Becoming a Student-Ready College By Supporting Student Wellness

More than 40% of students who start college will not complete their degree.
Historically, blame has been placed on the notion that students who don’t complete their programs are not “college-ready.” But recently, there’s been demand from the public to make a paradigm shift and hold higher education institutions more accountable for the number of students who don’t graduate — which are disproportionately less economically privileged and more likely to be a racial or ethnic minority.

How? By shifting the focus from “college-ready” students to “student-ready” colleges.

Colleges accept students who come from completely different K-12 programs; having a high school diploma is not the equivalent of being prepared for college-level courses. Expecting all students to have the same level of knowledge and skills is unrealistic, and higher education institutions are being called to make changes in order to become more student-ready.

What Defines a Student-Ready College?

A student-ready college supports all students and meets them where they are. Emphasis is placed on graduation rates rather than enrollment numbers, and programs are put in place to help students find success.

Some characteristics of student-ready colleges mean that an institution:

  • Understands the educational needs of students
  • Understands and provides supports needed to help students learn
  • Values diversity
  • Is an environment is welcoming
  • Understands the barriers students face

Instead of focusing on what students need to do to “catch up,” a student-ready college and its educators make changes in order to welcome and support all of its students.

A Growing Responsibility for Colleges

Most public colleges report enrolling students who are not ready for college-level work. Becoming a student-ready college means helping make up for the circumstances that have left these students unprepared, such as rethinking remedial courses and implementing services that address a student’s whole wellbeing.

Instead of seeing programs such as remedial courses and trainings that support the students health as a burden, a student-ready college sees them as part of their responsibility. Practices and policies are a reflection of students’ actual needs—not the needs of what has historically been considered the “ideal college student.”

As Cleveland State University President Ronald M. Berkman has said, “We have a responsibility to educate students as they are, not as we wish they would be.”

The old way of providing lectures and assignments and leaving success up to the student is no longer good enough. Of course, students have to take an active role. But if students have the desire and will to succeed, but are failing, there’s an issue with the way the program is structured, and classes need to account for the actual needs of its students.

It’s not just about the coursework. As your institution works toward becoming a student-ready college, other factors related to academic success need to be taken into consideration—such as student mental health and wellness.

The Student Perspective

For many students, the transition from high school to college is a huge challenge.

Students whose parents are college graduates may be better prepared for this transition, but for first-generation college students, everything is new and unknown. Depending on their college and background, they could be going from a very supportive and personal classroom of 15 students, to a 500+ student class size. It’s no wonder three out of five college students experience overwhelming anxiety. If colleges don’t work to help these students, they can quickly burn out.

Most colleges have support services such as counseling available to students, but only 10-15% of students struggling with mental health use these services. When shifting perspective and becoming a student-ready college, trainings that help students and staff recognize and respond to signs of distress can help connect more students to the mental and emotional support they may need to find academic success. Plus, supporting campus mental health has many benefits for students and overall school climate.

When working toward becoming a student-ready college, carefully look at the actual needs of your students. Does your institution have services, programs, and coursework that meets them where they are? What changes can you make to close the gap and help these students thrive?

The Role of Faculty and Staff

Faculty and staff also have a key part in becoming a student-ready college.

In a Gallup Survey on the two most important questions for graduates, “Was there someone who encouraged your development?” was an essential enough question to be included, indicating just how important this role is. Educators’ investment in student success is an essential factor in how successful a person will feel, even years after graduation.

Educators at a student-ready institution practice empathy. When a student feels seen and understood by their mentors and college community, they will feel supported. Educators at student-ready colleges:

  • Strive to see things from a student’s perspective
  • Understand how cultural norms may make some students feel isolated
  • Know how to support special populations such as veterans and LGBTQ students

The faculty and staff who engage with students nearly every day play a critical role in the student experience. Ensuring educators and administrators have been trained to appropriately support their students’ needs—not just provide lectures and assignments—is key.

Many colleges are supporting their staff through campus-wide trainings that are focused on supporting students’ wellbeing. This is an inclusive effort of all staff, not just professors, because a student-ready college recognizes that all staff members can be an effective educator.

When becoming a student-ready college, are there any skills that need to be developed to get the entire staff on board with the change? How can you support your educators and staff in making this a campus-wide effort?

The Role of Students

Becoming a student-ready college does not mean that students are exempt from responsibility for their success.

A student-ready college can provide academic support that aligns with its students’ needs, but the students still have to go to class and complete coursework.

A student-ready college can provide trainings and resources that encourage help-seeking behaviors, but the student still has to ask for help if they’re experiencing distress.

Students play the biggest role in their own success, but something important to note about student-ready colleges is that students can also have a role in other students’ success. For example, students play a huge role in improving campus climate and safety through their relationships, attitudes, and behaviors.

Preparing students to address relevant campus topics such as mental health, LGBTQ students, and sexual misconduct, can help turn the student body into active participants in becoming a student-ready college. They can help identify peers who are experiencing mental health challenges, and understand how to be active bystanders for students whose safety may be threatened.

How to Support First-Year Students When Becoming a Student-Ready College

An effective way many colleges are preparing students in this effort is by focusing programming on first-year students. This population is especially important since 30% of college first-years drop out after their first year of college.

Don’t miss your webinar on-demand to gain insights into how The University of Chicago, University of Dayton, and Pennsylvania College of Technology are supporting their incoming students by mandating mental health training.

By training first-year students, these schools are preparing them to recognize signs of psychological distress among their peers, build trust, and motivate fellow students to seek help on campus.

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