As the nation slowly finds its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges are making plans to welcome their students back in person to campus. The impact of the significant disruption caused by the pandemic has been measured in many ways, including the negative effect on stress on student success and the financial losses experienced by so many institutions of higher education. Administrators will be seeking ways to address the former while navigating the fiscal challenges created by the latter. Ways to build resilience, then, will be needed by both students and the institutions themselves. Both will benefit from expanded capacity for adapting, persisting, learning from failure, and overcoming adversity. Such growth will require creativity, flexibility, and equitable access to resources in a time when colleges and universities join in national and international conversations aimed to shed light on issues of social justice, systemic inequality, and racialized violence. As educators, we find ourselves attempting to support students who will likely need more and different types of support than previous generations of students as they navigate their path through higher education. Members of The Academic Resilience Consortium (ARC) are poised to meet those tremendous needs.
ARC members are academic professionals, faculty, staff, and students who have created programming and policies to help build resilience. As an organization, ARC posits that resilience is a praxis: individuals, communities, and institutions can develop skills toward greater resilience. The ARC was founded in 2017 by a small group of Ivy League+ Learning Services administrators interested in resilience and connecting with like-minded colleagues. In 2021 ARC, now with over 600 members, was transformed into a member-driven group with elected leadership of a steering committee and leadership council representing the diversity of higher education, including public and private colleges and universities as well as community colleges of all sizes.
In the coming year, ARC will offer many opportunities for colleagues committed to understanding and fostering student resilience to connect, share ideas, and learn from one another. In March, ARC hosted an online webinar showcasing the resilience-themed work of nearly a dozen different institutions. The breadth of the work demonstrated a wide range of approaches, from proactive outreach to at-risk students, to helping all students find meaning and connection through personal narratives. Strengthening the resilience of advisors and academic professionals was also emphasized, and multiple health and wellness initiatives were highlighted. A few of the programs are described below under specific categories of programming:
- Proactive Outreach to At-risk Students: Ryerson University (Toronto) hosts semester-long, non-credit, and for-credit courses with curricula blending positive psychology and holistic learning strategies that serve students who self-identify as struggling. Xavier University of Louisiana offers targeted assistance to students on academic probation and those students who earned a C or below in certain courses. These courses and strategies improve student success. The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities offers stories of academic failure and resilience to inspire students who may be facing academic obstacles.
- Engagement and Personal Meaning: The University of Texas at Dallas examined why success is not “always about the grades” and encourages broader definitions of success. A Ph.D. student from Tennessee State University discussed how historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) work to retain students and prevent drop out. Trinity Washington University revealed specific ways in which they guide students to explore options in choosing majors and planned careers. A peer-facilitated private program called Project Connect successfully reduces loneliness and helps students make friends through structured conversation and activities.
- Health and Wellness Programing: Northwestern’s Small Group Programming was described, which includes groups co-facilitated by a student team member and a staff member. McGill University highlighted their Wellness Hub. Virginia Tech’s peer-to-peer program was spotlighted to show how student leaders can support other students and provide a student voice on campus-wide mental health initiatives.
- Narratives and Voices of Resilience: Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology trains first-year engineering students to use reflective writing to process their experiences. The University of Pennsylvania uses student panels to demonstrate that failure can be a learning, instead of stigmatizing, experience and encourages academic resilience through reflective journals. Millersville University uses video clips and guest speakers who normalize struggle and challenges during college. Massachusetts Institute of Technology produces student video narratives about specific challenges and solutions to common problems at MIT.
- Scaling Up Across Campuses: New York University has a text message “nudging” campaign in which students are sent messages of resilience – last year over 300,000 positive messages were texted to students to foster connectedness and support. Florida State University licensed their interactive, online customizable student resilience toolkit to other universities. George Mason University highlighted their work to translate a formerly in-person resilience experience to a meaningful online one and issuing digital credentials (“badges”) for students who participate in the course. Purdue University described their Steps to Leaps program, which encourages perseverance, vision, and “grit” for student success.
- Faculty and Staff Support: Boston University described its extensive training and professional development opportunities for faculty and staff that include community listening and support sessions to fill gaps and meet the needs of faculty and advisors across campus. Pratt Institute developed a Resilient Teaching Online (RTO) faculty development program, a vibrant and supportive community for faculty who teach online. The University of Washington’s Resilience Lab created a new Well-Being for Life & Learning Guidebook for faculty. The guidebook supports faculty in designing learning environments that promote student well-being. The University of California Santa Cruz highlighted its new Radical Resilience Training Program (RRTP), is a self-paced, virtual program to help students, staff and faculty promote resilience.
Now, more than ever, higher education must attend to issues of resilience. As institutions, we must think about how to adapt to the changing demographics and needs of students. We must capitalize on practices that enable flexibility and adaptability to the evolving landscape of higher education. In supporting students, we must provide the scaffolding to support their resiliency to ensure success. To learn more about the work of ARC, or to become a member, visit http://academicresilience.org.