Community College Research Center Report: Caring Campus Programs ‘Off To A Strong Start’

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The Community College Research Center (CCRC), an independent research organization based at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, reports positive findings in its new study examining trending results of the Institute for Evidence-Based Change’s “Caring Campus.”

The study, titled Implementing Caring Campus With Nonacademic Staff: Lessons From Participating Colleges, was written by Elizabeth A. Barnett, CCRC Senior Research Scholar; and Susan Bickerstaff, CCRC Senior Research Associate and Program Lead. It is a brief report based on fieldwork at six colleges and other data. The report presents the implementation and impact of IEBC to engage nonacademic staff to improve interactions with students and foster a culture of caring at community colleges.

“Personnel in student service divisions like financial aid, enrollment management, advising, counseling, and the registrar are instrumental in helping students navigate college. In particular, students from historically underrepresented groups in higher education—including Black, Latinx, Native American, and first-generation students—benefit from positive interactions with college personnel that affirm their connectedness, importance, and belonging,” write Barnett and Bickerstaff.

Read the full CCRC study here.

Key findings of the study include:

  • Caring Campus was perceived by interviewees as relatively easy to implement as well as low in cost. The behavioral commitments were generally considered to be a way of strengthening job performance rather than adding extra responsibilities.
  • Results from a staff survey administered by CCRC at four Caring Campus colleges
    in spring 2021 found that 83% of staff agreed that “college leadership has supported
    the implementation of our selected behavioral commitments.” Leadership provided
    by staff senates has also been key.
  • In a number of instances, Caring Campus was identified as an element in strategic plans and/or in accreditation proceedings.
  • Committing to Caring Campus behaviors such as deep knowledge of college functions, including names of colleagues working in other areas, benefitted students and professional staff.

Barriers to implementation included implementation efforts during the coronavirus pandemic, a less positive campus culture, staff turnover and staff shortages, and staff burnout and lack of supervisory support.

IEBC President/CEO Brad Phillips said the study provides early validation of the Caring Campus program’s approach and a foundation for ongoing assessment to continue refining the approach.

“IEBC’s Caring Campus program provides badly needed wraparound support to improve student retention and success during an especially challenging time,” said Phillips. “We know health and economic impacts from the pandemic are still emerging for administrators, staff, and students. Developing and implementing practical ways to help students overcome barriers and achieve their educational goals is in everyone’s interests.”

IEBC’s own internal findings on student success demonstrate classified professional staff’s critical role in retention and persistence. This is especially significant among underrepresented student populations, many of whom are first-generation college students. Caring Campus is currently in place at 94 community colleges across the country with additional colleges joining this fall, The total represents almost one in ten community colleges across the country

The study draws on data collected by CCRC researchers in 2020 and 2021from in-depth site interviews at four community colleges conducted with administrators, staff, and students; and surveys at six community colleges with both staff and students. In addition to data collected at these six colleges, the research team interviewed Caring Campus liaisons (those who coordinate implementation at each college) and reviewed coaching reports and other artifacts from an additional 14 community colleges. CCRC analyzed interview transcriptions for themes related to colleges’ experiences with Caring Campus, factors that facilitated and hindered implementation, Caring Campus’s potential to positively impact college culture and student outcomes, and lessons learned that may be of value to other colleges.

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