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Community colleges are vital in providing accessible higher education opportunities to diverse student populations in rural, suburban, and urban communities alike. In this blog post, we draw insights from Tidewater Community College leaders to outline five practical actions community colleges can implement to improve students’ mental health and overall well-being that support institutional efforts to boost student success.
What is a community college?
A community college is a two-year school, with open admissions, that offers reasonably priced higher education, often as a pathway to a four-year degree. Nationwide, millions of students have the options of seeking certifications, improving workforce training, experiencing dual enrollment, completing a two-year associate’s degree, saving money doing general coursework before transferring to a four-year college or university, or, in some cases, even completing a bachelor’s degree. Community colleges are often the educational hub and significant workforce development driver in the regions they serve.
However, community college students often face unique challenges, such as juggling work, family, and academics, which can take a toll on their mental health. Community college students are also more likely to be first-generation college students, non-traditional students, or exposed to financial insecurity than their four-year school counterparts. Data from the Healthy Minds Study found more than 50% of community college students screened positive for symptoms of mental health conditions — but fewer than one in three sought treatment. Nearly one-third of community college students surveyed by TimelyCare identified medical and mental health care as a pressing basic need.
Tidewater Community College (TCC) in Virginia has taken a layered approach to supporting its students’ mental health, increasing in-person and online service offerings to meet students where they are. “We have a holistic approach to helping our students succeed in life because that’s part of their goal, to move forward academically so they can improve their situation in life,” said Melvilyn Scott, Lead Case Manager for Student Resources and Empowerment Center.
A model of TimelyCare
TCC is the second largest of 23 Virginia community colleges, with four campuses in Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach, plus five regional centers. For TCC, focusing on student well-being is central to a broader strategy to boost engagement, retention, and completion figures. Its approximately 27,000 students have equitable, on-demand access to virtual mental health and basic needs assistance through the TimelyCare platform, which serves as a 24/7 virtual extension of campus resources.
Roselinda Quinn-arreza, a student at TCC, shares how important on-demand self-care content is for her to thrive in her life and classes.
Drawing insights from leaders at TCC, higher education leaders can implement five practical actions to address challenges facing community college students and improve their overall well-being:
1. Expand access to mental health services
One of the first steps community college leaders can take to support student mental health is to expand access to mental health services on campus. According to Dr. Karen Campbell, VP for Student Affairs, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the urgent need for mental health support in community colleges. An internal TCC survey revealed that 37% of students reported moderate anxiety and 34% reported moderate depression. To address this, leaders should collaborate with mental health organizations and implement counseling services, workshops, and support groups that cater to the specific needs of their student population. These services can help students manage stress, anxiety, and depression effectively.
2. Foster a holistic approach to student support
Dr. Thomas Chatman, Dean of the Norfolk Campus and Dean of Student Support Services emphasized the importance of a holistic approach to student support. Community college leaders should recognize that students’ mental health is directly connected to student success. As such, they should create an environment in which students’ academic, emotional, and basic needs are addressed comprehensively. This may include initiatives such as financial literacy programs, childcare support, and access to affordable housing options. By adopting a holistic approach, community colleges can help students thrive both academically and personally.
3. Go beyond traditional counseling
Higher education leaders must also prioritize mental health awareness and education within the college community. Melvilyn Scott, Lead Case Manager in the Student Resource and Empowerment Center, stressed the importance of engaging, empowering, and enabling students to succeed in all aspects of their lives. To achieve this, leaders should offer workshops and training programs that promote mental health literacy among students, faculty, and staff. These programs can help destigmatize mental health issues and encourage open conversations about mental well-being. Additionally, leaders should disseminate information about available resources, making it easier for students to seek help when needed.
Drive Student Success With Holistic Support
4. Implement telehealth services, such as TimelyCare
Access to mental health care can be a significant barrier for community college students, as many may lack insurance or affordable options for acute care and ongoing therapy. To bridge this gap, community college leaders should explore partnerships with organizations like TimelyCare to provide equitable, on-demand access to virtual care with provider sessions, peer community and self-guided resources that are available 24/7. TimelyCare offers students access to licensed mental health professionals via scheduled counseling, making mental health support more accessible and convenient. By implementing such services, colleges can ensure that students receive the care they need, when they need it, to address mental health challenges effectively.
5. Create a supportive campus culture
Equip community college students for success
Improving mental health support for community college students is crucial. By expanding access to mental health services, adopting a holistic approach to student support, increasing awareness and education, implementing telehealth services like TimelyCare, and creating a supportive campus culture, community colleges can equip their students to overcome the unique challenges they face to have a more successful community college experience. By providing students with resources they would not have access to otherwise, community colleges have the opportunity to change not only their students’ lives but the trajectory of the communities they serve for generations to come.
Many colleges used allocations from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to invest in expanded mental health resources. In a recent Washington Post article, Dr. John Maduko, President of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities explained his system’s continued partnership with TimelyCare.