Students who report a strong sense of belonging at their college or university typically do better in school, and a new survey points to five key steps schools can take to support students’ mental health and success.
This sense of belonging is critical for students, especially students who are first-generation college students and students of color from low-income backgrounds. In fact, feeling a sense of belonging has been proven to have an effect on college completion rates.
A report based on a survey of alumni from the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), which aims to prepare its K-12 students to thrive in education and the workforce, points to clear-cut steps institutions can take to help students feel positive about their path.
The survey results indicate five actionable steps colleges and universities can take to help KIPP alumni, and students like them, sustain a strong sense of belonging and positive mental health.
1. Bolster or create more targeted support for first-generation college students before they matriculate: Programs such as Summer Bridge or other pre-college connections can help build community for students. They also provide clarity on how to access the resources that already exist on campus for both academic and emotional support. Colleges should foster these programs to help students feel a sense of community before they arrive on campus. Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) do particularly strong work with these programs, and other schools can learn from their efforts.
2. Continue to increase the diversity of faculty and staff: Colleges should intentionally recruit faculty and staff who were themselves first-generation college students. These faculty and staff can serve as powerful mentors or presenters at events for first-generation college students.