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Student Support

What will drive 2020’s innovations? The tried-and-true fundamentals of student support.

Before auld acquaintance with 2019 is completely forgot, we invite you to take one last look at the news and views that shaped the past year in higher education. Then swivel your head around and set your sights on the future. Last year’s perspectives are giving us 10 higher ed trends to watch in 2020.Plus, get the InsideTrack take with our New Year’s Resolutions: 10 pledges we’re making to promote student success in these changing times.

Trend 1.  Cost is about a lot more than tuition

Despite ample political chatter, free college tuition is still a long way from becoming the norm. But as more College Promise-type programs take hold and access to higher education continues to expand, the conversation about college costs is moving beyond tuition talk. More attention is being paid to the rising costs of surviving and thriving as a student — like food, housing and tech necessities like laptops and broadband access. While the bills for these items don’t always come from the Registrar, institutions are starting to explore ways that meeting these needs is part of the bigger picture of student support.

InsideTrack New Year’s Resolution #1

Recognize that financial support is not the only kind of support students need to succeed — but that financial coaching and education are critical services that all institutions should provide.

Trend 2.  Talking about “at risk” students? That’s so 2019.

California made news in late 2019 when it passed a law replacing “at-risk” with “at-promise” in education code. The change goes deeper than a single word — and reflects a new approach that goes beyond one state. Focusing on student’s strengths, no matter their circumstances and challenges, opens new possibilities for learners and institutions. That change in mindset has the power to amplify the unique advantages each individual brings to their higher education journey. For instance, a study of first-generation students found that they were stronger in campus engagement, and in recognizing the value of higher education, than their non-first-gen peers. A strengths-based lens shifts the focus of support away from trying to prevent failure to encouraging an expectation for success — which can make a profound impact on institutional outcomes.

InsideTrack New Year’s Resolution #2

Reframe the conversation to celebrate the assets all students bring to the institutional community — and make sure every institution is prepared to meet students where they are.

Trend 3.  Going the extra mile(s) to support rural students

Rural college students (and young people from these areas who are conspicuously not in college) got a lot of attention in 2019 — likely because the results of too little attention came to light. The college enrollment and completion gap between rural and urban areas continues to persist, even as more jobs in some rural areas are requiring college degrees. While many factors have contributed to lower degree attainment in rural areas, a lack of awareness and opportunity could be a major culprit. Keep an eye out for efforts to address this in the coming college recruitment cycle. By increasing outreach in rural high schools and communities, colleges can promote greater access and inclusivity for rural students — and find a promising new pool of prospective applicants.

InsideTrack New Year’s Resolution #3

Help rural students tap into regional opportunities and expand their college and career possibilities through proactive, one-on-one support.

Trend 4.  Completion stats aren’t the end of the story

It’s not just the higher education journey that’s changing — the destination is shifting too.Take completion stats, for instance. More information has surfaced about who’s graduating and who’s not — and, perhaps more importantly, what it takes to get non-completers to finish what they started. At the same time, the definition of “completion” may be changing in important ways. The parchment paper diploma is an enduring symbol of graduation. But for some students, attaining a certificate first may be a more valuable form of completion. This new approach to completion ensures the door is never closed to college success.

InsideTrack New Year’s Resolution #4

Uncover the specific challenges that each student faces on the way to graduation, and discover how to get those who have left back on the right path.

Trend 5.  The nuances of nudging

Nobody likes a robocall, and most of us opt-out from unwanted emails and texts. So in a sense, it’s not surprising that educators are taking another look at the effectiveness of nudging campaigns. Last year, a major study found that nudges encouraging students to complete their FAFSA forms were less effective for large groups of students. When combined with other findings, the takeaway seems to be that the theory behind nudging is based on sound principles, but if a nudge feels too generic, it’s not going to work. The trick now is to scale nudging and other interventions in a way that supports as many students as possible, but maintains enough of a personal connection to ensure nudges have the desired impact.

InsideTrack New Year’s Resolution #5

All forms of student support — from digital nudges and alerts to in-person chats — need to be grounded in the same foundation of personal connection and trust.

Trend 6.  The skill of the chase

Choosing a major is a time-honored (and often angst-ridden) college tradition. But what seems so fraught during the undergrad years is much less important in the professional world. More educators and employers are considering whether majors and even degrees best capture what students learn in higher education — and what workers need to thrive in their careers. There’s a growing movement to make learning outcomes more visible to potential employers, emphasizing skills in addition to more traditional signs of achievement. That could be illuminating for students, too, who may be surprised to recognize the full breadth of professional skills they picked up in their literature class.

InsideTrack New Year’s Resolution #6

Bring together employers and educators to bridge the skills gap and create better outcomes for all.

Trend 7.  Mentor matchmaking

Sometimes, advice means more when it’s coming from someone who’s been in your shoes. One of those times, it turns out, is the precarious period spanning college application season to the start of the college experience. While counselors and advisors offer valuable guidance, students may register it more when they hear it from someone who’s navigated the same circumstances and challenges. Near-peer mentoring is becoming a powerful tool to support students throughout the entire higher education journey. It’s a win-win. For institutions, training student peers and near-peers to serve as mentors unlocks a new support resource. At the same time, students get the benefit of real-world knowledge from someone they trust.

InsideTrack New Year’s Resolution #7

Provide one-on-one support to more students by turning more members of the institutional community into skilled coaches and mentors.

Trend 8.  Online education: Beyond the digital classroom

Digital instruction continues to evolve. But now innovations in student support and the student experience are keeping pace with academic advances. Online students experience distinct challenges in completing their degrees — struggles managing outside commitments, for example, or difficulty in connecting to the school community. Accordingly, institutions are recognizing that online students need support services tailored to their circumstances. Those services are increasingly taking different forms. Some are focused on developing novel ways to re-imagine the traditional college experience. Some are expanding the availability of existing services. And others are getting back-to-basics, ensuring that all students can access critical resources.

InsideTrack New Year’s Resolution #8

Align students and staff on expectations and priorities, to ensure online learners have the support they want and need.

Trend 9.  In-person, online, and in between

More and more, what we call “online education” encompasses a variety of formats, experiences and delivery methods. Courses can be hybrid or entirely digital. Students can enroll in remote programs thousands of miles from home, or can mix it up with a combination of online and in-person courses. But even students whose coursework is entirely online crave community and connection. In fact, the more digital we get, the more valuable that rare face-to-face interactions become. Institutions are creating more opportunities for students to pursue educational experiences in real life. Whether they’re at a networking event, on a study abroad trip, or just gathering in a local cafe, today’s online students are here, there and everywhere.

InsideTrack New Year’s Resolution #9

Stay tuned to online students’ needs; at times, they may need to trade in convenience for the impact of in-person connections.

Trend 10.  Second that emotion

While the increase in students experiencing stress and other mental health challenges is cause for concern, one silver lining is that the stigma discussing these issues seems to be fading. Supporting mental wellness has become a priority for institutional leaders, thanks in part to the research and advocacy groups shedding light on mental health’s impact across higher education. From community colleges to graduate programs, depression, anxiety and other struggles are bringing new urgency to the need for better mental health resources. With support from these services, all students will have a better chance at persisting, graduating, and going on to lead fulfilling lives.

InsideTrack New Year’s Resolution #10

When resources are limited, connect with local services and other providers to help students through mental and emotional health crises.

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