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Designing the ‘Gold Standard’ for the Thriving University

What if you designed a university to support students’ well-being?

Growing student anxiety and mental wellness are gaining attention of higher education leaders as they consider how these challenges impact both the student experience and student success.  Watching this emerging landscape closely, the Milken Institute’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy invited the Lab to convene in New York City with a group of education experts and innovators to discuss the promising practices of a ‘Thriving University.’

Alongside leadership at GMU’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being and leaders from representatives from Gallup, Minerva, the Council for Independent Colleges, University Innovation Alliance, and others, the Lab asked leaders to identify the intellectual, social, and emotional competencies of a ‘Thriving Student,’ alongside the practices, programs, and interventions known to cultivate these qualities. Inspired by research findings delivered across the morning, teams shared transformative practices like creating opportunities for students to learn and use design thinking, badging curriculum that helps students develop resilience, mindfulness and meditation training, and strong faculty and staff relationships as all contributing to the thriving student.


The Lab asked participants to consider the analogy of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building standards, which have “started a movement” toward eco-friendly commercial construction. What practices and supports for the thriving student could set the bar for a ‘Gold Standard’ Thriving University and how might we build those conditions on campus. Teams shared the critical importance of visible and consistent campus leadership in the success of any institution-wide initiative, further suggesting the importance of grounding practices and campus change around students, and the role that technology plays in helping to scale personalized student support. Energized by the possibilities ahead resulting from a “Thriving University Standard”, teams contributed to a roadmap of potential pathways to build a movement, spark organic support and research to win institutional support.