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Reimagining the Road to Graduation

The Need for Extraordinary Systems to Get Students to and Through College

Who assists students on their journey to and through college and career, and how can they work together to build better systems of support?


Counselors & College Access Organizations   /   K-12 Staff   /   Higher Education Staff   /   Families   /   Peers   /   Employers & Community-based Organizations   /   Policymakers   /   Funders & Intermediaries


Higher Education Staff


Institutions of higher education enroll and develop students with an eye toward building content knowledge and professional skills. While professors deliver the instruction, deans, coaches, and support staff (e.g., admissions, career services, counseling representatives) also play critical roles in the student experience. Due to the pandemic, universities’ policies and resources are in flux, and the personal bandwidth of the faculty and staff has also been strained.

“For our students, nonacademic supports would be the most helpful. Have those not just offered, but done with a case management model that keeps track of everyone and makes the connection from one service to the other, so students don't have to go 100 places, one by one.” —Leader, intermediary organization, Rio Grande Valley 

Common Pitfalls That Higher Education Staff Face
  • Limited access to real-time data and early warning signs that students are struggling (e.g., declining attendance).
  • Silos and other structural barriers that prevent professors from coordinating with other supportive adults such as counselors, career advisers, and data administrators.
  • Challenges connecting with students virtually amid COVID-19 and lack of familiarity and practice with online teaching and pedagogy more broadly.
  • Institutional prioritization of academia or research over teaching.
Mindset Shifts to Help Higher Education Staff Better Target Their Support
  • Form holistic relationships with students that go beyond academics and create space for students to bring a wide range of concerns.
  • Proactively identify struggling students and connect them to academic and social-emotional supports.
  • Give students “grace” and room to make mistakes (e.g., default re-registration policies or syllabi that enable students to make up ground despite failing a test).
  • Connect students to career opportunities in their field of interest.
  • Incentivize faculty to prioritize teaching and instruction in addition to research or academia.
Opportunities to Build a More Coherent System in Concert with Other Adults
  • Listen to the concerns and stories of students. 
  • Raise awareness among other institutional leaders about the barriers some students experience and champion programs and policies that support those students.
  • Explore new structures within institutions that promote data-sharing and transparency and encourage real-time interventions for struggling students.
  • Collaborate with other institutions, including the K-12 system, to share lessons and coordinate or simplify policies and requirements.
  • Advocate to policymakers for solutions that will support students.
Further Reading
  • View student stories where higher education staff played a supportive role: Frankie, Alejandro
  • View a complete list of concrete recommendations for higher education staff here.  
Meet the Supporters
Who supports students on their journey to and through college and career? What mindset shifts can these supporters make to better coordinate high school, postsecondary, and workforce systems?