Help Along the Way, Part II

Marjorie Malpiede / July 10, 2018

In our last issue, we profiled advocacy organizations that are changing the way colleges and universities are addressing the emotional and behavioral health of students. Our continuing series looks at their partners — the trade organizations that support, inform, and convene the professionals in the field.

The American College Health Association (ACHA)
THE annual conference of the American College Health Association (ACHA) is a must-attend event for anyone in the field of student health and wellness – from campus health center directors to alcohol and drug coordinators to health promotion and counseling center staff. Sought-after destinations like Austin, San Francisco and DC help pump up registration but the crowds each year reflect the convening power of the nation’s leading trade organization for professionals in college student health and wellness.

Founded in 1920 with a group of 20 schools to promote campus health care for students, today, the ACHA’s membership represents over 1,100 institutions, and is the principal leadership organization for advancing the health of college students through advocacy, education, and research.

The ACHA represents both two and four-year schools, public and private institutions, and its members represent the student health and wellness needs of more than 10 million college students. ACHA has nearly 3,000 college health care professionals of all disciplines.

This past fall, ACHA hosted its first Mental Health Summit with a robust agenda of panels and speakers focused on what has become the most pressing issue in this field – emotional and behavioral health.

“We wanted to highlight what has been one of the most concerning issues to our members and we found that mental health and wellbeing are key areas they are struggling with,” said Dr. Devin Jopp, ACHA’s Chief Executive Officer.
Jopp called the Mental Health Summit the first wave of engagement on the topic – meant to raise awareness and acknowledge challenges.

This year’s event will focus on the proactive aspects of wellbeing and how to address upstream factors that impact student health and wellbeing.

In addition to its forums, the ACHA is also an enormous resource for student health research, including the oft-cited National College Health Assessment (NCHA). The national survey began as a service to members and has evolved through various versions. ACHA is now finalizing revisions for the third iteration, the NCHA-III, testing the new version of the instrument in Spring 2019 to be implemented in the Fall of 2019.

The NCHA is designed to be a glimpse into the health and wellness of the student body, with the potential to identify areas on campus that need further, more in depth examination. ACHA’s member institutions distribute the survey to their students as often as they need, usually every other year or every three years, depending on the types of analysis they plan to do.

The changes to the NCHA have evolved as college health, and all that is included in that term, has also changed. In the NCHA-III, ACHA has built in new measures to gather better information about well-being, resiliency, loneliness, and food insecurity.

The new tool continues to use a suicide risk scale, an anger risk scale, and a screening test for alcohol, smoking, and substance use. When students indicate use of alcohol or other drugs, the NCHA includes additional questions about the impact it has had on them, including whether others have encouraged them to cut down, or if they have tried and been unable to decrease the frequency or amount they’re drinking.

ACHA recently launched a faculty and staff health assessment to ensure the wellbeing of those who teach, care for and interact with students.

According to Mary Hoban, ACHA’s Chief Research Officer, in an era where campus policies and climate are examined for their role in student health and wellbeing, the health of the faculty and staff can’t be ignored.

Of the faculty and staff survey, Hoban said, “We can’t really talk about the health of the community, the campus community as an overall environment without addressing faculty and staff, too."

The ACHA’s forthcoming research initiative, “The Connected College Health Network,” will be a data warehouse that integrates information from various sources to allow for more connections to be made between data points.

Data will be pulled from sources that include the NCHA, insurance claims, and medical records. Additionally, the ACHA plans to start creating institutional profiles for its member institutions.

The institutional profile will include information like the number of students served at the health center, the services offered, how many health and wellness staff are employed full time, the number of treatment rooms available, whether students health insurance is offered through the school, whether telehealth or tele counseling is offered, health and wellbeing resources available on campus, and campus policies that support wellness.

Over time, the goal is that the Connected College Health Network will allow for connections to be made between, for instance, school policy and behavioral health outcomes. Furthermore, it is expected to yield insights into the correlation between student health and wellness and student retention, success and progression.

Jopp believes tools such as these will provide greater support for its members who are overwhelmed with the challenges of addressing students’ emotional and behavioral health and looking to groups like ACHA, along with NASPA and the American Council on Education (ACE), for best practices, guidance, and advice.

“I think this is going to take an army of folks working together to try and solve this,” he said.

On October 8th and 9th, ACHA will hold the Student Health Innovation & Leadership Summit on the topic of wellbeing. The two-day forum will look specifically at upstream efforts underway that enhance student wellbeing and will feature a track that addresses how universities are addressing food insecurity and campus homelessness.

The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA)
NASPA is the country’s leading organization for college student affairs professionals.

For a hundred years, under previous names (including the National Association of Deans and Advisers of Men), NASPA has been supporting students in “their intellectual, social, moral, and personal development.”

From the beginning, NASPA has provided a unique focus not simply on institutions of higher education, but on the young people who are being educated, trained and developed within them.

Like the evolution of its name, NASPA, the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, has changed with the times. The 15,000-member professional development, advocacy, and research organization is more relevant today than ever as student-centered issues such as sexual assault and Title IX, behavioral health, and student equity have risen to the top of the priority lists of most college and university presidents.
NASPA supports the administrators who support the students which, NASPA President Kevin Kruger says, presents a clear alignment of goals.

“The people NASPA represents have chosen higher education because they want to be involved in creating positive learning environments for college students and the coming of age period they experience,” said Kruger. “This is such a critical developmental stage for young adults and supporting students in their emotional and behavioral development is enormously important to our members.”

NASPA’s work in community-building, research, convening, and advocacy has increasingly focused on how colleges are supporting students’ behavioral health.

The organization has been instrumental in making the connection between student health and wellness and academic achievement for all students.

“If you think about student success on a national level, which has been articulated as supporting persistence to completion, some of this involves supporting low-income and first general students and some of it is helping those students who are struggling in other facets of their lives.”

Through its national conferences, research, and the newly-created position of Vice President for Health and Well-making initiatives, NASPA is examining student behavioral health through a number of lenses, including ensuring that there are adequate professionals who are able to deal with the more serious psychological issues of today’s students.

“We’re urging campuses to think of this from a more holistic standpoint, linking the health centers with the wellness and recreation efforts,” said Kruger.

NASPA’s recent advocacy work has included addressing sexual violence on campus at a time when the enforcement strength of Title IX has come into question under the Trump administration.

“We feel it is more important than ever to emphasize the work that is being done on campus to address sexual violence — to support victims of sexual violence and to ensure a fair and equitable process acknowledged by the federal government.”

For many years now, NASPA has made alcohol and drug use a major part of its agenda. It will continue to do so in light of the continued tragedies and challenges in this area.

Kruger recently met with 16 sets of parents whose sons all died in alcohol-related incidents, many due to hazing rituals among fraternities.

“While we have made progress in some of the aspects of high-risk drinking, we are losing too many young men to these tragedies and we’re still transporting too many students to the hospital. This is a place where we really feel we have to do more work.”