The Role of Non-Academic Staff in Student Success

Amy Jenkins
January 6, 2023

Universities and colleges are viewed as bastions of academia, with professors, researchers, and students occupying the limelight. But without the hard work and dedication of non-academic staff, these higher education institutions wouldn’t be able to run efficiently and effectively… or at all.

From janitorial services to student support and financial aid, non-academic staff are an essential aspect of higher education… even if they’re often overlooked.

Working Behind the Scenes

At universities and colleges, non-academic staff play a range of roles. Janitors and custodians keep the campus clean and safe, providing vital services that enable students and faculty to focus on their work. IT personnel is responsible for the smooth operation of computer networks and other technology, while security staff are tasked with keeping higher education campuses and students safe. Administrative staff provide a wide range of services, from financial aid to career counseling.

Behind the scenes, each of these roles makes higher education possible from an infrastructural perspective. But when it comes to non-academic staff, their core job is actually the same as all academic faculty: promote student success in higher education.

Offering a Helping Hand and Key Advice

Non-academic staff, from enrollment staff to mental health counselors, provide invaluable support to students. In addition to helping students navigate the complexities of school, they’re often the first point of contact for students seeking financial aid, career advice, and emotional and mental support. Non-academic staff also provide guidance on academic matters such as course selection and study strategies.

These services have a huge effect on student success in higher education, including whether or not a student will graduate on time, whether they’ll transfer to another school, and whether they’ll take a semester off. The more support a student has, the less stressed they’re likely to feel about their academic wellness.

As noted by the report “Building on Completion Gains” from Complete College America, non-academic staff are essential in helping students to stay on track to graduation. The study found that students who interacted with non-academic staff had higher completion rates than those who did not.

That’s because students don’t just need academic resources to excel. They also need advice on finances from enrollment staff and financial aid officers, tutoring in areas where they struggle from advisors, and career services from counselors that can help them plan for their future.

Meeting Enrollment Goals

Non-academic staff are also an essential part of enrollment in higher education—especially those who work in the admissions office. As the number of students attending college continues to rise, the admissions staff must ensure that they have enough personnel to provide services and support to all of their students.

In other words, non-academic staff are on the front lines when it comes to recruitment and enrollment in higher education. Without their dedication and ability to focus in on the details, a school might not recruit enough students. Or, if it does, it may be recruiting the wrong ones.

Non-academic staff are also crucial in helping universities and colleges retain students. As noted by the same report from Complete College America, non-academic staff help students to stay on track to graduation.

The study found that students who interacted with non-academic staff had higher completion rates than those who did not. That’s because counselors, advisors, and financial aid officers can provide students with personalized forms of support.

Non-Academic Staff are Crucial to a Tight-Knit Community

One peripheral role that non-academic staff play is to foster a sense of community in higher education. From student organizations to faculty-led initiatives, non-academic staff create a more positive and inclusive campus environment.

This positivity can go a long way in keeping students optimistic about their higher education, as these staff members tend to have regular contact with students—much more so than academic departments. Forming a strong community with students is instrumental in fostering student success. And in the end, higher education institutions couldn’t function without the hard work and dedication of their non-academic staff. As such, they deserve to be recognized and appreciated for the invaluable services they provide.

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