5 ways to help students feel like they belong

A new survey sheds light on the link between academic success and positive mental health

3. Make it easier for students to access academic and social supports on campus: Colleges can make it easier for students to connect with the services that already exist on campus—for instance, providing office hours and tutoring at flexible hours for students with jobs. They can also frame their resources in inclusive, inviting ways. Additionally, colleges should work to break the stigma students feel about seeking support for mental health in particular, to create a culture in which students feel empowered to advocate for themselves and one another on campus.

4. Seek out student voices and create spaces for students to share their experiences around race and identity: Students do better academically and report stronger mental health when they feel a positive connection to their racial and ethnic identities. Universities should be in dialogue with first-generation college students, students of color, and students from low-income families. By getting student input on what’s working and what’s not, schools can strengthen the support that exists and provide opportunities for new interventions.

5. Conduct and publicize annual surveys on college students’ sense of belonging: Colleges already share data on a host of indicators. Given that a sense of belonging is associated with higher achievement and better mental health, we believe colleges and universities should annually survey students on this topic and share the data with the public.

The five steps are based off key findings from the report.

1. Most KIPP alumni say they feel a sense of belonging in college.

2. The majority of KIPP alumni say they have made friends in college.

3. For KIPP alumni, a sense of belonging and mental health are linked—59 percent say they have good, very good, or excellent mental health.

4. The KIPP alumni reporting higher GPAs also report a stronger sense of belonging; of students reporting a GPA of 3.0 or higher, 68 percent also report feeling a sense of belonging.

5. KIPP alumni are conscious of their racial and ethnic identities—89 percent say their racial and/or ethnic identity is an important part of who they are. Fifty-eight percent say they feel negatively judged by others based on their racial group.

6. The vast majority of KIPP alumni say they believe they can have a growth mindset and that their intelligence can grow (85 percent); a smaller majority said they believe belonging can grow (59 percent).

7. Most KIPP alumni say they seek academic support from peers and instructors.

8. KIPP alumni attending HBCUs are more likely to feel a higher sense of belonging and other positive indicators than KIPP alumni attending non-HBCUs.

9. KIPP alumni who say they see other KIPP alumni on campus are more likely to report a higher sense of belonging and other positive indicators than KIPP alumni who say they do not see other KIPP alumni.

Laura Ascione