Mental health can be both a barrier preventing students from enrolling, and a hurdle to finishing classes once they’ve started. How can community colleges address it?
The recent rise in mental health awareness has done much to open conversations about student wellbeing. Issues that a generation ago were still assigned a stigma are now discussed openly, allowing more people to connect with the help they need. However, community college campuses are behind their four-year counterparts in providing support, even as their students report higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
A 2021 American Psychiatric Association survey of community colleges found that over half of students nationwide screened positive for mental health conditions. This is significantly higher than the rate of students at four-year colleges, yet 58% of four-year colleges offer psychiatric services for students compared to just 8% for community colleges.
Given the divergence in rates of students completing degrees (20% for community college students, 60% for four-year students), it seems reasonable to suggest that more robust mental health support might lead to higher completion rates. While community colleges should prioritize root causes of stress and anxiety—student aid, childcare, food insecurity—these aren’t the only factors leading to mental health struggles.
The transition to college is a stressful time for many students, especially those who are the first of their generation to attend college, those with disabilities, those with language barriers, or those with significant work/life pressures. The following steps can help colleges provide more robust support to their students.
1. Think about prevention, intervention, and treatment at all levels.
Mental health efforts can’t just be focused on triaging the most acute cases. A comprehensive approach to mental health support should consider direct treatment options, such as a crisis helpline or counseling, as well as preventative ones, such as awareness campaigns or resources that offer students positive coping tools.
Community college students are also more likely to feel isolated on campus. Small groups that foster peer support can help students feel connected to the community.
2. Institute a strategic plan to unite efforts.
While support groups, wellness seminars, and crisis helplines are all important measures, many colleges struggle to help these groups operate in unison. Initiatives are often disconnected from each other, leading to redundant efforts and poor resource allocation. A coordinated framework can help community colleges identify gaps in their support, as well as areas of overlap.
A strategic framework also sends the message that mental health is an organizational priority. If staff and faculty see consistent and persistent messages about the importance of supporting student mental health, they are more likely to be proactive in guiding students toward the resources they need.
3. Expand access through virtual counseling.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced community colleges to adapt their resources for the new online reality while also forcing a reckoning with mental health as a crisis among the student body. As a result, many began expanding telehealth support, including remote counseling, for the first time.
The outcome has been a success. Telehealth counseling gives students more flexibility in their support options, and allows community colleges to scale their services without having to hire more on-site staff. It’s also a great fit for students who attend online classes, or who would struggle to find childcare for a counseling session.
4. Foster an on-campus climate that supports mental health.
College leaders should also work with staff and faculty to create policies for helping struggling students manage their workloads, and encouraging even faculty outside mental health fields to consider mental health support as a key component of their educational program.
Support can include faculty training for identifying students who are at risk and guiding them toward the right resources. Faculty are a natural touch point as students are more likely to form connections with them than with staff. By giving teachers the resources to help their students improve their mental health, they will also be helping those students perform better in class. After all, mental health is closely tied to grades.
5. Publicize your mental health resources.
Good resources go to waste when no one knows they exist. This is doubly true for resources that students won’t know to look for or may avoid. Mental health programs should be promoted alongside other resources, both to raise awareness, and to create opportunities for students to discover them in places they are already likely to be.
We also believe that mental health resources are worthy of marketing support, just like any other resource. Publishing an article on the school website, sharing posts on social media, or reserving space for an article in a print piece are all ways for community colleges to highlight what’s available.
If you want to raise the profile of your programs, we can help.
It’s one thing to say community colleges should be marketing a resource, and another to actually do it. At Aperture Content Marketing, we have the academic marketing expertise to help you reach your goals. Our specialty lies in information-based campaigns designed to speak directly to the needs of students. We offer a library of vetted content as well as a multi-channel distribution platform that includes microsites, social posts, and print mail campaigns.
We believe that knowledge is power, and giving students the resources they need to make informed decisions is the most effective way to encourage them to enroll in courses. And that includes mental health resources. A brochure won’t prevent a student from dropping out, but it may give them the critical guidance to find the support they need.
If you would like to know more about our marketing services, contact us today.