Ecological Model

  • What makes some students, faculty, and staff healthy and others unhealthy?

  • How can we create a campus community in which everyone has a chance to be healthy and live long, healthy lives?

Healthy Campus 2020 explores these questions by emphasizing an ecological approach to improve student, faculty, and staff health. An ecological approach focuses on both population-level and individual-level determinants of health and interventions. It considers issues that are community-based and not just individually focused (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators [NASPA], 2004, p. 3). Health is determined by influences at multiple levels (e.g., public policy, community, institutional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal factors) (McLeroy, Bibeau, Steckler & Glanz, 1988, p. 355). Campus ecology provides a multifaceted view of the connections among health, learning, productivity, and campus structure.

Campus ecology identifies environmental factors and influences, which interact and affect individual behavior. These factors may be the physical setting or place, the human aggregate or characteristics of the people, organizational and social climate, and/or characteristics of the surrounding community. (NASPA, 2004, p. 7)

Because significant and dynamic interrelationships exist among these different levels of health determinants, interventions are most likely to be effective when they address determinants at all levels. Historically, the health field has focused on individual-level health determinants and interventions. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008, para. 18)

In the ecological model health status and behavior are the outcomes of interest (McLeroy, Bibeau, Steckler & Glanz, 1988, p. 355) and viewed as being determined by the following:

  • Public policy — Local, state, national, and global laws and policies.
    • Includes polices that allocate resources to establish and maintain a coalition that serves a mediating structure connecting individuals and the larger social environment to create a healthy campus. Other policies include those that restrict behavior such as tobacco use in public spaces and alcohol sales and consumption and those that provide behavioral incentives, both positive and negative, such as increased taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. Additional policies relate to violence, social injustice, green policies, foreign affairs, the economy, global warming.
  • Community — Relationships among organizations, institutions, and informational networks within defined boundaries.
    • Includes location in the community, built environment, neighborhood associations, community leaders, on/off-campus housing, businesses (e.g., bars, fast food restaurants, farmers markets), commuting, parking, transportation, walkability, parks.
  • Institutional factors — Social institutions with organizational characteristics and formal (and informal) rules and regulations for operations.
    • Includes campus climate (tolerance/intolerance), class schedules, financial policies, competitiveness, lighting, unclean environments, distance to classes and buildings, noise, availability of study and common lounge spaces, air quality, safety.
  • Interpersonal processes and primary groups — Formal and informal social networks and social support systems, including family, work group, and friendship networks.
    • Includes roommates, supervisors, resident advisors, rituals, customs, traditions, economic forces, diversity, athletics, recreation, intramural sports, clubs, Greek life.
  • Intrapersonal factors — Characteristics of the individual such as knowledge, attitudes, behavior, self-concept, skills, and developmental history.
    • Includes gender, religious identity, racial/ethnic identity, sexual orientation, economic status, financial resources, values, goals, expectations, age, genetics, resiliency, coping skills, time management skills, health literacy and accessing health care skills, stigma of accessing counseling services.

Ecological Approach

Ecological Approach

Adapted from McLeroy, K. R., Steckler, A. and Bibeau, D. (Eds.) (1988). The social ecology of health promotion interventions. Health Education Quarterly, 15(4):351-377. Retrieved May 1, 2012, from


McLeroy, K. R., Steckler, A. and Bibeau, D. (Eds.) (1988). The social ecology of health promotion interventions. Health Education Quarterly, 15(4):351-377. Retrieved May 1, 2012, from

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. (2004). Leadership of a healthy campus: an ecological approach to student success.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Secretary’s Advisory Committee. (2008, December 11). Phase I report: recommendations for the framework and format of healthy people 2020. Retrieved May 1, 2012, from

Further Reading / Resources

Bronfrenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge: Harvard Press.

Hochman, S., Kernan, W. (2011) A social-ecological model for addressing stress on the college campus. Retrieved May 9, 2012, from

Moses, K., Schoenfield, D., Swinford, P., Grizzell, J. (2011). Healthy campus: reintroducing the ecological model and collaboration for student learning outcomes(webinar). National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Health in Higher Education Knowledge Community.

National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and American College Personnel Association. (2004). Learning reconsidered: A campus-wide focus on the student experience. Washington, D.C.: National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and the American College Personnel Association. Retrieved May 1, 2012, from

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2010). A new way to talk about the determinants of health. Retrieved May 1, 2012, from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2011, November 15). Determinants of health. Retrieved May 1, 2012, from