ASSESSING THE DISPENSATION OF STUDENT SUPPORT SERVICES (SSS) IN UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES



Introduction

Student support services or Student services as otherwise called in many academic institutions refers to services such as student pre-entry counselling, orientation, admission, registration, career development and financial aids (Pullan 2009, p. 243).

If the academic institution admits students from other countries, an international office is usually set up to cater for the needs of international students which include visa issues, accommodation, airport pick-ups and immigration matters.

Many institutions endeavour to dispense their student support services through different channels such as using dedicated professionals or technology driven approaches, or at different levels such as using the faculty or the departments of the university or college.

Many institutions have reported mounting challenges in an effort to fully support their increasing student population.


Challenges in dispensing student support services

The challenges of providing adequate support services for tertiary students – mostly provided outside the classroom – are enormous.

Institutions generally focus so much on academic activities to the detriment of non-academic or extra-curricula activities for the students (Harper & Quaye 2008, pp. 6-7).

Some institutions argue that since student support services have been provided, it is up to the students to engage and benefit from them. Do you agree?

In contrast, education researchers have questioned the rationale and adequacy of majority of the support services provided by the universities and colleges. Was the variety of support services provided borne out of consultation with the students? Are the extents of application of the services fair among the students? Are the support services relevant to the diversity of the student population?

Doubtless, these might be challenging to institutions that feel their core responsibility lies in the classroom. What do you think?

Furthermore, another challenge revolves around the sheer diversity of international students which are a feature of most universities and colleges.

These international students come from various backgrounds with differing interest, motivations, habits and psychological needs which are factors that can impact on the academic performance of the student.

Hence, when institutions lack the resources or inadequately try to support a hugely diversified student population, some international students feel bored, stressed and anxious (Harper & Quaye 2008, p. 18).

Other challenges include managing under-represented races, supporting women, managing multi-cultural interactions among students and actively developing activities that ensure a well-rounded out student. How are the universities and colleges grappling with these challenges?


Evaluating the dispensation of student support services

Evaluating the dispensation of support services to students by academic institutions is a great task because it can be assessed from a wide range of perspectives. However, the students themselves – the recipients – are in the best position to provide such evaluation.

Many fulltime students have reported that right after the good orientation provided by the college, it was difficult to remember which service(s) was to be of help because of increasing coursework load. Have you felt like this before?

Moreso, mature students have reported that the timing of dispensing support services often conflicts with the little time available for actual study due to the combination of school, work and family responsibilities (Tones et. al 2009).

Similarly, another group of students referred to as “the millennial students” are those born into the internet. These students work, play and entertain using the internet and believe anything worthwhile should be provided online.

Consequently, these students believe that student support services should be accessible 24/7 from any location (Pullan 2009, p. 235).

However, when the traditional provision of support services are designed only to be administered on-campus with no provision or resources to deploy the services online, these students feel lost, try to compensate by looking elsewhere, hence negatively impacting the institution and the student (Nichols 2010, p. 95).

Nevertheless, many students have reported and expressed satisfaction with the universities and colleges that have made the efforts to actively evaluate and provide the required student support services (Harper & Quaye 2008).


Recommendations

Harper and Quaye (2008) insists on the following recommendations as being important in providing adequate student support services. These include:

  1. Provision of a transitory mechanism where students are helped to unlearn the secondaryschool learning strategies (such as learning by memorizing) to university learning strategies (such as critical thinking and analysis)

  2. Consciously and actively encourage cross-cultural engagements especially among international students as opposed to the “magic thinking” that students will be fine interacting with their mates

  3. Provide “family-style peer mentoring” to reduce anxiety and depression with more forums for “psychological growth areas” such as analytical and thinking skills

  4. Provide gender specific activities to boost women integration especially assisting women from conservative cultures

  5. Supporting minority races to integrate faster to the environment thus avoiding physical and emotional isolation


Conclusion

The provision of adequate student support services is by no means an easy task. The challenges faced by institutions result from competing priorities – provide sufficiently for academic needs against providing sufficiently for non-academic needs.

The current student evaluations, perceived rightly or wrongly, and the recommendations provided affords institutions rooms for improvement.

As with anything in life, the universities' ability to draw the fine line between competing priorities is the holy grail of providing relevant, acceptable and satisfying support services for college students.

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References

Harper, SR & Quaye, SJ 2008, Student engagement in higher education: theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations, Routledge, New York, USA.

Nichols, M 2010, ‘Student perceptions of support services and the influence of targeted interventions on retention in distance education’, Routledge, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 93-113, viewed 10 June 2011, EBSCOhost, Education Research Complete.

Pullan, MC 2009, ‘Student support services for millennial undergraduates’,
J Educational technology Systems, vol.38, no. 2, pp. 235-251,
viewed 9 June 2011, EBSCOhost, Education Research Complete.

Tones, M, Fraser, J, Elder, R & White, KM 2009, ‘Supporting mature-aged students from a low socioeconomic background’, Springer Science+Business media B.V.,vol. 58, issue 4, pp. 505-529,
viewed 10 June 2011, EBSCOhost, Education Research Complete.




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