Support for outside-of-school issues comes to campus

On-site resources at one rural college help students stay focused on their education

The Insight: Many students at a rural community college were experiencing difficult circumstances outside of school, such as housing and food instability and limited access to medical care. Without the support needed to address these issues, these challenges impacted students’ academic performance, leaving many at risk of dropping out.

The Improvement: Leadership at the community college embarked on a new effort to better support students in crisis. They incorporated several changes that would offer students on-site assistance and develop long-term solutions to addressing students’ nonacademic needs.

Many stories about the roadblocks faced by rural students focus on small town undergrads who suddenly find themselves on bustling, cosmopolitan campuses. Unfamiliar with higher education’s culture and customs, these students often have to acquire new ways of learning and communicating at the same time that they’re acclimating to the demands of college life.

But rural students who stick close to home can face challenges of their own. Soon after InsideTrack began partnering with a rural community college in 2017, the college’s leadership identified a need to better respond to students facing crisis.   

Located in a geographic area where almost a quarter of people lived below the poverty line — and where the poverty rate for children under the age of 18 was nearly 30 percent — many students at this college experienced the detrimental effects of economic instability, such as homelessness, food insecurity, legal challenges and irregular employment.

The circumstances of particular students had come to staff’s attention — such as the student who completed his degrees while living in his pick-up truck — and many staff tried to help using their own time and means.

“But the college recognized that it needed to more systematically and equitably respond to students facing crisis,” said Kate Reilly, operations manager at InsideTrack.

Although the college was committed to supporting the success of their students, existing student services didn’t easily map onto these kinds of outside-of-school challenges. Studies show that nonacademic issues are among the primary reasons that students leave school. For traditional-aged students, finances and health round out the top four drop reasons. Finding a way to address the crises brought on by students’ financial and health challenges was therefore key to improving persistence and graduation outcomes at the school.

Through a close partnership between college leadership and the InsideTrack team, the college introduced the following changes to provide enhanced support for students:

  • A new partnership with a mobile crisis unit to come to the campus and/or students’ residences at no charge to treat students and staff
  • Training for all college faculty and staff on Mental Health First Aid to introduce trauma-informed approaches to supporting the campus and community
  • Formal data collection on the needs of their students to inform future investments by the college

InsideTrack’s partners at this institution are the first to acknowledge that supporting students facing a potential crisis is directly tied to student success and retention.

“Moreover, campus leadership believes that meeting their students’ needs is the right thing to do to uphold their institutional mission and serve their community,” Reilly said.

With supplemental support from InsideTrack on introducing and implementing these changes, this college is able to offer more effective interventions to ensure students have everything they need to pursue their higher education dreams.

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