Building a culture of wellness and connection on campus may be more important than ever.
Inside Higher Ed recently shared a report that found 88% of college students believe there is a mental health crisis in higher education; 70% personally reported pandemic-related distress.
In addition, the response to the pandemic included many lockdowns and limited interactions, which created considerable isolation. There is a need for institutions to re-build connections with students.
Meeting these challenges head on requires thought and planning. If done well, an institution can go a long way toward strengthening its retention and completion rates. These important metrics are jeopardized when a college does not connect with its students.
There are themes that can anchor a culture of wellness and connection:
1. Scale Resources
Colleges and universities often have tremendous resources to support students. The challenge is that often they are scarce. They are limited. Whether it is the number of advisers per student or the number of support staff, colleges are increasingly outmatched. Institutions need to find ways to extend the impact of staff so that students can obtain help when they need it. Thought needs to be put into finding ways to scale the resources that the institution does have. One natural approach is to use technology to streamline student services in a way that makes them available round-the-clock and accessible on mobile devices.
2. Support Staff
The pandemic took a toll on staff. A wave of retirements and resignation have disrupted normal operations on many campuses. One reason that staff have been leaving – too many administrative and repetitive tasks are being asked of them, and they are not able to spend sufficient time supporting students. One way to address this challenge is to equip staff with easy-to-manage technology that can tackle the repetitive tasks, and free them up to spend more time with their students. An example of this sort of technology: AI-powered 2-way Conversational SMS campaigns that can remind students of deadlines, help in the completion of paperwork, and be a 24/7 resource to answer questions.
3. A 24/7 Accessibility Model
Whenever possible, colleges want to provide students with the “personal touch”. It’s hard to consistently provide the “personal touch” between 8 am – 5 pm, let alone after hours. Technology such as AI-powered chatbots can provide students with access to resources and information any time of day, and when the school is closed. These tools can extend the reach of staff, increase student connection to the institution, and raise the bar on student support.
4. Proactive Check-Ins
One way to stay close to students is to periodically check in with them. Doing this well means finding the right balance between not enough attention and too much attention. One idea is to periodically send a text message to cohorts of students asking them how they are doing on a scale of 1-10, and having SMS responses that encourage students to tap into school resources if needed, or provide them with encouragement if they are feeling good and heading in a positive direction. These sorts of campaigns enable staff to focus energy on students who can benefit the most from it.
5. Strengthen Peer-to-Peer Interactions
Think of building connections as something that both staff and students can be involved with. For example, consider pulling together a group of volunteer or work-study students who would be willing to text other students to see how they are doing. The more that everyone is looking out for each other, the better. Better for the students, better for the staff, and better for the institution.
It’s been said that “it takes a village.” There is a lot of truth in that expression. Staff play a role. Students play a role. Technology can support both groups in ways that create efficiencies and make it easier for the institution to find a path forward that is sustainable.
As colleges focus more and more on building a culture of wellness and connection, they will see how powerful the culture can become. And as the culture is embraced by everyone, it creates a positive energy that goes a long way toward supporting an institution’s retention and completion goals.