Offering Head Start Students Effective Support

Head Start professionals and parents pursuing their college education will benefit from a strong student support system to ensure that they are not overcome by risk factors that may derail their pursuit of a degree. Students, faculty, and Head Start managers will learn from this article how the Head Start community can benefit when educational institutions offer a wide variety of supports for students seeking degrees both in-person and online. Included in this article is the following list of recommendations considered essential to student success: a comprehensive website for prospective students; online student orientation; academic and registration advice; and coursework support.

The following is an excerpt from .
Head Start Bulletin

Support systems are critical to student success

by Lisa Holstrom

Angie at the computer
Image: Angie Butcher, University of Cincinnati

Because of the online program, I am now closing in on a bachelor's degree, after graduating with my associate's degree online a few years ago. Previously, my duties at my work place and at home had prevented me from pursuing a degree at all. Through distance learning, I am able to balance every aspect of my life without feeling guilty of being away from home. The university's support from my first course in 2000 to graduation to making the decision to continue in a bachelor's program, has helped me to succeed in ways I never thought possible.
—Angie, an online program student

To be as successful as Angie, students need a strong support system from initial inquiry about degrees to the celebratory graduation day. Many Head Start staff and parents pursuing college degrees have risk factors that can raise the likelihood of dropping out of school because of the challenges they face juggling family, work, and college.

Looking For a Program

Good student support begins the moment a prospective student inquires about a program. A comprehensive Web site will include:

  • Details about accreditations
  • Tuition rates
  • Federal financial aid
  • How distance education works at that institution (i.e., self-paced, on a semester schedule, the type of student-student and student-instructor interaction, and technology needed)
  • Whether the program is focused on professionals working in a childcare setting
  • The application procedures and process
  • Orientation information
  • A toll-free number to call with questions.

Note that although programs requiring a campus orientation visit may assist in building rapport with the university personnel, the cost and time to travel may be prohibitive for many working professionals. A student should feel supported and not pressured while making a decision about enrollment. Good program representatives will be accessible via phone and e-mail and will convey program information with compassion and understanding.

Online Student Orientation

Most online programs have a mandatory online orientation before a student may begin courses. This offers the opportunity to learn the technology in an ungraded environment. A student should never feel isolated. As problems and questions arise, quality programs will offer someone to call or e-mail who provides a quick response.

Academic and Registration Advice

One of the most important support systems for new and returning students is academic advising support. Many students bring transcripts from other institutions. An accurate assessment of transfer credit is vital to successfully completing the degree at the new institution. Students should have a clear understanding of what previous credit has transferred and what courses remain in their degree program. An academic map is helpful to guide students through registration with confidence that they have met prerequisite coursework requirements. Consistent and continual communication between the advisor and the student can assure that a student's educational goals are met.

Coursework Support

In addition to the support of a student's online instructor, other systems can support student success. All universities require students to take placement tests to determine the student's abilities in math and English. Some offer online tests and other institutions require proctored exams. The results of these tests are used to ensure that students receive the academic support they need to succeed in college-level math and English. Students enrolled in courses to meet these needs also may benefit from support in order to overcome anxiety, build self-confidence, and satisfy other academic requirements. Another method to support students is online tutoring for writing. This can be vital to students' success in English courses and in distance education courses that depend on writing as the primary mode of communication.


The Head Start community can benefit from acknowledging and offering the wide variety of support for students seeking degrees. Sharing information about people who can help and what methods they use is one of the best ways to ensure students make progress both on campus and online.

Lisa Holstrom was the Director of the Early Childhood Learning Community for the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services at the University of Cincinnati.

See also:
Advisors - Distance Learning and the Role of Academic, Financial, and HS Program Advisors

"Offering Head Start Students Effective Support." Holstrom, Lisa. Professional Development. Head Start Bulletin #79. HHS/ACF/OHS. 2007. English.

Last Reviewed: May 2012

Last Updated: March 23, 2016