How to Increase Student Support Access

With the beginning of the new year and a fresh start, I’ve been thinking and reading about how we structure our working hours.

In the shadow of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which many campuses were grappling with how to implement, this topic is important. While that paradigm shift didn’t completely go into effect, it showcased how we can work to adapt to make the best use of our time. And we know time is the most valuable form of ‘currency’ as #sagrad Amanda Koslow discusses in her post Time Management as a Self-Care Tool.

Modern college students are more often online (or hybrid), working full-time, adult learners, and/or commuting from some distance away to come to campus. The current state of office availability is typically 9am- 5pm Monday through Friday in one specific physical space on campus. In terms of allowing for the greatest access possible for our students, this doesn’t really work very well. The fact that students just have to make due without our important student support services is absurd. We need to grow and adapt with the changes of students’ lives.

The question then becomes: how can we (higher education and student affairs pro’s) meet the needs of college students, and ourselves?

The reality of the 9am- 5pm day doesn’t benefit either party (students or admins). Analyzing obstacles that come with this strict structure and the feeling of overworking – working later than expected – can be resolved. All it takes is high communication, a growth mindset, and being prepared to experiment with new working hours to best fit the needs of your team and students.

Here are ways to re-think how we drive student support access through remote work, communication, and flexible scheduling:

Working Flexibly

This is probably the broadest but most important part of this post, so if you take nothing else away, take this: we can’t serve all of our students being stuck in the 9-5 model where the majority of our emphasis is on in-person walk-ins during these hours. We need to change up where we are and when we’re there so that more students who don’t fit in the ‘traditional’ mold can connect with us. We need to interrogate and challenge the mold of ‘traditional’ and realize that many of our students and professionals don’t fit this mold at all.

Working flexibly gives everyone opportunities to work more productively during hours and times that are most effective in serving students. Consider starting work later in the day. Have an opportunity to spend more time with family, engage in self-care activities, and get some needed personal to-do items accomplished.

Work during times that students are most likely to utilize your services where you can provide them with more support.

For example, residence life professionals often take on additional work of starting an on-call shift after an office closes, around 5pm. Although this may be an expectation through job responsibilities, it could help relieve overflow administrative duties from the day and help to save their energy for higher-risk incidents they may expect later throughout the night.

There are also hours in which we are vastly more productive in our work rather than following a strict schedule we feel we must conform to.

In Bloomberg’s article, How to Make Flexible Work Schedules a Reality, explains when workers have buy-in to the structure of their schedule, they have “less psychological stress, burnout, and higher job satisfaction.”

What does working flexibly look like? 

It could be providing more tabling in student centers or residence halls, setting up programs in fraternity and sorority houses, or simply just being open for late night office hours or weekend events. Certain offices (like student activities) know this sort of diverse effort well, while other offices may need to adapt more to the change.

Sharing the load with your team can help implement flexible hours and create a system of how it’s actually going to work. Provide incentives for those who take on high traffic hours comp days or hours for their work. Include student workers and empower them to represent your office in new ways – like taking questions over social media and making connections with their peers in creative ways.

Working Online

A dynamic you can add to the flexible hours is making professionals available to chat online.

This could take the shape of revamping your website and implementing virtual office hours for students to drop in to chat, call, or set up video meetings with you or your team to connect and ask questions. Some great video chat programs include Zoom and Google Hangouts. Colleges and universities like New York Institute of Technology, Santa Clara University, Texas A&M University, and University of Arkansas implement Zoom for student meetings, student collaboration, and virtual student leader trainings.

Utilizing an optimized mobile smartphone application can work wonders as well, since most students are always going to have their phones with them at the very least, so if they can access resources and chat functions via mobile, they’ll never be far from quick support. I’ve found this quick assistance in times of need is great in terms of building good relationships will since students know someone has their back when they need it.

Of course, new habits of working online to many institutions will be resistant to change.

Working Remotely

I’ve been a big fan of working remotely for a long time now. It gives your employees the option to work from wherever they live (so they don’t have to endure a commute), and in whatever way they’re most productive (so they’re not stuck in cubicle or office environment all day). There is still a misguided stigma against this setup and I hope more offices will end up learning towards more remote work. In conjunction with the other two recommendations in this post, you can have the best people working in the best way possible for them to help best serve your students.

This way of working requires a high degree of trust. If you don’t already have a high trust relationship among staff, it may be a great way to revisit office relationships and understand how to make them stronger.

Communication is key, whether it is to answer questions, give positive feedback, or conduct meetings. Tools like Slack, Google Hangouts, Zoom, join.me, or any number of other chat platforms are great to do this depending on your needs and budget. Sometimes these tools can be utilized more on the fly for quick, instant messages but you can also jump on for a face-to-face conversation for more in-depth topics. These remote tools help replicate the experience your team would have in-person and can be just as meaningful.

While changing your time from ‘in-person’ to ‘remote’ may be hard at first, think about these positive outcomes:

  • For SA pro’s who live off-campus or further away from campus, travel time is reduced throughout the week
  • Boost productivity by working in a comfortable environment, tailor environments and schedules to staff needs
  • Employees can balance the demand of work life and home life – and not feel guilty

Your Thoughts!

The current schedule of 9-5 makes the most sense for when it was created… in the 1950s. This type of schedule supported people who had a partner at home taking care of family. While this type of lifestyle can is still supported, we must cater to a more diverse landscape of both employee needs and student needs. Not only is the modern workforce made up of diverse families, but often students choose to work additional jobs to help pay for college and end up needing support services at hours outside of 9-5. These structured hours of supporting students is outdated, and in result, we fail at supporting students when they need it most.

In thinking of retention and student success, the goals of working flexibly, remote, or online can be achievable goals of (almost) all campus professionals. Providing more opportunities to connect and engage our students is a clear pathway to this goal. You can implement any or all of these methods to drive more access, and you need to be committed to offering support to students in a format that works best for them (and for you). Be open to suggestions and to new ideas from both students and fellow colleagues on your campus.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on increasing student support access through remote, online, and flexible work. Tweet me at @HigherEd_Geek to continue the conversation!

Go forth and do good for your students!

Don’t worry, we won’t share your email.
Dustin Ramsdell

About the author: Dustin is a graduate of the Rutgers University College Student Affairs Ed.M Program. He is a proud nerd and self-affirmed "Higher Ed Geek" who is excited to connect with folks who share his love of deep conversations! Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.

Get original articles (like these) each week.

You have Successfully Subscribed!