Five Ways for Administration and Faculty to Support Student SuccessAngela Walmsley | Associate Professor of Mathematics, Concordia University Wisconsin
Students must be responsible for their own learning. They must put forth the time and effort in order to be as successful as possible. The famous phrase comes to mind: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”
Student success ultimately comes down to this: You can provide services and support, but students must make the ultimate decision to work as hard as needed to be successful. Having said that, there are a number of items that faculty and institutional leaders can do to ensure student success:
1. Learning Resource Center
The very first thing that should be available to all students is a learning resource center. Many universities have something like this but it isn’t always as fully functioning as I would prefer to see.
Ideally, the center should offer free tutoring and support in a variety of core subjects that multiple students take. For example, there should be a writing center that helps students with introductory rhetoric and speech classes. There should also be a math center that helps with introductory algebra, statistics and calculus courses. I would highly recommend some introductory science tutoring and business tutoring options also.
There should be enough tutors that an average student can get a weekly appointment if needed. I would also suggest tutoring options be available on weekends and not only during normal business hours.
Tutoring should also be available to all students through the LRC. Some programs only target minority students for free tutoring; others only target students who hold a certain GPA or lower. Others offer tutoring only for a few introductory courses, which doesn’t reach a broad enough student base.
For ALL students to be successful, ALL students must have access to these academic supports.
2. Improved Support Resources and Information
Having the programs also isn’t enough. Communication about services and encouragement by faculty is key. Students should be informed early on in a course about the possibilities for academic support. Professors should regularly encourage students to seek out these supports in order to be successful. Furthermore, professors should encourage ALL students to use the supports—sometimes the average or above average student uses tutoring opportunities the most!
Besides academic resources, universities should also offer programs that teach students how to be organized. There should be resources for students to discuss how they take notes, what they do to study, measures to help them not procrastinate, and other study skills that they may have not learned before. These programs can be provided in the form of mini courses, or the university could offer study skills counselors to meet with students. There can even be a peer counseling program where experienced and successful students work specifically with those struggling.
3. More Mentorship Programs
Mentoring students at an early stage can also definitely help with academic success and college success. Retention is directly affected by how students feel with the “fit” of their college in addition to how successful they are academically to stay at that institution. Offering a mentoring program to freshmen or transfer students is another way to help students be successful. We see this type of program often in K-12 schools (an 8th grade “buddy” for a new 5th or 6th grader to the middle school; or a 5th grade “buddy” to a Kindergartener); but we often don’t see this expand to opportunities at the college level. Institutional leaders should remember that despite age, someone who is at college for the first time might benefit very much from having a simple support from something like a peer mentoring program.
4. Non-Traditional Student Orientation and Support
Most of the supports I have listed above could benefit multiple types of students: “typical” 18- to 22-yar-old undergraduate students; transfer students; adult students; commuter students; etc. However, there is still the question of support for first-generation college students—many whom come to college at the traditional age, but also many who return to college as a mature adult. First-generation college students, regardless of their age, often do not have a background in what they can expect as a college student. Traditional-age students often come from families or high schools where going to college is regularly discussed. Many of these students come from families who expect their children to attend college, and who can offer stories of their own college experience.
First-generation college students can experience a very different preparation. They may be attending college without ANY prior knowledge of what to expect. They might be encouraged by their families, but they might also not be encouraged by their families to attend college. Their family might think they are wasting their time, and they should get a job instead. Universities must be able to support these students by having an orientation or preparation program to help set the stage for what college is like in addition to what expectations are needed to succeed. I would suggest that the orientation begin at the beginning of a semester but then continue to offer a year-long program of support. In addition, counselors should be available to discuss and encourage students’ decision to attend higher education. This should include statistics to back up salary information and success of previous graduates based on obtaining a college degree.
5. Improved Crisis Support Mechanisms
Lastly, universities should have a support mechanism for college students in crisis. We all know that a person cannot function well if they are in crisis in any way. This does not mean only offering counseling services. Universities should have a mechanism in place where students can contact a person in an emergency, and that person can help notify professors, and counsel the student on best options (withdrawing from some classes, completing classes at a later date, etc.). In addition, some universities have an “emergency fund” or “emergency housing” where students can apply for emergency money or housing if needed in a crisis situation. Rather than the student needing to contact multiple individual departments, professors, or an advisor, the student in crisis could contact an “Emergency Dean” or someone of that nature, any time of the day or night, and the mechanism kicks into place. The pressure of what to do and what options are available can affect a student in crisis so much that they have no idea what their next steps should be. Having a reassuring person help navigate the system and options available can result in a student ultimately being successful versus dropping out.
I have offered a number of options that institutions can implement to help their students be successful. But as I explained at the beginning, students must understand that options are available to them, but they must put forth the time and effort to utilize resources and be as successful as they can.
Author Perspective: Educator