Mental Health Issues Are Hurting Attendance

From time to time, students don’t show up to class. It happens. But when it happens, how often do you or your colleagues ask why students aren’t coming to class? How often is asking students about the reasons behind their absences a part of your strategy?

Students’ Mental Health

Understanding why students aren’t showing up is critical in figuring out how to get them back in class. One of the big contributors to student absence, it turns out, is poor mental health. In fact, over 75% of students said they’ve experienced mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, and depression, and those issues are increasingly cited as reasons why students skip class. 

Attendance is highly correlated to grades and is the biggest predictor for college success. When 40% of students drop out, as is the case according to a study by the NSC Research Center, it’s time to take mental health seriously as a risk factor to completion.  

Rising Awareness

It turns out college presidents are well aware of the prevalence of the mental health issues their students deal with. A report released by the American Council on Education found that more than 80 percent of top university executives say that mental health is more of a priority on campus now than it was three years ago. Schools have made efforts to help students manage mental health issues, including opening counseling centers, creating health and wellness programs, forming student-led support groups, and even requiring staff members to receive mental health and first aid training.

Unfortunately, these methods to combat mental health issues are ineffective for many of the students who need them the most. Students who stay home because of mental health lose the opportunity to benefit from campus resources. The traditional ways of responding to student absences may actually be doing more harm than good. So, what should schools do instead? How do they help students dealing with mental health issues show up to class and persist through their programs? They need to change when and how they respond to situations where students don’t come to class.

Flipping The Script

Many schools try to combat students’ mental health issues by implementing and improving student support services and resources. But when only 24% of students say they’ve taken advantage of those resources, bolstering student support resources might not be the most effective course of action. What’s more, if students aren’t coming to class in the first place, the chance of them making use of the support available on campus is eliminated. Especially for schools with a large commuter student population, you might need to take a new approach to reach out to students who are likely missing out on campus support opportunities.

It’s Time For Early Detection & Consistent Outreach

Schools should be diligent about reaching out to students when they miss class. In our recent blog about students’ feedback on their career college experience, we highlighted that many schools don’t actually reach out to students when they’ve missed a class. We presume that those schools use attendance management processes that alert staff of absences days after the student was out, which could lead staff to think it’s too far in the past to worry about or perhaps the student has been in class again since then.

In any case, schools should reach out to students as soon as possible after they’ve noticed a student missed class. Schools that use a mobile attendance platform know in real-time which students aren’t in class, giving them full advantage of early detection. 

Through early detection, schools can implement proactive retention by contacting students as soon as the same day that they’ve missed class. Equipped with real-time information gathered through a mobile attendance platform, schools would be able to get in contact with absent students immediately and intervene before they become “at-risk.”

A Slippery Slope

After early detection, schools can start their intervention. But the intervention needs to be more than just reminding students to come to class.

Imagine being a student dealing with anxiety about your progression through your program. If you miss a day because you had a panic attack and your school reaches out to remind you that it’s detrimental to miss classes and that you need to come back as soon as possible, it might just drive you further towards dropping out. 

Modifying The Message

Instead, schools need to be sure that their message to absent students is supportive. Ask the student why they didn’t show up. Listen to the student and take note of the reasons they provide. If the student does reveal that they’re dealing with mental health issues and didn’t want to be in class, school staff can help them by answering questions and making them aware of what resources are available on campus.

In addition, by listening to students describe the challenges hindering them from coming to campus, schools will acquire specific intel about other issues they could be addressing. For example, if a student admits that they don’t have enough money to purchase lunch every day, schools can consider installing a fridge and microwave to enable students to bring food from home. By understanding specific reasons why students aren’t showing up, schools can tailor their approach to how they can help students deal with challenges and persist through their programs.

Ideally, through early detection and contacting students before their enrollment status is jeopardized by poor attendance records, you will be able to help students feel more supported at school and help them cope better with mental health issues like stress and anxiety in the first place.

A Heightened Focus On Absentees

When students are absent, many schools don’t ask why. The theory of “out of sight, out of mind” comes into play when a student isn’t in class. School staff logically turn their focus to the students who do show up, and might not think much about the ones that don’t. But the problems of absent students are also problems of the school, especially if they’re absent due to mental health reasons caused in part by the challenges of education.

Because that has often proven to be the case, schools should be paying a lot more attention to absent students. By leveraging mobile attendance platforms to change when and how they intervene with absent students, schools can provide timely support to students and help them stay on track to graduate through getting in contact with students before their progression is dramatically affected.

To see how CourseKey’s real-time insights into student attendance can help your school combat mental health problems affecting attendance, schedule a demo of the platform below!

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  1. pam bracken January 22, 2020 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    This was a great article….

    • Hannah Zwick January 24, 2020 at 2:37 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Pam! We hope it provided some food for thought.

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