5 reasons non-academic resources are the key to student success

It’s never too late to find new and innovative ways to foster student engagement and retention at scale
Melvin Hines
Melvin Hines

The current dropout rate for undergraduate students in the United States is 40%, according to a recent report by the Education Data Initiative. At Upswing, a wraparound student services organization dedicated to creating parity in the resources available to non-traditional and online students, we think a lot about this number.

In our work helping colleges and universities retain students and reduce the dropout rate, we’ve discovered that traditional academic supports are not the primary solution to attrition. Rather, non-academic resources are the key to student success.

Here are five reasons why students need non-academic supports to succeed in class and stay in school:

1. Academics are one piece of the student retention puzzle: A recent study by our organization determined that over 70% of the reasons students stopped out or dropped out of college were not academic in nature. This means that academic resources and support systems can only do so much when it comes to engaging students and keeping them on track to graduate. To ensure success for today’s students, schools must investigate the non-academic factors affecting their students and invest in resources that address those needs.

2. Basic needs come first, school comes second: We can’t expect a student who is stressed out about money or childcare to be able to focus on their studies. Academic success and the ability to complete a course of study only becomes a viable path once students’ basic needs are being met. Wraparound services that offer non-academic support like on-campus daycare and financial stipends are an important component of keeping students in school.

3. The higher education environment has written and unwritten rules: While class expectations are outlined in syllabi, navigating college life beyond the classroom requires cultural capital and knowledge of implicit rules. Non-traditional students may not know how to ask for support, manage their time or navigate bureaucracy. Institutions should consider investing in tools like a virtual assistant to help students gain the know-how they need to thrive beyond the classroom walls.

4. Mental health issues are widespread among college-aged students: Earlier in the pandemic, nearly 57% of people ages 18 to 29 reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression within the past seven days, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found. Institutions’ in-house counseling services—if they even exist—are often not adequately staffed to meet the rising demands. Resources like on-demand teletherapy can help institutions augment their existing resources and rise to meet students’ mental health needs.

5. These external burdens don’t stay outside the classroom walls: Students who are anxious, depressed, stressed out, or some combination thereof. can’t simply turn off these emotions when class starts. Some 30% of students reported that their mental health negatively affected their academic performance, according to a 2020 survey by the Healthy Minds Network for Research on Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health and the American College Health Association.

The first step in supporting student academic success is recognizing the matrix of non-instructional resources that are integral to student success and ensuring the availability and accessibility of those resources on your campus. It’s never too late to find new and innovative ways to foster student engagement and retention at scale.

Melvin Hines is the co-founder and CEO of Upswing, an organization that uses engagement software to help keep online students and adult learners on the path towards graduation.

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