Meeting in the Middle: Envisioning Postpandemic-Responsive Student Support Services

Meeting in the Middle: Envisioning Postpandemic-Responsive Student Support Services

Bettyjo Bouchey, Erin Gratz, Shelley C. Kurland
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-3809-1.ch019
Chapter PDF Download
Open access chapters are freely available for download


As institutions of higher education began their full returns to campus in Fall 2021, questions arose about continuing the flexible student support services that emerged during the pandemic, the expectations students might have of the post-shutdown world, and whether there would be equity between the support of on-campus students and those who remained at a distance. This chapter details the literature amassed during the height of the pandemic and the findings of a study focused on the online organizational structures that emerged as campuses were shut down when COVID-19 was sweeping the United States in early 2020. Interview participants detailed the rapid rollout of robust student support services that were offered in a virtual mode during the height of the pandemic. Participants hoped for the long-term continuance of services that offered better support to online and remote students, as well as those that could more robustly support on-campus students who choose to consume services in a more multimodal way.
Chapter Preview

Virtual Student Support Services Background

Student support services are critical components of supporting student success in higher education. Student support services in the college or university setting permeate throughout the entire student life cycle, beginning with recruitment; continuing to wraparound services such as advising, tutoring, financial aid, mental health counseling, residential life, student activities, and other non-instructional services; and ending with program completion support. Research has shown that “student services play a direct, vital role in success, including academic performance, psychological growth and program or certificate completion” (Pullan, 2011, p. 72). Thus, some suggest elevating student support services from a complement to learning to a more intentional partnership with academic divisions in service of college students’ holistic journeys (Berry, 2019; Higbee & Goff, 2008; Tait, 2014). Although most institutions of higher education have established broadly available student support services to meet the needs of traditional on-campus students, support services for online and remote students are still emerging and have mostly not met the same standards as on-campus offerings (Barr, 2014; B. L. Brown, 2017; V. S. Brown et al., 2020; Hicks, 2016; Luedtke, 1999; Ozoglu, 2009; Tait, 2014; Thompson & Stella, 2014).

Further, the presence of online and virtualized programming in the higher education setting poses unique challenges to institutions because of the students’ geography, time zone, and varied access to technology making the conceptualization, implementation, and sustainability of multimodal student support services that more complex. Too, the online student population is often composed of a mix of traditional on-campus students who occasionally take online courses, students from different regions of the same state, students from different states, and international students; thus, offering a unimodal (i.e., only on-campus) support service model is neither sufficient nor equitable. Online and virtual programming and this new student population challenge the “this is the way we have always done it” mindset, further highlighting the need and opportunity for institutions of higher education to be more flexible and innovative in how they support students, overall.

Studies have shown that, similar to how online education divisions vary in their organization from one institution to another, student support service models that serve both on-campus and at-a-distance populations vary across institutions (Bouchey et al., 2021; Garrett et al., 2020). Virtual student support service models tend to be centralized with some services (such as recruitment, orientation, and advising) provided by units specifically intended for online and remote students (Bouchey et al., 2021; Garrett et al., 2020) and others (such as tutoring and mental health counseling) offered to all students through the same delivery models (unimodally through services offered only on-campus). While it may be more efficient to offer student support services unimodally, this model may be inherently inequitable because it becomes difficult for an online and/or a remote student to access some support services since they are not able to come to campus.

Beyond equity and accessibility, providing equitable student support services to students is a component of online and virtualized programming that is often required by accrediting bodies as well (Barr, 2014; Pullan, 2011). The Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions (2011) stated, “The institution [is required to provide] effective student and academic services to support students enrolled in online learning offerings” (p. 3). Unfortunately, at this time, even though institutions of higher education have increased their virtual offerings, the development of student support services for students who remain at-a-distance lags. These gaps are increasingly observed by those students, contributing to lack of satisfaction too (V. S. Brown et al., 2020; Pullan, 2011).

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: