Student Support Services: Reorganized, Reviewed,
In August 2009, Chancellor Phillip Clay and the Chair of the MIT faculty, Professor Tom Kochan, charged the Task Force on Student Support Services (S3) to "to assess and recommend (1) ways to improve the operations of Student Support Services (S3), and (2) how to best position the functions of S3 within the MIT organizational structure to improve coordination among offices, faculty, and other stakeholders that work with S3 in serving students who need academic, social, and mental health support." We have moved ahead on the final recommendations of the Task Force, which were issued in December 2009. Consequently, there has been a reorganization and an intensive strategic planning process which has strengthened S3’s role as a central element of the support services provided to the MIT community.
The first outcome of the Task Force recommendations was the transfer of S3 from the Division of Student Life (DSL) to the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education (DUE) effective February 1, 2010.
Specifically, S3 is now part of the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming (UAAP). S3 is a natural addition to UAAP whose central mission is to provide quality student-centric services to enhance the academic success and personal growth of undergraduates.
Due to the “dual nature of S3” in providing both student life and academic support, the Task Force noted the need for DUE and DSL to take a collaborative approach to student support. During the transition of S3 from DSL to DUE, a DUE/DSL Working Group was established to jointly address any challenges and ensure a smooth, successful transfer. The Working Group was composed of deans Chris Colombo, Daniel Hastings, Julie Norman, Barbara Baker, and Arnold Henderson. A subset of this Group continues to meet regularly to foster continual collaboration.
The Task Force also recognized the importance of an ongoing exchange between S3 and the faculty. Based on a recommendation by the Task Force, the Chancellor appointed the S3 Faculty Advisory Committee, chaired by Professor Eric Grimson, to provide guidance and advice on policy changes that will affect the delivery of student services and act as a conduit for faculty issues with the delivery of student services. In the short term, this Committee worked to ensure that the recommendations of the Task Force were addressed in the strategic planning exercise.
In order to move ahead on the operational recommendations of the Task Force, DUE initiated a strategic planning process in March 2010. The Strategic Planning Group brought together a diverse set of faculty, administrators, undergraduate, and graduate students who represented the key stakeholders and resources supporting students. The Group reviewed S3 programs and services in the context of the Task Force recommendations which included:
- Develop a clearer definition of the mission and scope of services of S3
- Establish a clearly defined process for readmission
- Define and communicate the processes for excused absences and converting grades of O to OX
- Establish policies on confidentiality and communication of information
- Define appropriate outreach and programming
- Assess Nightline
Further input and insight was gained through a two-day external review, recommended by the Task Force, which was conducted by colleagues from Brown, Harvard, and Boston Universities. They shared best practices, identified areas of strength, and suggested possible areas for future improvement in S3.
The strategic planning process was completed in May, providing a clear articulation of the mission and changes in both processes and services, having positioned S3 to better serve students and maintain close, collaborative relationships with faculty, DSL, and MIT Medical. Through the work of the Group, the following was accomplished:
To promote the academic success and holistic experience of students, especially undergraduates. S3 reinforces the core values of MIT by providing support in an accessible and respectful environment. We further provide advice and advocacy for students and act as a hub of resources, referrals, and information across the MIT community.
- A mission statement was defined for Student Support Services.
- The Excused Absence and Excuse note protocols were clarified, refined, and documented to ensure consistency in application and communication.
- The Undergraduate Withdrawal and Readmission Processes were modified and clarified with the input of the Committee on Academic Performance, which has oversight for all readmission. Changes include new deadlines for applications to give students more time to process a decision; courseload planning for each semester until graduation; and a Returning Students Group to help students’ assimilation.
- A confidentiality statement was defined and guidelines were developed for consistent implementation.
- Available appointment hours were expanded to include walk-in hours from 9-10 am Monday-Friday. The office also added extended hours on Tuesdays until 7pm.
- The S3 Website was redesigned to be more informative for students and faculty. All updated S3 guidelines and protocols are available at: web.mit.edu/uaap/s3/index.html.
- Outreach and programming efforts were reassessed and future efforts will be focused on collaborations with other student-oriented offices and campus resources including DSL, MIT Medical, Office of Minority Education, and LBGT.
- A Nightline Review Committee was established in June to assess the efficacy and relevancy of Nightline. Based on their findings, a planning group is being formed to define a peer support service that addresses the needs of MIT students. While S3 will be involved in the planning process, MIT Mental Health and Counseling Service will take the lead in working with the current Nightline student staff to define the future program. Due to the relatively low utilization of Nightline by MIT students and the availability of alternative support options, Nightline has been suspended until a redefined service is established.
- Since S3 is focused on supporting undergraduates, a recommendation was made to provide additional resources to support graduate students via the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education.
As we move ahead, the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Academic Programming, including Student Support Services, is working very closely with DSL, the Dean on Call System, and the MIT Mental Health and Counseling Service to provide comprehensive support for the personal growth and academic success of MIT undergraduates. Embedded in this support system is the commitment to working closely with faculty and administrators to support the academic enterprise.