Comprehensive Support Services
Components of Comprehensive Supports | Strategies for Supporting Students
Comprehensive supports are essential to a program targeting low-skilled adults with barriers to success, but offering access to such services is not enough: students need a more proactive approach. The Accelerating Opportunity model includes comprehensive support services and strategies to remove barriers.
Supports should be embedded in the program rather than separate. This can mean including career exploration and college readiness in the curriculum, assigning a dedicated advisor to help support students, or training program staff for that role. Many colleges have found that mandatory meetings with a dedicated advisor greatly improve retention and overall success. Partnerships with community-based organizations (e.g., Goodwill) can efficiently and significantly expand a college’s capacity for providing supports. Many CBOs provide a deeper level of support than a college can.
For more information on comprehensive supports, see also JFF"s publication Promoting Persistence through Comprehensive Supports
Components of Comprehensive Supports
Strategies for Supporting Students
Career exploration activities are an important part of student supports. They help students establish their educational goals and promote persistence. Career exploration should take place when students enter the program (see “Orientation”) and continue as they progress through the pathway.
One of the biggest challenges in implementing a new program is recruiting students and getting them to enroll and attend. Once a program is established and gets a good reputation it gets easier to recruit new students, but it takes time and effort to spread the word. Colleges can advertise a program and wait for students to show up, or they can take an active approach to bringing students into the program. Recruiting strategies include developing partnerships with referral organizations (e.g., local Workforce Investment Boards, social service agencies) and developing systems for on-campus referrals so that students find their way to the programs that best fit their needs. Adult Basic Education programs, in particular, need to consider innovative ways to recruit students, especially from populations not typically considered.
A student’s first experience at the college can have a major impact on the decision to actually enroll—it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the prospect of filling out financial aid forms, taking entrance exams, and choosing courses. In many cases, students entering through one part of the college (such as ABE or noncredit workforce training) receive different information and services than they would if they were enrolling on the credit side of the college. In addition, there are students who enroll in one part of the college but would be better served by other programs, such as lower-level developmental education students who could qualify for ABE. A standardized intake process for all students, with a consistent referral process, helps ensure that students feel welcome and are efficiently directed to the programs that best meet their interests and needs. It also ensures that students get consistent messages from program staff and the admissions, financial aid, and registrar’s offices, as well as anyone else they may talk with when enrolling.
Orientation, an essential step on the pathway, is an opportunity for the student to gain a better understanding of the college and program. It is also an opportunity for program staff to learn more about the students (e.g., strengths, interests, barriers) and to establish clear expectations about how the program will serve them. Counseling or student support services staff who work with Accelerating Opportunity should be involved in the intake and orientation processes, building relationships with students from the outset.
All too often, students leave their formal education when they reach a key transition point—for example, when transitioning from an integrated basic skills program to a college-level career/technical program. Transitions are critical times. Students need additional support when moving between program components. These supports can include preparing students for the transition in advance or following up with them after they transition to the next phase of the pathway.
Transition supports are especially important when students have options. Consider, for example, what happens when students earn their first credential in an integrated career pathway program. They might move directly into the next phase of the pathway, enter a precollege bridge program or a GED program contextualized for the pathway, or seek immediate employment. Transition services would help students decide which option makes the most sense.
Preparation should include ensuring that students register for the right classes and know their course schedules, classrooms, and which books or materials they might need. It can also be helpful to provide students with opportunities to meet their instructors in advance of the first class. Follow-up ensures students get off to a good start. As the program proceeds, counselors and instructors can meet to check on student progress.