College student wellness has become a vital issue for all education stakeholders, including campus stores. Data shows that students experience more stress now than ever. Over two-thirds of college students struggle with mental health issues. Over half report trouble with depression. In addition, students describe feeling burdened by a growing roster of real-world concerns. They worry about paying for college, gun violence, racial injustice, divisive politics and the environment.
College students are anxious and worried about the world
A report on college student wellness from Barnes & Noble College (BNC) called “Mental Health and Well-Being on Campus: How we can better care for the whole student” revealed the following:
>>89% of college students report high levels of stress
>>86% of college students report anxiety
>>66% of college students experience depression
When asked which real-world issues caused them the most personal stress, students cited these pressing concerns:
>>60% said the health of the environment
>>58% said gun violence and mass shootings
>>54% said they worry about how to pay for college
>>47% said racial injustice
>>46% said political division in the U.S.
It’s not just these issues on the rise. Illnesses like bulimia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder have also been reported on campus more often in recent years, according to a study published in the Journal of American College Health.
The study’s authors investigated the change in diagnosis rates for 12 different mental health conditions on campuses between 2009 and 2015. The only illness whose prevalence did not increase was substance abuse disorder. The proportion of panic attacks grew the most.
Despite the abundance of mental health concerns on campuses, few college students take advantage of university services dedicated to health and wellness, according to the BNC study. Although 85 percent of those surveyed said their school has wellness and mental health resources, only 24 percent said they used them.
College student wellness is the responsibility of every campus stakeholder
Even if more students utilized resources like the campus counseling center, colleges and universities could not rely on one office alone to counter the effect of such high rates of depression and anxiety.
Student wellness has an impact on the entire institution: its graduation rates, its finances and its ability to meet its mission. When student health needs aren’t met, the entire school suffers. Grades decline, students drop out and conflicts increase. Tension infuses the campus culture.
The job of bolstering student wellness belongs to the entire network of engaged professionals on campus. This includes everyone from campus executives and faculty to advisers, registrar staff and campus store associates.
Participation in a wellness network doesn’t have to mean dispensing advice and diagnoses like a doctor or psychologist. Instead, an organization like the campus store can consider how its own mission and expertise might be directed toward reducing student stressors.
Campus stores take on college student wellness initiatives
Tracy Roman, associate finance director for UC Davis Stores, organized a series of campus destress events, because she realized that the rates of anxiety among college students had reached crisis levels.
“I thought, 'We’ve got to do something to help these kids,'” said Roman.
UC Davis Stores started inviting students to engage in stress reduction activities during finals week. The first series included activities like drawing, writing, aromatherapy sampling and opportunities to interact with therapy animals.
The management opted not host the destress events inside a UC Davis store. Instead, they set up in a shady corner of the quadrangle where students could easily see them while walking on campus between tests. Roman said it was important for students to know that the destress events had nothing to do with store efforts to turn a profit.
“Usually store events are tied to a promotion or rush or buyback. We were very careful to make sure that all we were saying was, ‘We’re here to support you,’” she said.
Campus stores can provide many kinds of student support
Beyond hosting destress events during finals, campus store professionals can draw on their expertise to nurture student wellness in myriad ways, particularly in the realm of student financial stress. Pop culture portrayals can give people the impression that college students are privileged, even spoiled. But the BNC report suggests the opposite is true. Many students pay for their own education and work while in school.
“The media often portrays college students as a privileged, young, homogenous group. That’s a completely inaccurate reflection of what’s going on,” Victor Schwartz, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of the Jed Foundation, told BNC. Jed works with colleges and universities nationwide to help prevent student suicides.
“Many are working one or two jobs, many have children, many struggle with housing and food insecurity, and they cover a much broader age range,” Schwartz said.
Most students contribute financially to their education. They draw on a mix of savings, work and family support to cover tuition and course materials, according to the BNC report.
>>55% of students say their parents help pay for tuition
>>54% rely on scholarships
>>53% rely on government financial aid
>>37% rely on student loans
>>30% pay tuition on their own
With nearly one in three college students paying tuition entirely on their own, it’s clear that campus store efforts to reduce course material costs play a critical role in reducing student stress.
Here are 3 ways a campus store can further college student wellness
1. Spread the word about cost-saving course material programs
Campus store professionals are keenly aware of industry developments that can save students money. Reduced course material costs through programs like inclusive access and OER can offer students financial relief. But there’s a disconnect: faculty. It’s likely that if more faculty were privy to ongoing conversations about course material innovations, their interest would increase. However, more than 70 percent of teachers in higher education are categorized as “contingent faculty,” according to the American Association of University Professors. Like other temporary employees in the workforce, non-tenure track faculty lack the awareness — and the power — to initiate major course material programs. That’s where campus stores can help. Spreading the word about programs like inclusive access and OER among campus higher-ups can have a long-term positive effect on student finances. With the campus store’s help, students can feel more confident that they will have the financial means to finish college.
2. Create an in-store destress zone
Consider designating a section of your store to college student wellness year-round. This might be a quiet nook, where students could gather, relax and browse wellness related materials. Ideally, it would have comfortable seating or cushions along with other decorative touches that suggest tranquility. If you offer trade books about health and wellness, you might stock a bookshelf with samples. That would encourage students to take time to think about self-care when they stop in between classes. If possible, seclude the area from noise. Post a sign that designates the area as a “Destress Zone.” If it seems like students would benefit, you can also post a sign that gently reminds customers to stay reasonably quiet while browsing that part of the store. It could say something like, “Be mindful: Those around you might be here for the silence.”
3. Offer price matching
Price matching helps bring more students into the store. But that’s just the beginning of the impact it can have on students’ hearts, minds — and personal schedules. Students reported shopping for course materials in an average of four different places in a VitalSource study. When the campus store offers price-matching, it eliminates the need for students to give their time and energy to textbook shopping and lets them focus on what they’re in college to do: read the books!
These are only a few of many ways campus stores can have a lasting impact on college student well-being. If the litany of student stressors seems overwhelming, remember: even the most ordinary forms of kindness can mean a lot to someone in distress. As you further your store’s mission, look for opportunities to include nurturing student wellness in your goals. You may be surprised what a difference campus stores can make.