A casual observer might think educational success is an outcome of good teaching and a well-constructed curriculum. Many (including myself) in the education community know that those elements are a crucial parts of a massive landscape.
And, now more than ever, we know that students reach their potential when they are supported academically as well as personally by a community that fosters individual growth, independence and meaningful engagement.
New research shows that students crave this kind of holistic support. In response, universities must not only offer a solid academic experience, but also a supportive living environment that encourages true inclusion (bringing the whole person to the party), personal growth, independence and meaningful community engagement.
In compiling the 2018 Global University Trends Report, the Sodexo Quality of Life Institute – our in-house think tank – spoke with a highly credentialed line-up of international experts to identify and understand developing trends shaping the future of quality of life in higher education, and some of the ways universities are evolving to accommodate these shifts.
Creating a supportive environment can take many forms.
There is a physical component. Administrators at The University of British Columbia’s Ponderosa Commons, for instance, have created a, multi-purpose hub that provides 1,150 beds to mainly upper-year undergraduate and graduate students. Imagine mature students able to live and learn in studios and two- and four-bedroom pods, while dedicated study areas and hang-out spots provide space for the campus community to congregate. It also has ayoga studio, late-night pizza parlor, quiet study spaces, a ballroom and a fireside lounge.
By creating a supportive environment in which to live and learn, universities are supporting a thriving cycle of success.
Sodexo also has an initiative that aims to create a home away from home. By offering high-speed WiFi, comfortable en-suite bedrooms, space to cook and spots to study, our campus housing program is designed to help students transition more comfortably to independent living.
There is a community component. A recent study from The Journal of Higher Education reveals that positive diversity experiences on campus can promote cognitive development and student learning.
No wonder many universities and colleges are committed to creating an inclusive environment. Take, the University of West Florida, which sponsors an annual Diversity Week to celebrate the different backgrounds of UWF students, faculty, staff and community members with campus events that promote awareness and acceptance, and lectures by guest speakers. UWF also hosts an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Awards Ceremony to reward those who have demonstrated commitment in support of diversity, inclusion and global engagement on campus.
There is a health component. A recent survey of more than 150,000 students reveals that nearly 10 percent of respondents frequently “felt depressed” and were about twice as likely to “frequently” come late to class and “frequently” fall asleep in class.
The good news is some universities are stepping up to change how students view mental health issues and encourage them to seek help. For example, Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, along with the charity Jack.org, created “Built to Bear” kits for first-year students, encouraging self-care, providing study tips and a flow chart of mental health resources. The university also partnered with campus coffee shop, the Tea Room, for “Sleeve the Stigma Behind,” an initiative using coffee sleeves and puns to raise mental health awareness.
At each of these campuses, and so many more, educators are helping students overcome the life challenges that can often affect their success. They are also helping prepare them for life after graduation, when they will face our increasing complex and demanding world.
The ones that do it best are also developing their next generation of engaged alumni and mentors who will be motivated to give back to the students behind them.
By creating a wonderful supportive environment in which to live and learn, universities are supporting a thriving cycle of success.