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Care is a High-Impact Practice

New Professionals and Graduate Students
November 30, 2023 Mark Wade College of the Holy Cross

Capstone courses, RA training, first-year seminars, learning communities, service-based learning. All of these things have something in common…they are considered High-Impact Practices (HIPS; American Association of Colleges & Universities, 2023). A high-impact practice is one that does just that. It creates an immense amount of educational benefit to occur for the students who participate. Institutions of higher education are filled with opportunities that are high-impact. Student affairs professionals work with these practices and programs daily and continue to assess their effectiveness on students’ persistence, retention, and graduation. However, academic integration is not the only area that high-impact practices can, or should, address. Tinto (1988) asserted that for students to fully integrate into their institutions they must integrate both academically and socially.

 

Today’s student population, Gen Z, are more comfortable discussing their social needs and mental health which, in turn, has reflected in higher reports of “poor” or “only fair” ratings when reflecting on their mental health (Shoichet, 2023). Gallup and the Walton Family Foundation (WFF; 2023) noted in a recent report that Gen Z was more likely to report feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and sadness than generations before them. Anecdotally, while students may feel a higher level of comfort in disclosing their mental health concerns or needs, this does not mean they have developed a higher level of comfort seeking support. Student affairs practitioners know that students, even the most connected, still need help asking for help. This is where care, not the CARE team, comes into play.

 

On an instinctual level, each person has a desire to be cared for. Maslow shared this within the Hierarchy of Needs, nestled into the third level of ‘belongingness and love needs’ (McLeod, 2018). Post-secondary institutions have also begun to place a stronger emphasis on students’ sense of belonging. With the identification of Gen Z reporting mental health concerns more frequently, a steady hesitation to ask or seek help, and a fundamental need to belong, what are student affairs professionals to do? The answer, while simple, is to care. Demonstrating to a student that they are cared for as a person and developing a strong connection to a professional staff member on campus can, and most likely will, contribute to that student’s level of success. While Gallup and WFF (2023) shared that anxiety, loneliness, and sadness are felt much more frequently, Hanson (2020) believes that feeling a sense of care helps to mitigate the negative impacts of these emotions.

 

Student affairs professionals care. These professionals dedicate their entire careers to the development of others, but how do professionals ensure that students know they are cared for? It would be awkward to say directly to a student “I care about you” as this statement could have many meanings. However, there are more subtle ways to demonstrate your care and commitment to students. Below are just a few recommendations, but this list is not exhaustive as there are a number of ways that people can express care:

 

  1. Unplug when meeting - lock your computer screen and flip your phone over as to show that you are here with the student.

  2. Remove barriers - rather than sitting behind your desk, if the space allows, sit in a chair next to your student. Close proximity is a non-verbal cue that a professional is accompanying a student in their development rather than watching from behind the desk.

  3. Ask questions - while some may find this practice to be “invasive,” if a student is comfortable with the professional they are talking to they are more likely to open up when prompted and to explore, more deeply, the issues and challenges they are facing.

  4. Remember what they share - calling forward statements, jokes, or mannerisms that were previously present in conversations demonstrates that professionals not only listened to what the student was sharing, but also committed this to memory. This commitment will elicit a feeling of importance from the student.

  5. What do they need - as helpers, student affairs practitioners jump from fire to fire and are still in problem-solving mode. Take a breath and ask the student what they need: advice, guidance, venting, a quiet space, etc. Center what they need before breaking out the development theories.

  6. You’re the first - while this may be the seventh student to sit in the office with a similar issue, this is the first time the student is sharing this level of information with you as a support person. Take a moment to thank them for feeling comfortable with you and your abilities to best support them.

 

Again, while not an exhaustive list, this provides a starting point for professionals to continue their work with students in a way that makes them feel valued and cared for. Sometimes things don’t need to be mind-blowing to be life changing. Simply leaning in to truly understand what a student is experiencing and creating an environment where they feel that someone has invested in them as a person is the high-impact practice to focus on.

 

Resources

 

American Association of Colleges & Universities (2023). High-Impact Practices [web page]. Retrieved on November 28, 2023 from https://www.aacu.org/trending-topics/high-impact

Gallup, Walton Family Foundation (2023). Voices of Gen Z: Perspectives on U.S. Education, Wellbeing and the Future [report]. Washington, D.C.: Authors.

Hanson, R. (2020, December). The Importance of Feeling Cared For [web blog]. Retrieved on November 28, 2023 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-wise-brain/202012/the-importance-feeling-cared

McLeod, S. (2018, May). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs [web post]. Retrieved on November 28, 2023 from chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://canadacollege.edu/dreamers/docs/Maslows-Hierarchy-of-Needs.pdf

Shoichet, C. E. (2023). Does Gen Z struggle more with mental health than millennials? New polling shows signs of a shift [web blog]. Retrieved on November 28, 2023 from https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/14/health/gen-z-mental-health-gallup-wellness-cec/index.html#:~:text=Researchers%20say%20there's%20evidence%20Gen,as%20stress%2C%20anxiety%20and%20loneliness.

Tinto, V. (1988). Stages of Student Departure: Reflections on the Longitudinal Character of Student Leaving. The Journal of Higher Education, 59(4), 438-455. https://doi.org/10.2307/1981920