Referrals Rather than the Run-around

Over the last few weeks we have shared information about how faculty and staff learn about programs and services and how aware each group was of the programs and services at their institution. This week, we focus on how often and to which areas faculty and staff refer students.

In the second phase of the Supporting Student Success study, we spoke to students and they routinely shared how much it meant when someone took the time to refer them to the right person, program or service.  Sometimes these referrals came in the form of a faculty or staff member literally walking the student to the correct person’s desk. We also heard the flip-side. In absence of a referral, students talked at length about running around campus trying to get an answer to their question.

Referrals rather than the run-around. Sometimes it is the small actions that provides a large amount of support.

Think of all the situations where a referral could occur. A faculty member meeting with a first-year student who is struggling with writing could refer to Learning Support. A Residence Life Coordinator upon hearing that a student is looking to get in better shape could suggest they look at intramural and fitness programs in Athletics & Recreation. A student shares at an open house that he wants to study abroad. Another student asks a staff member about getting involved in research in their psychology program.

Faculty and staff were given a list of 25 programs and services that may exist on their campus and had to identify if they Never, Rarely, Occasionally, or Regularly referred students to each of the areas in the past year.  The following 6 charts show the faculty and staff responses to these 25 questions. We have grouped them into similar or related services. We encourage you to focus on which group (faculty or staff) refer more and think how these differences compare to faculty and staff members’ awareness of programs and services that we shared in last week’s post.

Specific Student Populations

Ref to Specific Populations

The above chart represents how often faculty and staff refer students to international, first-generation, and aboriginal student services. Staff reported referring much more often than faculty to all three areas, particularly to international student services. Many colleges and universities across Canada have made concerted efforts to recruit an increasing number of international, first generation and Aboriginal students. What might it mean that more than half of the faculty and staff respondents reported never referring students to the programs and services dedicated to supporting these students?

Personal and Well-Being

Ref to Personal Well Being

This chart represents how often faculty and staff refer students to services related to personal and well-being. Not surprisingly, both faculty and staff reported more referrals to counselling and health services. This suggests that both faculty and staff are talking to students about their health and wellness, although it appears fewer conversations result in referrals to areas that promote physical activity (athletics and rec) and/or spiritual well-being (religious and multi-faith resources).

Academic Services

Referals to Academic Services

The above chart demonstrates that both faculty and staff reported comparable referral patterns to academic services. Considering that most students attend college or university to earn a credential, it is encouraging that faculty and staff alike are referring students to make the most of their post-secondary experience by using the library, accessing learning support services for everything from test-taking strategies to writing skills, requesting and receiving accommodations for accessibility needs (when appropriate), and seeking advice on their program of study.

Student Life and Experiential Education

Ref to Student Life

Regarding referrals to student life and experiential education, a different pattern emerges. Staff reported a great deal more referrals to these programs and services  than faculty. Recalling last week’s blog post, leadership and service-learning were two of the areas faculty were least aware of, consistent with the above findings. Consider what opportunities for student learning and development might be missed as a result of these referral patterns.

Administrative Services

Ref to Admin & More

Overall, staff reported referring more often to the above services than faculty. Given there are a number of academic reasons why one would visit the registrar, it is not surprising that faculty reported making referrals to the registrar more often than the other services in this category. That being said, it is interesting to note that relatively few faculty and staff reported making referrals to food banks and in the case of faculty, to equity services.

Other Programs and Services

Ref to Other

Faculty reported referring more often than staff to undergraduate research opportunities and ombuds offices, which is not overly surprising given the academic relevance of both services. Staff reported more referral activity related to student clubs and student conduct offices when compared to faculty, however, less than half of the faculty and staff respondents reported referral activity of either type.

Implications & Questions to Consider

1. In many areas, more than 50% of staff said they had not referred anyone in the last year. How much of this could be attributed to students not asking about programs and services and how much is a result of staff members not knowing the programs and services in place to support students?

2. Among the academic service areas, faculty and staff patterns were quite similar. Is this indicative of a shift towards a shared responsibility for students’ academic success among both groups? What opportunities exist to strengthen faculty referrals to student life and experiential education areas?

3. How much emphasis is placed on helping students, once they raise questions or ideally in advance, get to (in some cases literally!) the programs and services that can support them throughout their post-secondary experience?

We are not suggesting that everyone needs to refer students to all areas all the time, but what opportunities are missed when faculty and staff report never referring students to certain programs and services? If a student comes to a faculty or staff member and attempts to engage in a conversation, can a faculty or staff member pick up on the student’s interests or challenges and help get them to that ‘next’ spot? How do we ensure faculty and staff are knowledgeable and resourceful such that they can refer students in need? We welcome your thoughts on these questions. Please “leave a comment” and share what you are doing on your campus to develop a culture of referral rather than the run-around.

Next week is our 4th and final post on the topic and it focuses on partnerships. Who partners with whom and how often?

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