13 Small Liberal Arts Colleges Receive $3.275 Million to Tackle Student Mental Health

First phase planning and capacity grant designed as a precursor to a total of $8.5 million toward students’ well-being; St. John’s College among recipients.

Annapolis, Md./Santa Fe, N.M. [November 7, 2023] — To address what U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recognizes as “the defining public health crisis of our time,” 13 colleges have received $3.275 million in funding from the Endeavor Foundation for the first phase of “Enhancing Student Learning and Experience through Campus Wellness, Student Well-Being, and Mental Health Initiatives.” The multi-year collaborative project seeks both to respond to pressing needs and to integrate attention to mental health, well-being, and wellness throughout student learning.

“Student mental health issues represent an urgent challenge. These issues affect students in ways that prevent them from full participation in campus life and rob them of the precious sense of well-being which should be theirs. We hope that the Colleges’ work will help them transform their communities as well as inspire other institutions of higher learning to address challenges collectively,” said Julie Kidd, President of the Endeavor Foundation.

The colleges—including Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, OH; Bennington College in Bennington, VT; Blackburn College in Carlinville, IL; College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME; Northland College in Ashland, WI; Prescott College in Prescott, AZ; Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA; St. John’s College, Annapolis in Annapolis, MD; St. John’s College, Santa Fe in Santa Fe, NM; Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, VT; Unity Environmental University in New Gloucester, ME; Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC; and Wells College in Aurora, NY—have been convened as a group by the Endeavor Foundation since 2016.

Ashley Kidd, Vice President and Director of Programs at Endeavor, said that the original idea in bringing the colleges together was “to work together to raise the visibility of smaller liberal arts colleges by drawing attention to the strength of their student-centered approaches and to the deep, transformative learning that takes place on their campuses.” In recent years, she said, the focus for the colleges in the group, dubbed the “Endeavor Lab Colleges,” evolved into discussion about the many challenges facing higher education and small colleges even more acutely and the decision to take on one of them collectively and collaboratively.

“A strong future for higher education in the United States lies in collaboration, not competition,” said Julie Kidd. “We are confident that we will see in this emerging project the benefits of collaboration as the ELCs work jointly to tackle the pressing problem of student mental health challenges. I salute their courage and dedication in doing so. Their courage is indeed a source of inspiration for our work at Endeavor.”

Said Mark Roosevelt, President of St. John’s College in Santa Fe: “The Endeavor Foundation grant is offering us tools to help students overcome health issues so that they can thrive in their academic studies, their personal lives, and in their search for purpose and a meaningful life.”

“St. John’s College is grateful for the Endeavor Foundation’s path-breaking support for liberal education. Over the coming years we look forward to collaborating with our Endeavor Lab College partners to explore and address student mental health through the lens of individual and collective values, purpose, and meaning. This initiative supports individual health and community building to enhance the special mission of the liberal arts in developing critical thinking and a broad intellectual foundation,” said Nora Demleitner, President of St. John’s College in Annapolis. “As an institution dedicated to helping students find purpose and meaning in their lives, we have a responsibility to adequately support them in these challenging and life-defining efforts and this grant funding will be instrumental in support of those efforts.”

Phase I, which will unfold over two years, focuses on immediate capacity building at each of the institutions and the development of shared pilot projects within four thematic areas, including credit-bearing curricular initiatives related to mental health and well-being; explorations of purposeful life and work, including defining personal values and what it means to live a meaningful life; place-based experiential learning in non-traditional classroom spaces; and expanded services and supports for mental health and well-being, including community care, clinical and non-clinical interventions and approaches, peer counseling, and restorative justice.

Each participating institution has received $100,000 this year and will receive $75,000 next year for this institutional capacity building. The ELCs will also develop and implement a process for continued and deepening collaboration. The successful completion of phase I will provide access to $5.225 million over three additional years during which the schools will join forces to advance the most exciting and promising initiatives in one or more of the thematic areas. Together, they will develop programs and models that can be shared across the collaboration and to other liberal arts institutions.

“In this time when the value of higher education and of liberal arts education is regularly called into question, this project will show the power, relevance, and ingenuity of the liberal arts,” said Isabel Roche, Executive Director for Special Programs in Higher Education at Endeavor. “The Colleges’ shared commitment to attending to student and community needs around mental health, well-being, and wellness in expanded and new ways will allow for a fuller and more dynamic realization of the liberal arts ambition of educating the whole student, through greater integration, examination, and care for the other forms of self.”

“Many colleges and universities are driven to prepare their students for a particular job or professional role,” said Lori Collins-Hall, the grant project director and Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Sterling College. “Given the mental health crisis we are witnessing among young people on our campuses, we are united in our aim to equip students with the curiosity, creativity, interpersonal communication skills, resilience, and capacity for critical thought and self-efficacy that are essential for successful careers, meaningful lives, and engaged citizenship in today’s world.”


St. John’s College is the most distinctive liberal arts college in the country due to our interdisciplinary program, in which 200 of the most revolutionary great books from across 3,000 years of human thought are explored in student-driven, discussion-based classes. By probing world-changing ideas in literature, philosophy, mathematics, science, music, history, and more, students leave St. John’s with a foundation for success in such fields as law, government, research, STEM, media, and education. Located on two campuses in two historic state capitals—Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico—St. John’s is the third-oldest college in the United States and has been hailed as the “most forward-thinking, future-proof college in America” by Quartz and as a “high-achieving angel hovering over the landscape of American higher education” by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more at sjc.edu.

MEDIA CONTACT: Frank O’Mahony St. John’s College 505-455-6169 fomahony(at)sjc.edu