by Nate Goore & Mark Miller

Attitudes towards wellness have changed the way colleges and universities program and design spaces serving the wellness needs of their students. In this context, MKThink initiated a study to quantify the impact that specific physical and environmental attributes of college and university campuses have on student health and academic performance.

Primary and secondary research provided information from higher education institutions nationwide. Campus attributes were categorized by physical aspects of the campus, composition of its student body, environmental factors, and characteristics of the urban context, and correlated with student wellness data sourced from the NCHA and CORE Alcohol and Drugs surveys, as well as schools’ own student health assessment. Our findings suggest, among other things, that specific campus attributes, such as the number of on-campus residents, pedestrian friendliness and the presence of preventive health programs, correlate with improved wellness. In addition, we have found that the campus’ physical attributes have a more significant impact on mental and emotional health and academic performance than on physical health.


Key findings include:

-Larger campuses have higher graduation rates

-Campuses with high student density have lower graduation rates

-More Student time spent on campus correlates with lower general health problems and effects of depression

-Higher percentages of students living on campus correlates with higher graduation rates

-Students in urban and high density environments show fewer general health problems than their suburban counterparts, but a higher impact of depression

-Participation in preventive health programs and exercise has a significant impact on improved health and wellness across all dimensions

The findings of this study offer specific directions for college and university administrators looking to improve student wellness on campus, and provide campus planners for mitigation opportunities to exert a higher impact on student health through planning, design, and proactive response to specific campus attributes. Our results can also be used to assess the wellness impact of specific campus initiatives and prioritize future investment.