The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Is Workplace Wellness on the Way Out?

Workplace wellness programs are on the decline in higher education. At least that’s what the findings from CUPA-HR’s 2016 Higher Education Employee Healthcare and Other Benefits Survey show. Data from this year’s survey indicate that 56.8 percent of responding institutions offer a formal wellness program, down from 70 percent in 2012. The number of institutions that are planning to institute a wellness program has decreased by 30 percent over the last year, and the percentage of institutions with either a wellness budget or dedicated wellness staff has also shrunk markedly in the past year.

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Whether the decline is due to lack of participation, budget dollars having to be diverted elsewhere, lack of manpower to oversee such programs or a combination of any or all of these things, the research doesn’t say. However, with an increasingly aging workforce and continually rising healthcare costs, it would seem that employee wellness should be a front-burner priority.

Commenting on the survey findings, CUPA-HR President and Chief Executive Officer Andy Brantley said, “It is disappointing and quite alarming to see that institutions are dedicating fewer resources to support employee wellness. Every institution should be committed to creating a culture of wellness that encourages and promotes healthy lifestyles and helps employees identify and manage health risks. Choosing not to do so impacts our employees and the operating costs of our organizations.”

Other Benefits Survey Findings
Cost of Healthcare Benefits
The average annual total premium for all four plan types combined — preferred provider organizations (PPO), health maintenance organizations (HMO), point of service (POS) and high-deductible health plans (HDHP) — was $7,059 for employee-only coverage and $19,584 for employee + family coverage. The average percent change in total premium costs from 2015 to 2016 varied by plan type. For employee-only coverage, the largest increase was 4 percent. For employee + family coverage, the largest increase was 6 percent.

Healthcare Basics

  • PPO plans continue to be the plan of choice for a majority of institutions – 84 percent of respondents offer PPO plans. However, HDHPs continue to increase in popularity, with 54 percent of respondents offering this type of plan, up 8 percent from last year. Just seven years ago, only 17 percent of institutions surveyed offered HDHPs.
  • The number of institutions overall offering healthcare benefits to part-time staff and part-time faculty has declined by 4 percent over the last year (this year, it was 37 percent and 33 percent, respectively). Doctoral institutions were much more likely than other Carnegie types to offer healthcare benefits to part-time workers.
  • Roughly half of the respondents offer health benefits for retirees under 65, while roughly 40 percent do so for those over 65. More than half also pay part of the premium.
  • The number of institutions offering healthcare benefits for domestic partners has been increasing steadily. In 2005, only one quarter of institutions offered healthcare benefits to opposite-sex partners and only one-third offered them to same-sex partners. This year, those numbers have risen to 50 percent and 66 percent, respectively (much higher than in private industry).

New Legislation Likely to Impact Benefits Offerings on Campus
Two new pieces of legislation are likely to have an impact on benefits offerings going forward.

New Overtime Rule
The change to the Fair Labor Standards Act salary threshold, which goes into effect December 1 of this year, could impact benefits provisioning in a number of ways. The cost of compliance could force some institutions to cut benefits. Changes to flex time experienced by previously-exempt employees may affect participation in wellness activities. And because exempt and non-exempt employees may be on different payroll cycles, the benefits deductions, leave accruals and accrual limits for employees who switch exempt status will have to be adjusted accordingly, which could be messy and costly.

Same-Sex Marriage
Now that same-sex couples have the right to marry, we may see the gap between same-sex and opposite-sex healthcare benefit offerings shrink. Indeed, we may see more institutions opting out of offering any form of domestic partner benefits.

To see an overview of this year’s findings or to order results for CUPA-HR’s 2016 Higher Education Employee Healthcare and Other Benefits Survey, visit

To cite any of the information contained in this blog, please reference the following: Bichsel, Jacqueline, and Calcagno, Maria. CUPA-HR 2016 Report of Higher Education Employee Healthcare and Other Benefits. Research report. Knoxville, TN: CUPA-HR, July 2016. Available from


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