SEL in Higher Education – An Overview

Social-emotional learning (SEL) has been increasingly recognized as a crucial component of education at all levels, including higher education. In recent years, colleges and universities in the United States have been implementing various SEL efforts to support students’ overall well-being and academic success. This article will explore what social-emotional learning is, how it is being implemented in higher education, and its potential benefits for students.

What is social-emotional learning?

Social-emotional learning is a process that enables individuals to develop and use social and emotional skills to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. These skills include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

How is social-emotional learning being implemented in higher education?

The implementation of social-emotional learning in higher education can take various forms. Some colleges and universities have integrated SEL into their curricula, while others have established SEL-focused programs or initiatives. Here are a few examples of SEL efforts in higher education:

  1. SEL-focused courses: Some colleges and universities have started offering courses that specifically focus on social-emotional learning. For instance, the University of Pennsylvania offers a course called “Positive Psychology: The Science of Well-Being,” which aims to help students develop practical strategies for enhancing their well-being and happiness.
  2. Student support services: Many colleges and universities have established student support services that aim to support students’ mental health and well-being. These services include counseling, health services, and wellness programs that provide students with resources and support to develop their social and emotional skills.
  3. Campus-wide initiatives: Some colleges and universities have implemented campus-wide initiatives that aim to promote social-emotional learning. For example, UCLA has an initiative called “Resilience in Your Student Experience” (RISE) that provides students with tools and resources to develop resilience and well-being. Similarly, Tufts University facilitates a Social-Emotional Learning and Civic Engagement (SEL-CE) initiative that focuses on equipping staff and faculty with both skills to build their own SEL skills as well as frameworks for integrating social and emotional skills into their pedagogy.
  4. Residential programs: Some colleges and universities have established residential programs that aim to support students’ social and emotional development. These programs provide students with opportunities to live in intentional communities, engage in community-building activities, and develop their social and emotional skills.

What are the benefits of integrating social-emotional learning in higher education?

Social-emotional learning can provide numerous benefits to college students. Here are a few potential benefits:

  1. Improved academic performance: Students who have developed their social and emotional skills may be better equipped to manage stress, set and achieve academic goals, and maintain motivation and engagement in their studies.
  2. Enhanced well-being: Social-emotional learning can help students develop resilience, manage their emotions, and build positive relationships, which can improve their overall well-being and mental health.
  3. Increased social and cultural competence: Developing social and emotional skills can also help students build empathy and understanding for others, develop cultural competence, and build strong interpersonal relationships.
  4. Improved job readiness: Employers increasingly value social and emotional skills in their employees. Developing these skills in college can enhance students’ job readiness and career prospects.

As social-emotional learning continues to become an increasingly important component of higher education, colleges and universities must continue to experiment with implementing various SEL efforts to support students’ social and emotional development and improve their overall well-being and academic success. By investing in social-emotional learning, colleges and universities can help prepare their students to thrive in college—and beyond.

For more information on SEL in higher education, view our research guide.

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