Too many students are likely to feel isolated and lack a sense of support or belonging in college, according to Dr. Peter Felten, assistant provost for teaching and learning at Elon University.
To address the problem, he suggests refocusing faculty, staff and peer relationships in an effort to improve students’ overall wellbeing and graduation rates.
“By doing this, we are putting our students as whole humans in the center of our work and empowering them to be agents of their education,” said Felten, who is also the executive director of the Center for Engaged Learning and professor of history at Elon. “When we do that, I think we will really help them achieve their dreams.”
Oakton Community College, for example, has launched the Persistence Project to develop relationship rich education. In the first three weeks of a semester, faculty members aim to learn students’ names, hold one-on-one conferences and provide feedback on assignments.
Other equity-minded approaches to student success were discussed during the second day of Achieving the Dream’s (ATD) 2021 virtual conference Wednesday.
As institutions take steps to address systemic racism, Dr. Laura I. Rendón, professor emerita at the University of Texas-San Antonio, emphasized the need to be concerned about “matters of race.”
She suggested implementing trauma-informed and anti-racist pedagogies to foster equity and inclusion within the classroom.
Faculty should also be knowledgeable about the available resources on campuses for students. Simply asking students “how are you?” can also create a lasting impact, said Felten.
“Students are not asking us to solve all their problems,” he said. “Students are not asking us to be everything for them. Students are asking us to be human with them and to acknowledge their humanity.”
Rendón discouraged faculty members from holding on to the narrative that supporting students equates to “coddling and pampering” them.
“When I think about strong students, I think about those students that indeed have received our care and concern,” she said. “We are not talking about making students weaker, we are actually talking about making students stronger.”
Given the changes to the learning landscape due to COVID-19, administrators must also look at ways to offer professional development opportunities.
At Southwest Tennessee Community College, faculty and staff are given credit for engaging in training sessions.
“It is vitally important that we don’t pile on to our faculty and staffs’ workload but we figure out how to be innovative enough to integrate professional learning as a top priority,” said Dr. Jacqueline Taylor, associate vice president of retention and student success at Southwest. “It starts with leadership.”
Outside of student success, another session focused on the college promise movement.
Using a report from the Educational Testing Service (ETS), College Promise programs were analyzed through the lens of traditional‐age students, adult students, undocumented students, student veterans, and incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students.
To financially sustain the program, potential sources of funding include local, state and federal government as well as philanthropic organizations and corporations.
As part of the report, students offered suggestions on how to improve College Promise programs. Some examples included offering housing support, establishing mentorship programs, providing training sessions to faculty members to better understand non-traditional students and increasing financial assistance.
“Students don’t leave their lived experiences at the door,” said Dr. Catherine Millett, senior research scientist at ETS and a panelist. “They bring them on to campus, they want us to know about their lives. They need to make sure that all parts of their life are functioning well so they can be successful when they are in our learning environments.”
The current student population also must be understood in order to meet students’ needs, said CEO of College Promise Dr. Martha Kanter.
Today, 41% of college students are over the age of 25, 87% of first-year students live off campus, 26% have children and 42% live at or below the poverty line, according to the report.
“We need to really have the diversity of our faculty and staff reflect who our students are,” said Kanter.
On the first day of the conference, ATD announced the names of seven colleges participating in their Building Resiliency in Rural Communities for the Future of Work initiative.
Under this initiative, Berkshire Community College, Louisiana State University-Eunice, Clovis Community College, Halifax Community College, Columbia-Greene Community College, Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College and Northwest Mississippi Community College will prepare their students for the workforce by offering resources and support.
The initiative is funded by the Ascendium Education Group, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Cognizant U.S. Foundation, the Community Focus Fund and Walmart.org.
“Achieving the Dream is thrilled to work with these colleges to build a deeper understanding across higher education — and among policy and funding communities for how rural colleges and their partners can promote the economic mobility of students, particularly as part of our equity work,” said Dr. Monica Parrish Trent, vice president for network engagement at ATD.
Sarah Wood can be reached at [email protected].