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Higher Education
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Student Support

Actionable insights you can use to help students settle into their fall routine

Starting the fall college term can be a stressful time for students. New routines and increased responsibilities. New experiences and ever-changing emotions. Challenges like these can leave students feeling off-balance and anxious. As a student support professional, it’s important to understand what your students are going through in order to best support them. In this chapter of our Back to School 2022 series, learn how to help support students through this stressful time with five actionable tips you can put into play from day one.

Tip #1: Make support a normal part of the student experience

Student support needs to begin well before the student shows up for their first class. You want to create sustained engagement right from the initial point of inquiry. Coaching can be an excellent way to create more meaningful interactions that ensure student success. In fact, students who receive coaching are more likely to enroll, select the program that best fits their needs, remain in school and ultimately graduate. Helping students tap into existing school resources early on can improve the fit and readiness of incoming students. Letting students know that it’s OK to reach out for support helps normalize the act, making them more likely to connect in the future.

Tip #2: Assess the whole student — starting with asking questions

What’s the best way to learn more about a student’s academic future? Simple, ask them questions — especially questions about their life outside the classroom. Some students come to college with a clear idea of where they want to be, while others are still figuring it out. Becoming a better listener and being willing to dig deeper into areas of concern can take a student conversation into unexpected — and rewarding — new areas.

The factors that most affect a student’s ability to succeed in education can be grouped into eight core focus areas. It’s OK to go beyond surface level questions, digging deep to be able to better understand and help the whole student.

Finances: Concerns about money is the number one reason students leave school — and a large number leave because of issues under $500. Being able to talk about money matters can make the difference between moving on and dropping out.

Academics: Classes, study habits, homework, papers and tests all impact students in different ways. Asking the right questions and knowing how to respond can help smooth the way to success.

Health: When a student is struggling with health issues or dealing with the stress that comes from health issues related to their parents, other family members or their own kids, school can quickly take a backseat. Understanding and acknowledging this information increases the prognosis for success.

Career: For today’s students, earning a degree in order to parlay it into a career takes many forms. Some are just starting out. Others are using education for career advancement or switching to a new career altogether. This is an important part of any coaching conversation.

Graduation: More than two million students start college each year, but only half of them make it to graduation. What hurdles are they struggling with? Could be a class they can’t stand or severe test anxiety. Knowing what’s going on behind the scenes can help get them to graduation day.

Commitments: Gone are the days when going to college just meant attending classes, studying and taking tests. Today’s students are serving as college athletes, leading clubs, holding down jobs and dealing with family obligations. It’s a balancing act between school and life. Having a good sense of a student’s commitments can help them navigate their roadmap to success.

Effectiveness: Having systems in place to tackle all the demands of school — financial, academic, career and so on — is key. But what does that look like to the individual student? Good question — and one you’ll only learn by asking.

School Community: For traditional students, the school community runs the gamut from football games and Frisbee on the campus green to dorm activities and opportunities to volunteer. For adult and online students, it’s more about knowing who to ask for help and being proud of going back to school. Fitting in and belonging — whatever form that takes — is crucial for a student to succeed.

Tip #3:  Identify how different student populations benefit from support

When it comes to student support, there’s no such thing as one size fits all. While it’s important to have a united and cohesive approach, support teams have to develop and employ strategies that can readily adapt to the unique needs of specific student populations. What works for an 18-year-old traditional student may not be the best approach for a first-gen student or an adult student taking online courses. Support looks different for each type of student population.

What’s more, the reality is that the students who need the most support are often the ones least likely to receive it. Some don’t take the initiative to seek support. Others believe that since things are going OK, there’s no need for any kind of help. And for students who are overwhelmed and struggling, the perceived shame and stigma of asking for help can make them reluctant to reach out. Some student populations are less aware of the support resources available at today’s colleges and universities. First-generation students, for example, may have no idea that resources even exist — let alone how to access them. Adult students, on the other hand, may not understand the range of services available, since they’ve been away from the higher ed environment for years.

Tip #4: Create a robust online student support system

With today’s busier-than-ever schedules — especially for working adult online students — 9-to-5 office hours can limit the availability for students who most need support. Meeting students where they’re at — via email, cell phone and text — can actually increase engagement and improve their access to key student support resources. Technology doesn’t replace or detract from the traditional one-on-one interaction. It can actually make those interactions even stronger, allowing students to get other questions and concerns out of the way and save a face-to-face meeting for more meaningful interactions. Adding multichannel student support creates more opportunities for connection.

Tip #5: Remember that student supporters need support too

According to American novelist Anne Lamott, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” For student support professionals, this may be easier said than done. Working with college students all day — often in challenging, stressful situations — can be draining. You want to do the best you can, but sooner or later, the well begins to run dry.

That’s why we created a series of short Create Your Own System of Care videos to help you take a few minutes to relax and reset throughout the day. These brief videos show you how taking the time to take care of yourself — even if it’s just a few minutes each day — is critical in the work you do supporting students, as well as colleagues, family and yourself. So take a few deep breaths and push play. It’s time to create your own system of care.

Start the school year off right

Back-to-school can be a time of new beginnings, with the anticipatory excitement of starting a new chapter. Yet for students of all ages and backgrounds, it can also be a time of stress and uncertainty. Having student support tools at the ready for this unique time period can help ease the transition and set your students up for a successful year ahead.

Back-to-school challenges come in many forms, including anxiety and stress around issues related to equity. To help strengthen your equity and inclusion practices, our Senior Director of Learning and Development, Megan Breiseth, shares her insight on four practices to help you advance equity in student support.

Coaching solutions proven to advance all learners

Whether you’re looking to help students persist through completion or to improve career outcomes for job seekers and employees, our holistic coaching solutions can help you achieve meaningful outcomes.