The Caring Campus initiative, a national effort to foster a caring culture at community colleges, has yielded positive results by engaging campus staff members, according to a recent study by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
The initiative, launched in 2018 by the Institute for Evidence-Based Change, a nonprofit that works with education stakeholders to improve student outcomes, aims to improve the quality of interactions between faculty and staff and students so that students feel more connected to their campuses.
The study draws on 2020 and 2021 data from six campuses that participated in a Caring Campus program to engage nonacademic staff members in creating more welcoming campus environments by committing to certain behaviors, ranging from wearing a name tag to greeting students within a 10-foot radius. Researchers also conducted interviews with staff members or administrators who coordinated the implementation of the program and reviewed reports from an additional 14 campuses.
Over all, staff members found the Caring Campus initiative fairly easy to implement and at a low cost, according to the study. They also generally saw their newly adopted behavioral commitments as enhancing their work performance rather than an added or onerous responsibility. Results from a staff survey at four of the campuses in spring 2021 also found that 83 percent of staff members felt college leadership supported them in implementing the program. Barriers to implementing the initiative included staff burnout and turnover.
The study’s authors, Elizabeth A. Barnett, a senior research scholar, and Susan Bickerstaff, a senior research associate and program lead at the Community College Research Center, said staff members play a critical role in helping students thrive in college.
“Personnel in student service divisions like financial aid, enrollment management, advising, counseling, and the registrar are instrumental in helping students navigate college,” they wrote in a press release. “In particular, students from historically underrepresented groups in higher education—including Black, Latinx, Native American, and first-generation students—benefit from positive interactions with college personnel that affirm their connectedness, importance, and belonging.”