Although there is ample research on the role of faculty in creating a welcoming and inclusive campus environment, little attention has been paid to the contributions nonacademic staff can make to this effort. Personnel in student service divisions like financial aid, enrollment management, advising, counseling, and the registrar are instrumental in helping students navigate college. In particular, students from historically underrepresented groups in higher education—including Black, Latinx, Native American, and first-generation students—benefit from positive interactions with college personnel that affirm their connectedness, importance, and belonging. Based on fieldwork at six colleges and other data, this short report discusses the implementation and impact of Caring Campus/Staff, a program designed and administered by the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC) to engage nonacademic staff in improving interactions with students and fostering a culture of caring at community colleges.
Caring Campus is grounded in a theory of change that envisions two forms of positive impact: First, because students feel welcomed by college staff and because they have their college-related needs met quickly, they are more likely to stay enrolled in college; and second, because staff work collaboratively as leaders of the initiative and because they have positive interactions with one another and with students, they contribute to a more engaged and student-centered college culture. During sessions with IEBC coaches, staff from participating colleges identified behavioral commitments, the actions they could take to achieve these goals, for both face-to-face and virtual environments. For example, staff could develop cross-departmental awareness to better serve students, approach students whenever they are within 10 feet and seem to need assistance, and meaningfully connect with students by addressing their concerns with a positive attitude. Though the effects on student outcomes require further study, interviews with a range of stakeholders indicate that Caring Campus helped staff at the colleges enhance their institutional knowledge and leadership skills, sustain positive interactions with students, and bolster staff camaraderie. The report includes lessons to facilitate future implementation at other colleges.