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A Board of Trustees committee approved funding for ongoing wellness initiatives

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The Student Affairs Committee of Pitt’s Board of Trustees approved at its June 17 meeting a schedule of fee increases that will directly support student health and well-being on campus. The increase in the student wellness fee will directly provide students with expanded wellness resources as well as support the opening of the new Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.

Development of the center was first announced last year and is a direct response to Pitt students’ requests for enhanced recreational experiences. Students remain key stakeholders in the process, which began with the formation of a student advisory board to give students a platform to share their insights. 

“We're fulfilling a need,” said Vice Provost for Student Affairs Kenyon Bonner. “Our community told us we were lacking in our campus recreational and wellness services, programs and facilities.”

Full-time students on the Pittsburgh campus will see a $50 increase per year in their student wellness fee during the next two academic years, 2022-23 and 2023-24, raising the mandatory fee from $460 to $560. Part-time students will see a $25 per year increase. Beginning in the fall of 2025 or when the new facility opens, in addition to the wellness fee, a new facility fee will be established and charged to all full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students annually. This fee amount will be determined closer to implementation. With the exception of Pitt-Titusville, regional campuses will also see an increase in student health-related fees to support wellness initiatives on their campuses.

Bonner recognized that the increase may be “a little jarring,” but noted that this approach is the most appropriate and feasible way to pay for the increased demand of wellness resources as well as a facility of this caliber. It’s also in line with how other institutions fund student recreation centers and student unions.

“Our goal is to be proactive and prepared to evolve and pivot with our students to meet their needs,” said Bonner. “We’re innovating and building for the future by integrating recreation and wellness with health education under one roof. The fee increase will allow us to scale up to support a larger facility and its holistic and wellness departments, initiatives and programs.”

The additional revenue will also support hiring new staff members needed to meet the increase in wellness service needs and to open and operate the facility and deliver exceptional care and services to students.

Increasing student wellness support

The wellness fee increase will provide immediate funding for enhancements to a variety of programs and services that current students will benefit from, said Dean of Students Carla Panzella.

“Part of what the fee supports, part of the work we’re doing, is addressing mental health and wellness issues due to the pandemic,” she said.

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has taken a toll on college students. According to a 2020 study, mental health is an increasing concern among this “vulnerable population,” with 71% of students indicating increased stress and anxiety due to COVID-19 and 91% reporting negative impacts of the pandemic, among other challenges and the usual college stressors.

We’re trying to approach this systematically in a way that ensures students have access to the type of support they need at the time that they need it,” said Panzella. “We are continuing to develop those resources.”

The funds will also support groundbreaking technology and facilities that promote emotional and mental wellness, said Jay Darr, who has led the University Counseling Center since 2019 and has recently assumed the role of associate dean of students for wellness.

The fees will help enhance our peer support services for mental health and well-being and look at additional care for students who have urgent or crisis needs and concerns,” he said.

A portion of the University Counseling Center will be housed within the center and contain designated psychiatric staff. The facility will also be home to the PantherWELL Peer Health Educators program, a stress-free zone and vendors focused on reducing food insecurity within the University community. Darr’s team is also exploring opportunities to fund graduate and professional student programs in the center to develop a pipeline to increase staff diversity.

Darr predicts students will quickly see the benefits of this holistic approach to wellness.

Our services, particularly expansion around peer support, will increase the variety of support and programs available to students,” he said.

Panzella said the center will be a place that current and future generations of students can enjoy.

“It’s not going to be outdated 10 years from now,” she said. “This is a hub for students and, in many ways, it’s going to be the functional, state-of-the-art heart of the campus.”

Added Bonner: “We’re building this space to bring our community together and ensure our diverse students, faculty and staff can engage and feel valued. This center will serve as a connector throughout campus, and that’s what’s really exciting.”


— Kara Henderson