Student Support: How far can community colleges go?
Deep insights, delivered directly.

Student Support: How Far Can Community Colleges Go?

Community colleges often serve lower-income demographics who may be facing struggles beyond work/life balance.

For students living under economic stress, questions that most of us take for granted—such as what we’re going to eat today, or where we’re going to take a shower—are major logistical hurdles. Apart from the obvious dangers to physical and mental health these challenges impose, they also make it difficult for students to achieve the very goal they came to community college for in the first place: completing a degree in order to have access to a better job and a better life.

Relieving these stresses for students goes well beyond the service benefit itself. It also helps students complete their studies and sets them on the track toward long-term life improvement. Many community colleges recognize this, and have taken the first steps toward establishing and funding these programs. However, despite the importance of these programs, many of them are underutilized for the simple reason that students don’t know about them.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at student support services that community colleges are providing across the country, and also offer strategies for increasing access.

1. Identify students at risk.

Ideally, students in need of support services would know where to go and ask directly for the help they need. In reality, community colleges often need to take more direct steps to reach these students—a difficulty given the competing need to respect student privacy. One option is to include a question on the student intake form asking students to self-identify if they are in need of support, and then direct them immediately to support services. Community colleges can also train faculty and staff in how to approach a student they suspect may be in need of assistance.

2. Establish a point of support beyond faculty members.

Student bonds with faculty members may help them through a semester, but if that teacher leaves or if the student no longer has classes with them, then they become more likely to slip through the cracks. Some community colleges assign case managers to work directly with students who are in greater need of support. It is the responsibility of the case worker to inform that student of assistive programs, help them fill out necessary forms, and even research further support solutions if needed.

However, many community colleges only offer these services passively, encouraging students to “reach out” if they have questions. Community colleges could do more to build connections with a case worker—by encouraging students to set up an appointment as part of the enrollment process, by educating staff members about how to gently direct students toward a case worker when needed, or by advertising these services more broadly on campus.

3. Develop support programs or access to local initiatives.

In previous articles, we’ve discussed how to help students access financial aid, how to support parents and working students, and how to improve access for non-English-speaking students. Further support programs include:

  • Housing. About a quarter of community colleges offer on-campus housing. In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, which highlighted the state of housing insecurity among two-year students, many community colleges began building dormitories or expanding housing access close to campus.
  • Food & essentials. If your college doesn’t have an on-campus food pantry, this may be your sign to start one. A 2019 survey found that roughly one third of community college students experienced food insecurity, with over half having accessed off-campus food banks. Given the number of students who would benefit, offering on-campus food banks could relieve this problem while saving students a trip across town.
  • Hygiene. Students without stable housing may struggle to find places to shower or do laundry. Many campuses already include a gym or fitness center, equipped with showers and a locker room. Ensuring students have access is an easy first step toward meeting hygiene needs for students. Adding a space to do laundry on campus along with assigned locker spaces are similarly affordable and effective solutions that would meet a real need for many students.
  • Transportation. Student bus passes make community college more accessible not just by providing transport to the college, but also by making it easier for students to get to their jobs.
  • Healthcare. Some colleges offer student health plans, but those who don’t can still help students by assisting them with Marketplace health insurance plans during the open enrollment period.

Beyond college-run programs, case workers at community colleges can also help connect students to other support in their area. It is hard to overstate the value that this can provide students. If even one person on your staff is the expert in local support services, it can save hundreds of individual students hours of time they don’t have searching for resources they may not even know exist.

4. Avoid labeling programs in ways that call attention to economic status.

Accessing support services can be a source of embarrassment for many students. Students may avoid enquiring about support if they think their peers might find out. Others may self-select out of support if they don’t think that a program is meant for them. Labeling the campus food bank as a “student pantry,” for instance, or letting students know that they’re eligible for a childcare credit if they meet certain criteria can make it easier for students to accept these services.

Colleges can also avoid some of these anxieties by offering services broadly, without an economic qualification. A transportation credit, for instance, is more likely to be used by lower-income students. Campuses with professional programs, such as cosmetology or dentistry, often offer discounted services as training opportunities for students in the program. By publicizing these services as perks available to all students, community colleges can help ensure that the most in-need students have access with the least stigma.

5. Market your support services.

Finally, once a college puts all the effort into developing these services, they should do everything possible to spread the word. Internally, marketing can include posters with key information, clear signage to help students find what they need, and information presented consistently during campus orientation, on the first day of classes, and inside course syllabi.

Community colleges should also spread the word externally, through marketing to prospective students. While access to some of these services may not convince a student who had no prior intention of enrolling, they might be the deciding factor for someone who had written off enrollment due to struggles with transportation or another insecurity. In fact, we’ve written more about this exact strategy in our latest white paper, “Dismantling the Obstacle Course: How Community Colleges Can Use Content Marketing to Negotiate Enrollment Barriers.”

If small barriers can feel insurmountable, then small changes can be immeasurable.

Communities need graduates with the kind of skills offered by community colleges. Given the demand for these workers, offering more holistic support services is both a humanitarian cause and an economic necessity.

At Aperture Content Marketing, we offer marketing services specifically for community colleges to help them deliver informational resources as part of an enrollment growth strategy. Our services include:

  • A library of pre-written content resources that are researched and vetted by our in-house experts.
  • Social media publication of content to help spread information across marketing channels.
  • Print publications that can be sent out by direct mail or reserved as an in-person resource.
  • Informational micro-sites that provide an accessible digital hub for each semester’s publication.

After years of providing marketing support to community colleges, we have seen firsthand how a thorough, information-based approach can help students discover resources and make decisions that are right for them. Contact us today to learn more.

Read more from this series: