The pandemic has taken a huge toll on community and technical college students through job losses, food insecurity, and impacts on their mental health. A LeadMN survey found that a vast majority of students have struggled with one or more of these issues over the last year. This has been an inflection point for LeadMN that has caused us to rethink how we can best support students going forward.
Over the past year we have explored ways that we can better support students in a post pandemic world. To help inform this exploration we brought on a consulting firm to help us conduct over 20 interviews with students and college administrators to gather feedback on the real challenges that students face and ways that they can better be supported. In addition, we conducted two large surveys of over 12,000 students to understand what issues were holding them back.
Then we began to prototype ways that LeadMN could better support students through a committee and during our January conference. We developed a twenty-page report that was presented to the LeadMN Governing Council, that was unanimously adopted and then approved by the General Assembly during our April Conference by a vote of 68% in favor and 32% opposed.
Here are the three new priorities that the student leaders want us to develop over the next five-year period.
Priority 1: BENEFITS NAVIGATOR
Basic needs are preventing students from learning and leading in college. One of the barriers to these services is the complexity in the application process. LeadMN will help students get access to the information and services they need by providing one to one benefits navigation. Navigators would help students sift through available options around mental health, financial aid, emergency grants, academic services, transfer process, and health services.
Priority 2: CAREER SERVICES AND EXPANDED INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITIES
Students feel unsupported and unprepared to face their job and internship search based upon our survey of students. To help prepare students we will help them conduct career exploration through the LeadMN career app, develop important career readiness skills through an expanded partnership with the Charlie Academy Life and Leadership Academy, and finally integrate Design your Life trainings with student leaders.
Priority 3: STUDENT ENGAGEMENT PLATFORM
Students are reporting increased levels of social isolation and mental health issues. We will explore ways to develop student engagement channels like a student newspaper or an online platform where content is created and moderated by students.
The proposal would have increased the LeadMN student fee and allowed us to expand our services to create a peer to peer benefits navigator, provide career support to students, and create a stronger sense of community across all 48 community and technical college campuses. The Board of Trustees rejected the proposal for political reasons. Despite that, we are still moving forward in this new direction, but without the resources to carry out this new work.