Enhancing the Culture of Care and Redefining In Loco Parentis

General Description of the Project:
At Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) we dedicate much of our time ensuring that our students are provided with the tools and support to enable them to develop in all of the ways that bring success for them. So much so that a “Culture of Care” philosophy has been embedded into our current strategic planning process. This approach has been the foundation of our holistic approach to services, resources, and programs within Student Affairs and is now spreading throughout the campus as a focus to enhance student success. Within Student Affairs, we have established practices in providing services, resources, and programs that address barriers to our student’s education. For example, through our Single Stop office, we have been able to provide wrap-around services to address the needs of food insecurity, emergency funds, housing insecurity and homelessness, book advances, childcare resources, immigration, and health insurance.

As we establish these services, resources, and programs, we do so by taking the traditional definition of in loco parentis (in place of the parents) in higher education and redefining what it means. Using the definition outlined on the Center for Parenting Education website, there is a dual role for parents: that of nurturer and that of providing structure. In the structure role of in loco parentis, the parent provides direction, imposes rules, uses discipline, sets limits, establishes and follows through with consequences, holds the child accountable for their behavior, and teaches values. The parent provides the guidance that helps the child to change, grow, and mature. Responsible behavior, in line with the children’s maturity levels, is taught and expected. In the nurture role the parent takes care of the child’s basic needs, such as food, medical care, shelter, clothing, as well as give love, attention, understanding, acceptance, time, and support.

Historically, in loco parentis in higher education could be defined as filling the structure-setting role of the parent, but now has become less of a focus for institutions. However, we at BMCC operate in the in loco parentis mode which enables us to respond to the nurturing needs of the student. This proposal highlights our approach of serving in loco parentis by centering our attention on nurturing and caring for our students.

In the past when students headed off to college, some of these parental responsibilities were expected to be transferred to the institution. Throughout the history of higher education, in loco parentis has been a constant and evolving role of the institution. Up until the 1960’s the in loco parentis doctrine allowed universities to exercise great discretion in developing the character of their students without having to consider their students’ constitutional rights. During the civil rights era, the recognition of constitutional rights of students, and litigation forced a change in the relationships of universities with their students. A new role was established as courts held that universities were mere bystanders to student activities and absolved them of liability in negligent actions brought by injured students. Later, courts recognized a duty of care based on the close relationship that universities have with their students. Public and private institution embraced this close relationship and became facilitators of student development through the work of their student affairs offices. Recent court cases and university policies suggest that universities, as facilitators of student development, will continue to remain involved in student life, but students will be deemed by some courts to have a higher level of responsibility over their actions than in the past. (Lee, P. (2011). The curious life of in loco parentis in American universities. Higher Education in Review, 8, 65-90).

However, the need to establish a nurturing and caring role has become a more prevalent need of college students. More and more research and information is showing that these basic nurturing needs are impacting student retention and success. Research on college students and food insecurity, housing insecurity, homelessness, hours worked, the need for financial aid, emergency financial needs, transportation challenges, immigration matters, mental health, and legal assistance has shown that when students arrive at college they may be in need of these basic needs to succeed.

BMCC has a long history of providing care and assistance to students with personal and life matters outside of their academic pursuits. At BMCC our culture of care is designed to help students succeed but also provide services and resources to meet their basic needs, both inside and outside of the classroom. Understanding the basic needs as outlined in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need (1943), BMCC is pushed to fill gaps to ensure that students have their needs met, for without meeting these basic needs, students may not be able to focus on their academic endeavors. As Maslow outlines in his hierarchy, the needs are: physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. In most cases, the basic needs in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up.

Despite being a large institution of 25,500 students, we strive to create an environment that gives the campus a small college feel that cares about each student. To address the sense of belonging, the college has enhanced the traditional resources and services (i.e. Veterans Resource Center, Women’s Resource Center, Peer Mentoring, Early Childhood Center) with new cohort programs (i.e. DREAMERS, CREAR Futuros Peer Mentoring, and Panther Partner first generation). In addition, at BMCC, technology is utilized to help identify the needs of students, and resources and programming is designed accordingly. BMCC has been moving away from the “build it and they will come” model of providing services for students and creating programs to best meet the needs of our diverse and changing student population using approaches that are based on assessment and observation of students enrolled at the college. We have designed small-customized retention-focused programs, services, and cohorts called boutiques in an effort to fit the needs of the student body. This approach is augmented with wraparound services, removes obstacles, connects students with services, builds a growth mindset and a sense of belonging in college, with the goal of improving retention and success along with impacting the student’s sense of worth and self-esteem.

Description of the Technology(ies) Used:
Through the use of technology, we have been better able to identify students with specific needs, which in the past, would have posed some difficulty. We have identified populations of students with homogeneous issues, using PeopleSoft/CUNYfirst and in collaboration with our institutional research office. PeopleSoft allows us to group students into need-specific groups. In one example, we used our PeopleSoft/CUNYfirst system to identify students in good standing with a dramatic drop in their GPA. We mine the data to find out who they are. Once we have identified our students, our next step is to reach them. To accomplish this, BMCC uses Hobson’s Retain, a Customer Relations Management (CRM) tool. Hobson’s helps us to assess the effectiveness of the communication by reporting open rates and click-through rates. With this information, we can assess whether we are reaching our students. We then use this information to determine whether an alternate outreach plan should be devised. Once we have reached our students, where we initiate one-on-one conversations to determine how best to serve them. We then meet with the students to determine the causes of the drop in GPA and to learn about intervening factors with the goal of guiding students back to their previous level of academic achievement. Furthermore, we have used PeopleSoft/CUNYfirst to help us identify the ethnicity of the students we serve, for those who choose to report this information.

Focusing on a culture of care has a positive impact on the lives and success of our students both inside and outside of the classroom.



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