An Examination of Service Utilization Regarding Integrative Wellness Services on Campus

Thomas, Nicole, Higher Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Inkelas, Karen, Leadership, Foundations & Policy, University of Virginia

Mental and physical health concerns are a tremendous barrier for college student success, both academically and in their personal development (Anderson, 2015). Traditionally, campuses have provided resources and programming to address these issues across a variety of offices such as Student Health, Counseling Centers and Health Promotion (Benson-Tilsen & Cheskis-Goldhigher, 2017). However, with increased depression and suicide rates over the past decade, institutions have explored creative ways to bring these services together, physically in the same facility with a focus on integrated programming (National Institutes of Mental Health, 2018; Fullerton, 2011). The goal of these new wellness centers is to drive utilization and reduce the stigma associated with seeking help as the model shifts towards preventative and holistic care (Benson-Tilsen & Cheskis-Goldhigher, 2017).

A four-year, medium-sized, highly residential, public university on the east coast of the United States commissioned an integrative center in 2018 that would centralize health and wellness services on campus. Both the architectural firm and the university were interested in evaluating the process of co-location integration for students and staff. Using a service utilization framework, this project addresses the following question: How are student and staff perceptions of wellness influenced by a combination of wellness locations and services on a college campus? The supporting subset of items include: 1) What do students identify as reasons for utilizing or not utilizing the center? 2) Are students more proactive or preventative in addressing their health-related needs than they were previously? 3) Do students consider their wellness more holistically than before the center’s existence? 4) How are wellness staff members approaching their work in the new integrative wellness center space? 5) Are staff more collaborative across units now that they after co-location?

To explore these questions, I conducted surveys before and after the new facility opened with over 7,000 students and 90 staff members. I also conducted four focus groups, with 14 students and two focus groups with seven staff members. I used key process evaluation indicators to collect and analyze the data, producing themes to describe student and staff utilization and perceptions of wellness services on the campus.

From the mixed methods data analysis process, I categorized findings in two critical areas for both the pre and post-survey phases: student engagement and staff collaboration. Additionally, I explored self-assessments from student and staff members about their wellness status in the pre-survey phase. A third finding regarding the effects of design and co-location on utilization and a fourth finding of challenging perceptions affecting utilization emerged from the post-survey and focus groups in phase two. Several considerations for discussion amongst administrators and practitioners also emerged as essential lessons as colleges and universities innovate and expand their wellness services to provide for the needs of current and future students. This work informs the design of future spaces as the shift toward promoting health and wellness integration continues within higher education environments.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
wellness, student development, service utilization
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
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