Faculty can play a critical role in flagging and helping students who seem at risk of dropping out. Instructors have more face-to-face contact with students than almost anyone else on campus, which puts them in an ideal position to spot student troubles earlier than anyone else.
But getting faculty to embrace their new role in student success can be tricky, reports Jon Marcus for the Hechinger Report.
While a handful of institutions already ask and train faculty to intervene, the practice remains uncommon, says Margee Ensign, president of Dickinson College. “Maybe it’s the way we set up colleges and universities in the Middle Ages. Faculty were responsible for scholarship and research, and that’s all.”
Some faculty members feel that helping students with nonacademic issues is outside of their job scope, says Patricia Rieman, an associate professor of education at Carthage College. “A lot of professors also don’t feel they have time. We’re expected to do more and more, without additional compensation,” says Rieman.
Faculty also struggle to understand the mental health or other issues their students struggle with, writes Marcus. More than 70% of faculty and staff members don’t feel qualified to recognize signs of psychological distress among student veterans, according to a survey from Kognito. And three-quarters say they they’re not equipped to approach those students and discuss their concerns.
“[Faculty] are trained in biology and they don’t know what to do when a student comes in and says they have significant depression,” says Amy Powell, associate dean of students at Duke University.
How colleges train faculty to spot and flag at-risk students
Dickinson trains faculty members to contact the college’s early alert team of advisors when they notice a student is struggling. Faculty watch for students who seem isolated, irritable, withdrawn, or emotionally erratic.
Similarly, McDaniel College brings together faculty members, deans, coaches, and residence advisors to discuss students who show signs of being at risk of dropping out.
The University of Texas at Arlington tailors their faculty training to the needs of first-generation and Hispanic students, who represent 42% and 24% of its student population, respectively. This year, part-time faculty members and teaching assistants will also receive the training, says Carla Amaro-Jiménez, an associate professor who works on the project. “A person can make a change,” she says, “just by asking questions and showing that they care” (Marcus, Hechinger Report, 10/7).