How to Engage Faculty on Campuses in Emergency Aid Programs
An interview with Mark Butland, Communications Professor and Faculty Senate President at Austin Community College (ACC), and Christine Stevens, Associate Professor at the University of Washington, Tacoma (UWT), about an initiative they are undertaking to explore how to most effectively engage faculty in supporting students with emergency financial needs. The initiative is part of the Emergency Aid Lab (EAL), an effort to support the development of robust, integrated emergency aid programs that address student emergency financial needs on campuses across the country. The lab is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and convened by Reos Partners. To learn more about the lab: https://reospartners.com/projects/emergency-aid-lab/
What is the purpose of the EAL Faculty Engagement Initiative?
MB: We are trying to get faculty educated, engaged, and advocating for emergency aid (EA) objectives – doing outreach and supporting students who otherwise might drop out over a small financial expense. A member of the ACC’s Office of Institutional Analytics recently completed some research demonstrating that students spend more time in a week with faculty than they do with Student Services in an entire semester. These data show why it is so important for faculty to be involved in EA efforts. We cannot expect this to happen through the hard work of student services professionals alone.
CS: For EA to be successful, the entire university needs to be involved. Faculty engagement is critical; they can be central players in shifting the culture around seeking help, and advancing retention and completion. A lot of faculty are doing this work in various ways, not knowing that there are others out there trying to help students with crises. The initiative has brought together colleagues who didn’t even know about the work of others, to share ideas and work together to widen the circle of those advocating for EA.
What has been the focus of this initiative’s work over recent months?
CS: We have been working with Ian Prinsloo [Reos Partners] on the use case process – mapping the journey of someone who is pursuing a goal within a system. We walked through a case study of a student who had an emergency financial issue, mapped out all of the actors that affected the student’s journey – including faculty, administration, those who develop policies, funders, etc. – and outlined the goals of each of these actors. The process helped us think about our challenge with a wider lens, not just focused on faculty.
What have been your key learnings?
MB: When we started discussing how to engage faculty in emergency aid work, I thought of faculty as monolithic. I now see that there are many subsets of “faculty” with different interests and motivations: adjunct faculty, full-time faculty, those who are preparing students to transfer, those working on workforce readiness, etc. This new awareness has helped me to think about different approaches to different audiences, based on their interests. For example, a small incentive for engagement probably would work well with adjunct faculty. Yet, we need to take a different approach with full-time faculty who may be suffering from “initiative fatigue.”
Broadly, I think there are two primary ways to connect faculty to EA: 1) touching faculty members’ hearts by telling stories of students who almost fell through the cracks but are still in school because of EA and 2) clarifying linkages between EA and our institution’s mission.
CS: Faculty really need to understand the student perspective so it is important that we ask students about the best ways to communicate EA. For example, to get the student perspective, I presented the case studies to students. The student feedback was really instructional. Just because faculty talk about EA, does not mean that students will engage. One student said that she wouldn’t go to her business professor about EA, but might go to a sociology professor. An African American student said he would not be comfortable talking with a white faculty member if trust had not already been built. Faculty need to really examine their assumptions about students. If a student misses class or coursework, the faculty member might approach the student from concern rather than blame. That is how we find out that students need help. Faculty really need to think about how they show up and how to present information about EA. For example, mentioning EA when students are mid-term, and might be dealing with a lot of stresses, could be more effective than just listing EA in the syllabus.
What are your recommendations to other campus teams on starting to involve faculty in EA efforts?
• Get with student services professionals and understand what they know about student needs.
• Find faculty leaders and get them on board. Collect stories that touch their hearts and make the case for EA by connecting it to issues that are relevant to faculty (for example, illustrate the link between faculty involvement in EA and the institution’s mission).
• On messaging, the team leading EA should: 1) generate a variety of messages, based on audience 2) make the messages positive and exciting – this is neat, cool, different 3) create a messaging campaign utilizing a range of channels 4) remember that this is a marathon, not a one-time effort.
• Iterate, revise, improve.
• The team leading EA should educate themselves about other institutions’ efforts and successes.
• Start by asking questions, first with students and then with other actors in the system.
• Share with faculty that need is hidden and we need to check our assumptions about students.
• Get into action – try some outreach to faculty and get feedback. Iterate. Listen. Revise.