One challenge to equitable learning for minoritized, poverty-affected, and first-generation students is that many may be reluctant to access the support available to them, whether it’s office hours, tutoring, counseling, continuation grants, mentoring, technology services, or career services. Equity efforts won’t be effective if students feel they can’t or shouldn’t access support services, either because they carry a stigma or because of a misguided idea that “good students” don’t need help. Faculty can identify opportunities to help destigmatize and normalize student support services.
For example, Cuyahoga Community College (known as Tri-C) serves 30,000 students annually in the Cleveland area and is Ohio’s first and largest community college. Tri-C provides a comprehensive range of student support services. Dr. Michele Hampton, Professor of Business Administration at Tri-C, says “Our college provides myriad student support services. Many of our students take advantage of these services, such as the food pantry and the laptop program.”
But, she adds, the Tri-C student body reflects the population in general — some people are comfortable advocating for themselves, but many others, including first-time students, tend to be less comfortable.
Hampton, who was named Teacher of the Year in 2016 by the Ohio Association of Two-Year Colleges and received Tri-C’s 2020 Excellence in Teaching Award, illustrates how classroom faculty can play a big part in making clear that needing and getting support is a normal part of the academic experience.
3 tips to normalize student support services
Hampton, whose doctorate is in Instructional Design for Online Learning, suggests three practical steps for instructors to normalize student support in in-person, online, and hybrid or blended class formats.
1. Have visitors from the student engagement office and other services speak to the students directly
At Tri-C this is tied to the first-year experience program, which is required for all new credit-earning students.
2. Have the professor speak about services during class time
Refer frequently to tutoring, counseling, and other services to make clear they are available to every student. “When it comes from me as the instructor, it gives students a clear path on how to access services and it removes the stigma,” explains Hampton.
3. Be available in a variety of ways
Some students are apprehensive about coming to office hours for help, so Hampton provides options for online office hours. She also records videos students can view online to prepare for exams, leads in-person small study groups, and reaches out proactively to students who are having difficulty.
Additional ideas to encourage help-seeking practices
The ideas Hampton mentions for normalizing student support are echoed in the Caring for Students Playbook, developed by Every Learner Everywhere in partnership with Online Learning Consortium and Achieving the Dream, which also suggests:
- publicizing widely and often, including on the syllabus;
- integrating institutional support services into course activities;
- mapping pathways to support resources by including a module during a course that lists what is available; and
- creating activities and assignments that require students to utilize offices such as career services or tutoring.
One inspiring example of connecting students to academic supports is how Houston Community College faculty collaborated with the tutoring services offices to implement adaptive learning in courses. Since the software was generating assessment data shared with students, if that data were also available to the tutoring center, there would be a more organic basis for students to consult with tutors, and their sessions would be more targeted.
Develop rapport with students
In addition to the specific ideas above, Hampton says successfully encouraging students to seek support depends on having a rapport with them, which starts early on by listening to and engaging with them.
“For example, the first week of class I have the traditional biography assignment where students tell me why they are taking the class and things they would like to share about themselves,” she says.
“However, I also require that they ask me a question about my biographical information so they will get to know more about me as a person, outside of being their instructor,” she adds. “This serves to build the foundation for my social presence in the course, especially in online courses. I want to let students know I am paying attention and vested in their success.”Read more in Lessons Learned: A Toolkit for Post-Pandemic Higher Education with Equity and Student Care at the Center