At-risk and minority college students need more support

Providing mental health services and offering 24/7 help should be institutional goals, according to a Blackboard study.
By: | June 23, 2021
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Retention and persistence of students may be as simple as colleges and universities being more assertive and active in delivering strategies that can support them.

That was one of the many takeaways offered by researchers at Blackboard Wednesday after it released a report that showed both students of color and those struggling academically were far more likely to say they are not receiving necessary services from institutions that can help them succeed.

“Real gaps for at-risk and minority students emerged in the survey results,” said Richa Batra, Vice President of Student Success at Blackboard. “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’s a triple red flag for institutions.”

The survey, conducted of more than 2,000 students, looked at a variety of areas of campus support, from IT and career services to academic support, financial aid, registration, and mental and physical health. While most students (74%) reported positive experiences with those services, at-risk students were far less confident than their peers that they could find academic (32%), advising (25%) and financial aid (39%) supports.

Despite the challenges they face—and their institutions, too—in navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic, those students did express faith in their colleges and universities to be able to deliver proper support to them.

One of the areas that at-risk students noted could help them stay enrolled was having more readily available information on, and access to, mental health services, which ranked No. 2 behind financial aid. Some 85% of students cited mental health support as important or very important; however, the majority of those polled said they found it “extremely difficult or difficult” to get the help they need.

“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,” said 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 the path toward success.”

Other areas that could be difference-makers that were cited in the report:

  • Students made it clear they want services that are 24/7.
  • Online students, in particular, cited tech support as a must-have.
  • Most students do not appreciate chatbots or self-service phone menus when trying to connect and look for support, though at-risk students were more inclined to favor using them.
  • Ease of access and speed were factors for more than a third of students.
  • As for communication from their institutions, more than 40% are OK with text messages and 87% said they appreciate reminders when deadlines or tasks are upcoming.