EDUCAUSE Review: Higher Education in Motion: The Digital and Cultural Transformations Ahead

Excerpted from “Higher Education in Motion: The Digital and Cultural Transformations Ahead” by EDUCAUSE President John O’Brien on the EDUCAUSE Review website:  The section “Cx for Students” discusses the importance of looking at how we care for students and addresses Caring Campus, behavioral commitments and testimony from two college presidents. Reprinted with Permission from EDUCAUSE.

“Just as EDUCAUSE has consistently stressed that Dx is not just about technology but, rather, is about a comprehensive culture change related to technology, workforce, and culture, Alan Lesher, chief executive emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, makes a very similar argument about Cx in a report from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. “The required investments will be substantial, but simply throwing money at the problem won’t be enough, Leshner says. The report calls for an ‘all-hands’ approach to mental health that starts at the top, with university presidents, and involves faculty and staff members at all levels. . . . ‘It will take a cultural shift to produce the healthy, well-educated people that the country needs,’ Leshner says.”Footnote19

Ad hoc initiatives to expand the way we care for students are being spun up everywhere. In the United States, campuses have been urged by the federal administration, the Department of Education, and the Surgeon General’s Office to use federal COVID-19 relief funding to address students’ mental health, but this funding is limited and one-time only.Footnote20 In April 2022, EDUCAUSE joined nearly 100 other organizations in a letter to congressional leaders, calling for legislation to support and invest in students’ mental health. As of October 2022, two laws are working their way through the legislative process, with one bill encouraging “comprehensive campus plans.” This is a positive start, but bills urging comprehensive action (H.R. 5407) without funding will be of limited value, and transformations are not easily mandated legislatively. State legislative action has led to the expansion of mental health platforms, though in the case of Illinois, new requirements to narrow gaps in mental health services for public colleges and universities did not come with funding.Footnote21

One intriguing approach is the “Caring Campus” program advanced by the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC), which promotes comprehensive approaches to caring for students. In some cases the more comprehensive an approach is, the more it falls back on platitudes; however, the focus of Caring Campus resources is on specific caring behaviors for various roles, including faculty and staff. For example, the “top five staff behavioral commitments” (see table 1) would be excellent touchstones when working with students on a regular basis.

Table 1. Caring Campus Top Five Staff Behavioral Commitments
Face-to-Face Virtual Environment
Ten Foot Rule: Whenever a student is within 10′ and seems to need assistance take the initiative to approach them. Say hello, smile, and use a positive tone. Reaching Out: If your college allows. reach out to students via phone, email, and text to let them know you’re available to answer questions, respond to concerns. etc.
Name tags: Wear name badges or lanyards wilh the college name on them so that students will know who to approach with questions. Give Your Information Up Front: Start each contact with your name & department. Ask for student’s name and contact info in case you get disconnected.
Cross-Department Awareness: Learn about other departments so you know where to send students. Maintain accurate and up-to-date detailed directories. Cross-Department Awareness: Learn about other departments so you know where to refer students. Maintain accurate and up-to-date detailed directories.
Warm Referrals: Call ahead or walk student to the office they need to get to. Follow up to ensure the student got there. Warm Referrals: Use the student’s callback info to call the receiving office, make the connection on the student’s behalf, and ask them to contact the student. Follow-up.
First Week Greetings: During the first week of classes set up information tables and meet students in the parking lot, welcome students to the college. Reach out to students: At key times such as the first week of classes, as course drop dates and filing for degrees approach; especially first time in college students, to ensure they have the information they need.


Credit: Reprinted with permission from the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC), Caring Campus Top Five Staff Behavioral Commitments, © March 2021.

Institutions adopting this kind of behavioral approach report qualitative and quantitative evidence of impact, with one college president’s testimonial linking the caring campus approach to “significantly higher persistent rates,” especially for students of color.

 Source: Joianne Smith, “Improving Student Outcomes at Oakton Community College” (video), IEBCnow, September 30, 2021.

Another president stressed that the caring campus framework puts students front and center, giving faculty and staff a venue to think more deeply about how they interact with and demonstrate their care for students.

Source: Julianna Barnes, “Caring Campus Puts Students Front and Center” (video), IEBCnow, May 19, 2021.

In a similar vein, the Inside Higher Education / College Pulse “Student Voice” survey report includes a helpful list of eight concrete practices to improve staff-student interactions:

  1. Be Intentional About Student Connections.
  2. Set Service Goals.
  3. Ease Campus Shuffle Frustrations.
  4. Avoid Communication Black Holes.
  5. Temper Expectations about Outcomes and Immediacy.
  6. Provide Service Training.
  7. Encourage Service Reporting.
  8. Act on Feedback and Data.Footnote22

This survey, powered by more than 2,000 respondents, provides overall guidance and discussion points for technology professionals in their interactions with students. One of the survey prompts specifically explores which service-related technologies students are aware of and which services students would like to see implemented more widely or better (see figure 4). The service technologies in highest demand by students were virtual appointment scheduling, chat bots that answer questions, and digital documents/e-signing. In other words, one way that students want to see us care for them is to provide more and better online services.”

Transformation #2:


Any role, responsibility, or initiative involving technology in higher education has certainly experienced renewed energy and interest in the last few years. At the same time, a parallel global movement is focused on advancing a culture of care on campuses around the world. Like digital transformation, cultural transformation (Cx) is hardly new but is also newly and powerfully energized.

Cx for Students