Provost's Newsletter – November 2018

A Message from Jay

Provost Jay


Dear Colleagues,

As we approach the end of our semester, levels of stress, pressure and anxiety are elevated for our faculty and staff, and especially for our students. Our freshman students are facing their first college finals, end of semester deadlines loom, graduate students are defending theses and dissertations ... these and other factors, many unrelated to their academic program, make this an especially challenging time of year — and a time of concern for their well-being. More broadly, the health and well-being of students is arguably one of the most pressing concerns facing higher education institutions today — especially student mental health and well-being. The Center for Collegiate Mental Health has documented 30-40 percent increases in five-year demand for services (2015), and continued growth in anxiety and depression cases (2017).

Some of the significant increases in demand for mental health services at Purdue are documented in the article on our own CAPS in this newsletter. Recent data show a two-year increase of 91 percent in fall 2018 “on-call” visits (students seen immediately, without an appointment, due to urgency). Historically, approximately 9 percent of the total student enrollment at Purdue use CAPS services on an annual basis.

Looking forward, the arrival of Generation Z on campuses suggests several generational characteristics as described by Jean M. Twenge in the 2017 book “iGen” and others. These characteristics may lead to increasing levels of mental health challenges facing college students. Examples include:

  • They are career-driven, and want to align their collegiate experiences directly with their future.
  • They are fiscally conservative and concerned with the cost of education and their personal debt levels.
  • They want a clear path forward, unlike students who relished exploration.

This combination of increased demand for mental health services with coming generational changes drives a need for a deeper understanding and response to overall student well-being. How can we best support our students during their time at Purdue? At the same time, what can we do to help best prepare them for the world they will move into after graduation?

We have made significant investments in mental health support, hiring 13 new staff clinician lines over the past four years for a total of 29 therapists. The new WellTrack mental wellness app has been rolled out (described further in the CAPS article). That said, the challenges our students face are complex: Some need the therapy a licensed mental health clinician can supply, while others may need a different form of support or counseling: about a financial matter, about an academic issue, etc. And we have staff supporting these kinds of needs as well. Beyond such support, what can we do to help our students cultivate their abilities to seek out solutions and address their challenges personally — helping them build what some call grit, hardiness, persistence, perseverance, and self-efficacy?

To explore these questions, we have convened a small group to begin thinking about how we cultivate and promote a skill set such as grit or hardiness in all of our students. What can we do to better equip them to confront and manage challenging situations? How can we help our students build a network of resources they can call on when needed? What set of training, coaching, and support will help us meet students where they are and give them access to what they need to build confidence in their abilities to thrive in a challenging and complex world?

We are very early in the process of pulling together some ideas, and you will be hearing more about the work of this group. Many of you already are helping our students navigate the challenges of a Purdue education. We need your input. We also will need assistance from every corner of campus as we develop these ideas further. In the end, helping our students cultivate resilience or hardiness will be something that starts with BGR (or perhaps even before), and will run through Commencement (and of course, all of this is relevant for our graduate students as well). If you have an interest in the initiative, let me know and we will make sure you are included as we move ahead.

In the meantime, thanks for all you will do to support our students — graduate and undergraduate — as they work to finish this fall semester strong. 

All the best,


November 2018

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