development, sees the self as growing and expanding, is open to new experiences, has a sense of realizing his or her potential, sees improvement in self and behavior over time, and is changing in ways that reflect more self-knowledge and effectiveness
  • Positive relations with others – is able to have warm, satisfying, trusting relationships with others; is concerned about the welfare of others; is capable of strong empathy, affection, and intimacy; and understands the give and take of human relationships
  • Purpose in life – has goals and dreams in life and a sense of directedness, feels there is meaning to present and past life experiences, holds beliefs that give life purpose, and has aims and objectives for living
  • Self-acceptance – possesses a positive attitude toward the self, acknowledges and accepts multiple aspects of self, including good and bad qualities, and feels positive about previous life experiences

Action number 2: Train faculty in self across the curriculum

To experience self-knowledge is the height of social-emotional capacity and the most direct path to wellbeing. Therefore, educators require a tool bag of approaches to impact the self of their students. The Self Across the Curriculum is one research-based best practice available to university faculty that effectively combines well-being into classroom curricula.

2 actions university leaders can take to impact student wellbeing

Just as the popular university Writing Across the Curriculum program has two simultaneous goals—to teach writing skills through academic content and to use writing to teach subject content—the Self Across the Curriculum also has two goals: to teach self-knowledge through academic content and to use self-knowledge to connect with the content more thoroughly and deeply. This type of teaching and learning requires a different focus, an internal focus versus an external one. It drives the learner to look inward first, to know one’s self and attain a sense of purpose, dreams, moral center, and personal strengths, so as to literally create or construct one’s self.

Related: Student wellbeing is more important than you think

When the self becomes the lens through which students learn, students can balance cognitive with non-cognitive factors to become happy and whole people who are equipped to create a positive life and make contributions toward a better society.

Provosts and all higher education leaders have the moral obligation to take action today, just in time to meet the needs of today’s college students.

About the Author:

Dr. Henry G. Brzycki and Elaine J. Brzycki are founders of a leading education research and professional development organization. Their groundbreaking integrated model described in their best-selling book, Student Success in Higher Education: Developing the Whole Person through High-Impact Practices , has been described as “a revolution.” They can be reached at Henry@Brzyckigroup.com.


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