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The Top 4 Things You Need To Prepare For Before Welcoming Students Back to Campus This Fall

Two people sitting in a living room with moving boxes

Last week we discussed the next big crisis higher education will face that no one is talking about (yet). That, of course, being the impact of a recession on the mindset of students enrolling at your institution. With that said, there are some key drivers impacting student persistence that institutions need to consider regardless of the economic climate.

In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Aaron Basko, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management at the University of Lynchburg wrote, “You can’t anticipate or compensate for every potential storm, but you can give a ship an anchor.” Basko went on to say, “There are many reasons students might choose to leave us, but often it takes only one good reason for them to stay.”

With that in mind, and based on our framework which is heavily influenced by the work of Dr. Vincent Tinto, we’ve outlined 4 key issues students are likely to face when arriving on campus this fall while providing thoughts and recommendations for best supporting them. By focusing on an institutional response to one or more of these issues you can set yourself up for success with actionable methods of boosting student retention and persistence; providing students with that “one good reason for them to stay”.

1) Tackling Issues With Homesickness

As referenced in Basko’s article, a key factor impacting student persistence will be feelings of homesickness (particularly for out-of-state students). Understanding this will be a key driver impacting students immediately upon their arrival to campus, institutions would be best served to ensure programming is in place to keep students engaged beyond a well-executed move-in day. What are you doing to ensure students have every opportunity to find their niche on campus by joining a club or organization? What resources are there for ensuring students feel the comforts of home away from home?

Recently we showcased how Jacksonville University’s AI chatbot, Nellie, is able to help build campus community in creative ways; most notably by becoming a diary of sorts for students who may be feeling overwhelmed or alone.

2) Increasing Students’ Feeling of Belonging

While in many ways linked to feelings of homesickness, the reality is that students may be completely comfortable being away from home while also feeling like a new environment is not for them. Lack of a feeling of belonging can lead to mental health challenges that can ultimately have a negative impact on a student’s academic and social engagement (leading back to homesickness, depression and other challenges).

The University of West Georgia leveraged insights from their Wellness Check, delivered by their AI chatbot Wolfie, to identify students who may have been at risk of not persisting based on their self-assessment of their overall wellness. By focusing on students who had not indicated a favorable response they were able to connect students to appropriate resources more efficiently than reaching out to all students with a blanket message.

3) Helping Handle the Stress of Logistics

For many students, the logistics of handling their education is a new concept. In high school, resources like books and supplemental materials are outlined and/or provided to students very clearly. Due to the nature of higher education, students are thrust into a new environment where the things like the responsibility of sourcing course materials may be a new experience for many.

While some institutions may employ “24/7” resources like AI chatbots that are simply embedded on their website, leading institutions will go a step further and invest in resources that provide students with a combination of active response and proactive outreach based on past interactions. This unique combination will ensure that students not only have an on-demand concierge to help them in real-time but also a trusted confidant to check-in with them when they need it most.

4) Addressing Financial Insecurity

For many first-year students the prospect of receiving their first-year tuition bill can be a jarring experience. Even students who have financial means may be a little overwhelmed with the combined cost of tuition, room and board, fees and their overall costs of living outside of school.

As mentioned above, enrolling students during a recession may come with a variety of new challenges; most notably the combination of mental health and financial challenges faced by students existing the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic while also handling the challenges of losing a job. It will be important to have processes in place for identifying students at-risk of not persisting without relying on outdated traditional metrics.

Additional Resources to Support Retention and Persistence

Recently, The Chronicle of Higher Education hosted a virtual forum titled, “Encouraging Student Persistence”. This forum touched on a number of key issues, including:

  • What are leaders doing differently to promote positive outcomes in support programs?

  • How are advocates moving the conversation around students in a new, more positive direction?

  • How can this shift attitudes and as a result help students persist on their educational journeys?

What’s Next?

The state of California’s budget includes $41 Billion for higher education. We’ll discuss the impact this funding may have on current student outcomes and the influence it may carry to state systems across the country.




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