There Exist Proven Approaches to Non-Academic Student Support

Kevin Kruger, NASPA President
The Chronicle of Higher Education

To the Editor:

I would like to praise your article, “Meet Higher Education’s Newest Players: ‘Education Sherpas’” (The Chronicle, August 16), for pointing to the positive impact of providing non-academic student support to help learners navigate the complexities of the educational process. As the leading organization of student-support professionals, NASPA has long recognized the critical importance of offering students professional, non-academic support to help them define their long-term goals and develop a plan for achieving them.

It’s not that the concept of educational sherpas is new. Rather, the shifting demographics of today’s student population are fueling a new urgency behind the push to create networks of human capital devoted to student support. Today, more than 85 percent of undergraduates (approximately 15 million students) are post-traditional learners (i.e., adult learners, working adults, low-income students, commuters, and parents). What’s more, research has shown that the most prevalent reasons that students leave their institutions are non-academic challenges related to balancing work, family and other commitments or finding a sense of connection to the school community. The challenge for higher-education leaders is that the same students enrolling today at the highest rates — first-generation, low-income, and working adult students—are precisely those most likely to lack personal connections to others who have successfully completed post-secondary education.

To help solve for this disparity, colleges and universities are implementing an array of innovative new programs that offer students guidance on navigating the higher-education landscape and help them develop the skills needed for success.  From two-year programs such as the CUNY Accelerated Study in Associates Program (ASAP) to the Suder Foundation’s “First Scholar” initiative at six four-year universities, there is growing evidence of the powerful impact coaching and mentoring have in increasing degree persistence and completion for low-income and first generation students. Many campuses are working with outside partners, including nonprofits such as Beyond 12, which helps first-generation, low-income students bridge the gap from K-12 to higher education; or organizations like InsideTrack, which helps institutions build coaching programs that increase student enrollment, completion, and career readiness.  At the national level, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative recently launched the Up Next initiative, which provides first-generation students across the country with personalized information and encouragement about important college and financial aid resources and deadlines.

Promising and proven approaches exist. As the demography of higher education continues to change, non-academic support is evolving into as tightly integrated a component of the college experience as teaching and academic advising. The question moving forward will be whether this remains a homespun good or if higher-education leaders embrace non-academic coaching and mentoring as an essential component of their institutional strategy. Our recent experience suggests the latter.

Kevin Kruger
NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education

This originally appeared in The Chronicle for Higher Education on August 23rd, 2016

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