Getting students oriented and helping them succeed in college will be more difficult this year than ever before. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on every institution and individual in our society, and college students—especially at-risk and first-year—are going to need more support than ever to make sure they can focus on learning and earning their degrees. So now is a great time to beef up your student support services and make sure your institution is offering access to the help your students need.
7 Student Support Programs to Upgrade Your Services
Here are some ideas you can implement to add functionality to your student support initiatives:
- A Support Services Hub: Centralize support services information so there is one place to find all types of services. If possible, provide a concierge, perhaps a team within the student affairs office, to help students figure out which support services they need. The students who most need help may not be able to identify where to start.
- Integration with Academics: Work collaboratively with the faculty to understand and meet student needs. Because many of the academic deficits caused by the pandemic also have social and emotional components, it is imperative to work across the whole school to find and connect the support that students need to be emotionally healthy and succeed academically. Faculty may also be the first to notice students who are struggling, so they can be an essential partner to the support staff in identifying and referring students who need more assistance.
- Mental Health and Counseling: Now more than ever before, students are mentally exhausted, suffering from increased feelings of depression, loneliness, and hopelessness. Additional regular counseling services, crisis counseling, suicide prevention, substance abuse services, and proactive mental health outreach programming will likely be needed on all campuses. Expect students to be more emotionally vulnerable and reach out to them so it is easier for them to find and access the counseling they need.
- Academic Support: Many students either fell behind or struggled academically during hybrid or remote learning, so they may feel less prepared to thrive academically this year. In addition, the mental health strains of the pandemic impact students’ ability to succeed in their courses, with 65% of students feeling unmotivated and 58% having difficulty concentrating. Integrating academic, social, and emotional support services can help students regain their focus academically.
- Flexible Support and Learning Options: There is no getting around the fact that some students will get ill or need to quarantine due to exposure to Covid-19. All support services and courses need to be ready to pivot on a dime to serving students who must learn and seek support through an online connection. We know to expect the unexpected this year, and we need to keep all options for remote access to college available and flexible to accommodate public health and individual student needs.
- Mentoring and Career Services: By collaborating with the academic departments, support in the form of mentoring can be increased, with faculty, staff, and peers serving as mentors to help students feel connected to their studies and the campus community. Connecting the learning to careers can help students re-discover their motivation to study, so the career center may become an important element of support for students who are at-risk.
- Above and Beyond: At-risk students are struggling more than others this year, and colleges need to reach beyond their normal support functions to help students who are struggling the most. Food instability, lack of child care, and financial troubles are all obstacles for growing numbers of students. Explore connections to government assistance, local social service programs, financial services like emergency loans or grants, and other supports that will allow students to persist in their studies through this tough time.
For students to succeed, there are six factors identified by the RP Group: students need to be directed, focused, nurtured, engaged, connected, and valued. Student support can help bring these factors into play for students by connecting staff, faculty, and students in initiatives that are student-focused and utilize a framework to identify weaknesses in the support system. The success factors all require human connections and structures that encourage motivation, listening, and caring. Each institution may need different support interventions to support their unique student populations.
Putting It All Together
Student needs are greater, so support services will be busy this year and quite possibly into the next few years. College staff should find out what the various individuals and groups currently need from different college offices. Especially for at-risk students, support staff teams need to ask “what do you need to succeed?” and involve the students themselves in the planning for support service expansions that will most likely help students stay on track. Including diverse students in the process of identifying needs will lead to better connections between students and the supports that will keep them healthy, happy, motivated, and on track to graduate.