How Non-Academic Supports Work: Four Mechanisms for Improving Student Outcomes

This research brief provides a review of literature and research focused on non-academic supports and success factors for postsecondary students. 

M. Karp
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

A synthesis of the literature describes several key themes that emerged in providing support mechanisms to improve student persistence and outcomes:

  • Creating social relationships
  • Clarifying goals and enhancing commitment
  • Developing college “know-how”
  • Making college life feasible.

For each of the four mechanisms, the author discusses research and strategies thought to enhance its implementation. To incorporate and integrate the first three supports, the author recommends that students participate in a student success course. Suggestions for making college life feasible include reducing barriers by providing services such as child care, transportation, and flexible class schedules.

The author concludes with the following suggestions for further research and practical recommendations for practitioners:

  • Streamline and personalize advising and counseling services
  • Make non-academic support a core component of student services and
  • Provide for more structure in non-academic program offerings.
What the experts say

Student persistence is a perennial topic of interest for adult educators. Although academic ability is certainly a factor in student persistence, non-academic issues can often lead result in students leaving programs and classes. While specifically developed for community colleges, the practices and concepts discussed in this Community College Research Brief can be applied to adult education programs in promoting persistence and assisting with successful transitions to postsecondary education. For example, comprehensive counseling, advising, and orientation sessions are beneficial in showing students how to succeed in a program, how and where to access services, how to establish connections with other learners, and how to develop goals and action plans.

This research brief is rich in concrete, useful strategies to improve student persistence. Adult education programs and transition programs will find research-based ideas for processes through which non-traditional students can become better prepared and more committed to program completion. In addition to the four support mechanisms described in the brief, the author emphasizes the need for continuing research in order to understand student perceptions of support services and to link their perceptions to academic outcomes.

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