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National University, a pioneer in online education, is at the forefront of providing accessible and flexible learning opportunities for a diverse student body. As online education continues to gain popularity across the U.S., National University serves as a case study to understand the unique challenges and barriers faced by online students, and how online colleges and universities prioritize mental health and wellness.
Drawing from the perspectives of academic leaders Dr. Mark Milliron, President of National University, Dr. J.B. Robinson, Associate Dean of Students for the School of Arts, Letters, and Sciences, and Dr. Ashley Maakestad, Associate Director of Student Wellness, National University’s experiences provide significant insight into how best to support online students. That includes National University’s partnership with TimelyCare, which enhances the support available to their online students.
Understanding online students
National University has over 41,000 students and more than 3,300 employees, all of whom operate online. Along with their 190+ degree programs and innovative four-week course structure, they also provide meaningful support services designed to help their students succeed in the classroom, at work, at home, and beyond.
Online student populations often reflect high degrees of diversity. When looking at National University, the student body is a diverse mix of working professionals, parents, military personnel, and non-traditional-aged learners.
Dr. Robinson highlights the diverse student demographics, stating, “The average age of attendance is somewhere in the early thirties. We serve a large proportion of students with children, predominantly busy working adults who are going back to school.”
Approximately one-third of National University’s students are military-affiliated, encompassing veterans, active-duty personnel, and military-affiliated dependents. The university is also a Hispanic-serving institution, reflecting its commitment to a diverse student body.
President Milliron sheds light on the challenges they face as a result of such a unique population, stating, We serve students who are coming with usually very complicated lives, or at least lives that require us to make adjustments because they’re a deployed soldier, or they’re a working veteran, or they’re a parent, or whatever the case might be.”
Challenges faced by online students
National University’s online students encounter several barriers that may impact their mental health and overall well-being. These challenges are representative of the experiences of online students across the country:
Balancing multiple responsibilities
President Milliron emphasizes the intricacies of National University’s students’ lives, stating, “We always have to be on our game to understand how we can make sure we’re bringing learning to them in a way that [helps them] navigate our processes to get to the other side, but we want them to learn deeply at the same time.” This balancing act often includes work, family obligations, and other commitments—in addition to any school-related obligations.
Limited time for traditional support
As online students, flexibility to access on-campus resources during normal hours may be limited or cease to exist altogether. Dr. Robinson notes, “Having a resource 24/7 actually matters for our students.” Online students’ schedules may not align with traditional on-campus support, necessitating accessible and flexible mental health services.
Lack of social support
National University’s online students may experience feelings of isolation due to the absence of face-to-face interactions. Dr. Robinson encourages colleges and universities to ask the question: “What can we do to bring [students] together so that [they]can engage in some type of social activity, gather that sense of belonging, and connect with a peer that may be a colleague in the future?”
Financial constraints and access to care
Dr. Maakestad sheds light on the financial challenges faced by online students, stating, “The ability for our students to access services at no cost to them is really, really important. A lot of our students are working full-time, they’re caregivers, they’re parents, and they don’t have a lot of extra funds lying around to spend on themselves, to spend on self-care, to spend on things that maybe they would deem as a bonus. And so not having to make tough decisions and being able to simply access care that they need without having to factor in what do I have to get rid of on my budget to make this work makes a huge difference.”
Support your students from anywhere
Addressing mental health and wellness needs
National University, recognizing the unique challenges faced by its online students, adopts practical strategies to prioritize student mental health and overall well-being:
- Partnership with TimelyCare: National University collaborates with TimelyCare to provide 24/7 access to licensed therapists and counselors. Dr. Maakestad highlights the significance of this partnership, stating, “One of the challenges that National University faces when working with primarily online students in trying to provide wellness resources is just location. And we can’t be experts in every single county in the entire United States. And so having something like TimelyCare where we know a student can get licensed care in their state is huge and takes a huge burden off of the student wellness team.”
- Tailored support: Understanding the busy lives of online students, National University designs interventions and resources to be available across time zones. Dr. Robinson stresses the importance of “strategies to help students that allow them to access [resources] when they can and in the way that they need to access them.”
- Inclusivity and cultural sensitivity: National University promotes inclusivity by providing mental health resources in multiple languages, acknowledging the diverse linguistic backgrounds of its students.
National University’s experience serves as a case study in understanding the challenges faced by online students and the importance of prioritizing their mental health and well-being. Through its partnership with TimelyCare, National University enhances the support available to its online students, ensuring they have access to 24/7 licensed care with providers in every state and services in multiple languages.
For colleges and universities aiming to support their online student community effectively, TimelyCare offers a compelling solution. By joining forces with TimelyCare, institutions can provide accessible and reliable mental health resources, meeting the unique needs of their diverse student body.
Contact TimelyCare today to elevate your institution’s commitment to the success and well-being of your online student community. Together, we can foster an inclusive and supportive learning environment that propels students toward their goals.