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Top 3 Ways Institutions Can Improve Student Support

college students studying

The COVID-19 pandemic has both highlighted the importance of student support services in higher education and revealed gaps in how institutions are meeting the needs of at-risk students, according to a recent report from Blackboard. In the survey of more than 2,100 postsecondary students across the United States, conducted in partnership with Qualtrics, nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said they believe support services are more important now than pre-pandemic. And while more than half of students (52 percent) said they were satisfied with the level of support their institutions have provided during COVID-19, 21 percent were dissatisfied and 26 percent reported that support at their school worsened during the pandemic.

In particular, at-risk student populations were far more likely to report a lack of support from their institutions. For example, just 32 percent of at-risk students felt confident that they could find academic or tutoring support, compared to 60 percent of non-at-risk students. Twenty-five percent of at-risk students were confident they could find advising support (compared to 52 percent of non-at-risk students), and 39 percent of at-risk students felt confident finding financial aid support (compared to 56 percent of those not at-risk).  

"Real gaps for at-risk and minority students emerged in the survey results," noted Richa Batra, vice president of student success at Blackboard, in a statement. "At-risk student populations were less likely to have received support in the past, less likely to know where to find it, and found it more difficult to receive it. It's a triple red flag for institutions."

When students were asked about how institutions can improve their support services, three top priorities emerged:

  • Availability 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (cited by 43 percent of respondents);
  • Speed of response (41 percent); and
  • Ease of access (38 percent).

The report also detailed how support preferences varied across different student populations. For example:

  • At-risk students were more likely to prefer automated services such as chatbots (cited by 34 percent of at-risk students compared to 19 percent of non-at-risk students) and self-service phone menus (34 percent compared to 25 percent).
  • Non-traditional students were more likely to prefer text messages than traditional students (48 percent compared to 41 percent, respectively).
  • Online students were more likely to cite technical support as a key priority.

"Students, especially at-risk students, can't take advantage of support if they can't find it or if it's not available when they are," commented Batra. "By identifying at-risk students and proactively engaging them with a personalized approach that meets their unique needs, institutions can truly make a difference by keeping students on path toward success."

The report is freely available on the Blackboard site.

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is executive editor for Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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