Bridging the gap between student support service offerings and awareness impacts retention and success.  

Traditionally, higher ed’s spotlight centered firmly on faculty, academic programs and the vibrancy of on-campus life. More recently, the focus has shifted, bringing attention to a network of student support services such as mental health, academic support, peer mentoring and workforce preparedness —vital, yet often overlooked dimensions of the student experience. 

Today, institutions channel billions of dollars, resources and time into administrative and student support services. Astonishingly, these expenditures* are catching up with the costs associated with faculty and instructional activities. Yet, despite increased investment, a startling conclusion emerges — research shows nearly two-thirds of students are unaware of the multitude of services available. It begs the question — how does this investment impact the student experience? What does it mean for institutions? And how do institutions begin closing this awareness gap?

The Awareness Gap: Charting a Course for Improved Visibility

Let’s break it down: data suggests only 33% of students are aware of health clinic services, 31% of peer mentoring opportunities and just 29% are familiar with student success coaching support. TL;DR — administrators and staff spend time and effort developing programs, content, information and communications helping students and, well, it’s not being seen. 

For institutions investing in administrative and student support services (public, 4-year institutions spend a whopping $126 billion on these services, for example), the dilemma becomes how effectively these investments are seen and used. We break this down into three areas: students remain unaware of existing resources, don’t realize they need support and/or don’t know how to access the resources to get started. In the quest to bridge this awareness gap, institutions must adopt a multifaceted approach. 

Here are our recommendations for making the most out of your support investments. 

Provide Support at Vulnerable Times

Understanding the unique challenges student groups face — transfer students, veterans, traditional students, veterans, first-generation students, adult learners and more — is key to providing tailored support. Features like robust search functionality and integrating data systems (like retention software, student tasks or appointment schedulers) further accessibility and discoverability, while allowing timely intervention for at-risk students. An environment acknowledging and addressing the diverse needs of student populations fosters a sense of belonging and inclusivity, ultimately contributing to student retention and success.

Make the Unaware, Aware

It’s misguided if we expect students to navigate the complexities of higher education perfectly. Between items like understanding financial aid, registering for courses, finding housing, remaining in good academic standings, or determining meal plans, increasing active communication, information sharing and reminders promotes continual awareness. Shift from passive communication, like sharing information on a website or at new student orientation, to active communication — promoting information regularly and across the ecosystems in which students live (hi, cell phones!). Lifting the barrier to entry and outlining expectations allows students to progress at their own pace and with plenty of flexibility. 

Less Clutter, More Action

The overwhelming nature of most student platforms or portals (looking at you, legacy link farm portals) makes it nearly impossible for students to find the exact help they need. Sending a student a link to a webpage (and expecting them to navigate it on their own) may suffice, but it’s an outdated, passive and frankly, lazy, approach. In contrast, offering a modern, one-stop-shop digital experience with tailored resources displayed front and center demonstrates a proactive commitment to meeting students’ needs effectively.

Investing in student support services is only half the battle — ensuring students are aware of and easily access these resources is equally crucial. By implementing tailored support strategies, fostering active communication and streamlining platforms for a more intuitive experience, institutions truly empower students to navigate higher education confidently and successfully. 

*  Includes non-instructional activities like admissions, student activities, libraries