Higher education structures are typically heavily siloed. While colleges and universities offer a plethora of resources to help students succeed, navigating the system can be complicated. The larger or more populous the campus, the more challenging it is to utilize all the resources and services available. The library, computer lab, writing center, tutoring center, advising offices, financial aid office, and a variety of other student services are fragmented throughout the campus. They usually require in-person visits or scheduled appointments within a certain time frame, which is difficult for students to fit into their already busy class and work schedules. When a student needs help, they’re often sent on a campus-wide trek from one office to another, and back again if they’re missing any paperwork. It’s not efficient or simple.
Faculty and staff work hard to support students—that’s not the issue. The problem is that students don’t always know where to go for help and they’re left guessing until they happen upon the right point-of-contact.
The pandemic has prompted colleges and universities to rethink teaching models and implement new ways of supporting students, which is a step in the right direction. But remote learning won’t last forever. Students will go back to school, advisors will return to their offices, and we will still have to ask: What can we do to improve the student support experience?
How Silos Inhibit Equitability
Silos inhibit student equitability in colleges and universities by limiting access to and disconnecting students from resources. Geographically, resources are spread out across campus buildings. Technologically, students are required to learn and use many different digital platforms and course programs. Logistically, tutoring and writing centers aren’t open after hours when a student gets off work and need help at 10pm. Students are told to go one place for advising, another for financial aid, and to wait until tomorrow when the tutoring center opens again.
Universities have long-undisturbed hierarchies, processes, and procedures that benefit a select group of students. They aren’t set up in a way that’s ideal for everyone’s access. Second or third-generation students have an easier time navigating the college system than first-generation students who can’t always call their parents for advice. Those who can afford not to work while in school have an easier time accessing student resources when they aren’t rushing to work after class. Some students don’t have access to home Wi-Fi or a sufficient data plan which is crucial for remote learning. It’s time to even the playing field. The older, decentralized structures are due for a transformation.
The Road to Equitability
We must seek to transform the way we connect students to resources by eliminating processes that favor one group of students and leave others on the wayside. Every student will have the opportunity to thrive if they can all gain access to the same resources as quickly and easily as possible. That means tearing down obstacles and giving everyone easy access to any and every resource, advisor, tutor, or faculty member whenever they need it.
How can institutions get started?
- Open lines of communication so students aren’t left wondering who to contact or waiting for an appointment.
- Eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy, which is a huge barrier to entry.
- Clarify faculty job titles and make sure they match job descriptions.
- Offer a simple, memorable, and non-threatening way for students to connect with the right faculty member.
- Centralize fragmented resources, services, and offices so students can find all the help they need in one place.
These are just a few of many opportunities institutions have to improve equitability. Fortunately, we are seeing colleges and universities prioritize diversity, inclusion, and equitability, but perhaps it’s best done not by adding new programs and procedures, but by transforming ones that already exist. If we are truly seeking to make college more accessible to everyone, we must start tearing down silos in order to build a new and better future for generations to come.