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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

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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