Host: Terry Thies
Terry oversees parent and family programming and engagement at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in a unit called New Student & Family Experiences.
Panelists: Nick Chancellor & Anne Marie Morgan
Nick is the Associate Director for Program Support Services and Student Health Insurance at McKinley Health Center.
Anne Marie is an Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Student Assistant Center, which falls within the wider umbrella of the office of the Dean of Students. They are one of four units that report to the Dean of Students.
Tell us a little bit about your role at the university and about yourself.
Nick: With my position at McKinley Health Center and Student Insurance, I'm responsible for the oversight of the student insurance office, making sure that all the contracts are signed, and the office is functioning as it's supposed to. Within McKinley, my responsibilities include quality, risk, accreditation, and assessment, all that data analysis to make sure that not only are we functioning well to serve our students, but that we're doing so very efficiently. What makes my position unique is that the Student Insurance Office is a fee that the students must pay to get the service, but the Student Health Service fee, which is different than the insurance fee, is what funds McKinley. It's two different pools of money that we have to manage separately. There’s very much emphasis on how we make sure that both pools are running very efficiently because never cross. For those who are not aware of student health insurance, it's a requirement for all students to be insured, regardless of whether a student is insured with the campus policy or with your parental policy, they can use and should use, McKinley Health Center to begin with. The student health service fee is something that they cannot waive. Always starting the healthcare journey at McKinley will save everybody a lot of time and a lot of money.
Anne: The Student Assistance Center is one of four units that report through the Office of the Dean of Students. The other three units include Student Legal Services for folks who may not know, there is a staff of four attorneys who are here at the university and their salaries are paid for by student fees. Students can seek legal advice free of charge. There's more information on their website that lays out exactly what kinds of things they do and what kinds of things they don't do. But by and large, their bread and butter, if you will, comes from students who are managing landlord-tenant issues with private apartments, landlords, and management companies in the community, also believe it or not, they have a lot of traffic-related issues come their way. Our friends over in Student Legal Services, the Office for Student Conflict Resolution are also part of the office of the Dean of Students. They manage certainly the student discipline process as students engage in behaviors that are contrary to what we expect, contrary to what is stated in terms of those expectations in our student code. They also offer a lot of services around conflict mediation. They can do conflict coaching, they can do mediation with students who wish to engage in that. But they're also available to help students learn how best to negotiate conflict that they might be experiencing. Those are our friends in the Office for Student Conflict Resolution. Then the fourth unit outside the Student Assistance Center, which is very closely aligned with the Student Assistance Center, is what we call Off-Campus and Community Living (OCC). Certainly, we've got many of our students who are living in private apartments in the surrounding community. It can sometimes get a little bit confusing. Our staff in OCCL, as we call them, can help students in doing lease reviews to make sure that the lease they're signing is all on the up. And up also can help advise students who might be having difficulty getting repairs made, finding out what is and is not a code violation, so knowing when to alert staff in the Urbana or Champaign communities to come and maybe do some inspections as might be needed. Those are tricky conversations because students sign individual private contracts, those leases with these companies and landlords. But we're here to help educate and support students, and we do a lot of referring over to Student Legal Services. Then the Student Assistance Center, we are here to help provide support to students who are struggling. We're here to help coach and consult with families who have concerns about their students. We're here to consult and advise faculty and staff who may experience a student who is either in distress or sometimes might be causing distress. We do a lot of consulting. We do a lot of connecting students with resources, we do a lot of listening. Our office also manages the Emergency Dean program. I currently am the Emergency Dean, and this is a program that is available to students who experiencing situations that are happening after hours when the university is closed, evenings, weekends, and holidays. A member of our staff carries this phone so that as students might experience critical incidents that require an immediate university response before the next business day, they can call us, and we can help advise them and provide support as needed. We are not first responders. That's a very careful distinction. There are certain things that we just cannot do. We get a lot of calls from students who are sick and are going to miss an exam the next day. We advise students to communicate with their faculty because really, it's those faculty who make decisions about what to do next. But hopefully, we're a calming voice late at night to help direct students on the steps to take.
Nick, can you give us a general overview of the services that McKinley Health Center provides to our students each day?
Nick: The way we like to describe McKinley is a primary care office on steroids. We have about 40 different providers within our building. We have several MDs and DOs. We also have a number of nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants whenever your student comes in with any sort of ache, pain, cough, sneeze, or anything else. Oftentimes, the unknown is what we ask people to bring because we don't want them to go into the community and have no direction. We're here for that. So not only do we provide those services, but we provide a lot of referrals out into the community. That's why we always ask students, to use us as their first stop, because then you don't have to go on a journey by yourself into Champaign County. We can help get students into offices quickly. We also are a great service for trying to figure out who's got an opening because we have enough relationships with these offices, we can call and say, "Hey, how quickly can you get this student in? You can't get him in quick enough time. Let's call another office to see if we can get him in somebody faster." We have that nice rapport built up outside of the general medicine things that we do. We also have a full-service pharmacy. We are the busiest, if not the second busiest, pharmacy in Champaign County. We also provide physical therapy and athletic therapy training upon referral from providers. We have a health education unit that talks about stress management, sexual health, and dietetics. Right now, those individuals, and students can get referrals to those individuals as well. Within the building, we have a robust mental health unit. We are not the counseling center; we do have counselors who are on staff providing care there. We also have all the psychiatrists on campus within our building. The reason we like to say we're a little bit on steroids is because we also have a full X-ray and a full lab with EKG downstairs as well in the basement. At McKinley, we see approximately 33-35,000 unique students every year who come through our door for some service or another. Sometimes that's just the flu shot, sometimes it's where their primary care and they come to us for that. Anything within that scope is really what we take care of. We do have a big push again for health education so that we can get around campus and provide students with a lot of information about how to care for yourself before you even need McKinley services.
If a student needs a scheduled appointment at McKinley, how do they do that? Are walk-ins available? What about a student who's sick on the weekend? How do you handle those things?
Nick: We have Saturday hours, so I'll stress that first. Our Saturday hours are only 8:00-4:00, so we are not going to be that urgent care after hours, there are urgent cares in the area. Frankly, the times that you need those, you do need to go to those services because it's a little bit more than what we can do in the office. But we do have six days a week service, 8:00-5:30, Monday through Friday, and 8:00-4:00 on Saturdays. We ask all students to go online to my McKinley portal. For those of you who are on the McKinley website or have been around the McKinley website, up toward the very top center of the screen is how you access the portal. Students can go on there and they can book several appointments. There are also a number of appointments they cannot book online, such as immunization appointments or mental health appointments. For those, they do have to call (217-333-2700). Unfortunately, September is an exceptionally busy month, so it is very difficult to get through the phone. But that is the only way for us to do that because there are such unique visits that we must ask a lot of questions to get them prepared for. As far as walk-in appointments, we do not have walk-in appointments. Since the pandemic, everything is scheduled. What we do is for anybody who walks in, we have nurses in the area that can triage them very quickly and decide. "Is this somebody who needs to be seen quickly and we do maintain some urgent appointment openings? Or is this somebody that, hey, we can send you home for a couple of hours or we can bring you back tomorrow depending on what the need is?" We're not trying to dismiss a student's need, but trying to make sure that we're being very judicious in the medicine that we provide. For those who need more of an urgent type of response or who are very sick, we do get them in very quickly. If you're trying to walk in and get something scheduled for a general maintenance checkup, we do ask that they take a little bit more time and be cognizant that others do need care faster.
You mentioned the urgent care in the community. If a student does use that, it might be helpful for parents to know that the McKinley Health Center fee would not cover that, but that's when the insurance would help.
Nick: Correct. Everything within the McKinley building is taking care of the health service fee, other than a $5 co-pay for pharmaceuticals and a couple of things that we do have to charge students for once you leave McKinley. That is why we do want our students to be insured in the local area because many plans will have emergency coverage wherever you go in the United States. And that's great, but if we have somebody who's having GI distress, they need to go see a gastroenterologist. Many plans do not provide that local coverage when your student is not around your local area. That's why we have our plan in the area. But yes, that is a time when students have to utilize whatever their insurance is when they leave the building. One of the big key takeaways that I will let all of you know about is Carle Hospital has something they call Convenient Care Plus. We try to promote that greatly for our students for two reasons. One, it's not convenient care, it is convenient care plus. It has a vastly robust service platform that it can go through. It's connected directly to Carle Hospital. If the decision is made that your student does need to go to the emergency room, it's an instant transfer. They take them across the hall and it's a done deal. It's a nice way to get that emergency room care that you might be looking for when you're not sure if you need that urgent care model, and most importantly, those urgent care fees, not the emergency room fees.
A lot of times we see that students get sick their first semester: maybe the common cold, maybe a flu bug, or something along those lines. McKinley has done an exceptional job in making sure that there are some unique ways that students can get access to care without even stepping foot into the McKinley Health Center. Could you talk a little bit about the Dial-a-Nurse and the kiosks that are around?
Nick: One of the services McKinley has provided for years is called Dial-A-Nurse. You call the McKinley hotline, which is 217-333-2700. That puts you in touch during our working hours with one of our nurses inside the building. Those nurses help to triage what's going on, "What can we do for you? Is this something you can care for at home? You need to go to the emergency room. Let's get you an appointment schedule, those things." It is a 24-hour service whenever we close. There's a company down in Texas we contract with that does the same thing. They're not as great as getting an appointment scheduled, but they get a message to us to get that appointment the next day. But they're for students all night long so if they have any urgent concerns, again, not calling the emergency dean for the health concerns, calling us but making sure that we can get them that information very quickly. In January of 2021, we marketed our first kiosk over at SDRP. For those that know that it's a dining facility, what we put in, were a lot of over-the-counter things that students came to our health resource centers to get with the health service fee. They get several different things that they can pick up for no additional costs throughout the year. Cold packs, sleep packs, things like that. With the vending service that we provided, we were able to increase the unique number of UINs that we see by 30%. We had over 2,500 different students go and use this machine to get things that they would need that they would have to come across campus to McKinley for literally just this term. We've expanded that. We removed the old machine at SDRP, we put in a brand-new digital machine. We now have them in SDRP, the Union, the ACES library that is still getting hooked up, and we have one in the Granger Library. It's given us four locations instead of the one that has given us substantially expanded hours. The reason we went with the libraries was if we went to other dining halls or other residence halls, those are card swipe locations, and you cannot get students in there quite as often. We wanted to be somewhere that students could get to without any hesitation. So far it has been nice. The number of unique IDs that have been served in the single month we've had them open is half of what the one machine did last year. Students are taking advantage of calling the self-care stations and it's alleviating a lot of traffic through our building.
With the pandemic, we saw a lot of rise in people using telehealth. Does McKinley offer students any telehealth options?
Nick: Absolutely. McKinley does have telehealth options. To be honest, our students haven't wanted them. We have every provider set up, and ready to go. We have it in mental health, we have it in physical health, the option is there. But honestly, when we give our students the choice of what they would like to do, they want to come to our building. We don't have more than 8% of our visits go over telehealth. One of the other things that we have been trying to get students to understand more about is if you have the United Plan, one of the things that is also offered is HealthiestYou through Teladoc. That is a 24/7 online service through an app that your student has access to anywhere in the United States. If they're in Champaign County, if they're back home, wherever they may be, or as I always like to say, if they're in sunny San Diego, they can go ahead and access that app anywhere they are and connect with those providers at any time at no additional cost. There are lots of telehealth options if your student wants them. But again, our doors are open so they can come visit us too.
We do have a question that parents submitted, does a student need to sign a HIPPA form? Is there any reason why they should do that?
Nick: No. So the two things we get asked often is, is there a HIPPA form the student needs to sign? And this is going to sound very interesting to all of you, but McKinley is not HIPPA compliant and there's an explicit reason for that. HIPPA is all about the transaction of finance and related to medicine. McKinley does not do any insurance billing whatsoever. We don't accept insurance; we don't bill insurance. We have nothing to do with insurance other than the student insurance office is literally in the building. That is the only relation we have. We are FERPA compliant, which is a little bit more stringent for a lot of reasons. It protects your student records so that it is locked down. If you come into our office, you will not notice the difference between going to our office and going to any other medical office. That is how everything operates. It's just the backend processes are ever so slightly different, everything is super secure, but there's no need for HIPPA to be signed. Additionally, we also get questions about making sure they have a medical power of attorney (POA) on file. We always discourage that at McKinley. And the reason we discourage it is if you put something on record with us. Our policies do not allow us to release those student records to anyone other than the student unless the student is deceased. And we don't want to talk about that. If your student needs you to have access to that POA, and it's only in the McKinley record, you can't have access to it. We very much encourage having a POA, and making sure your student is protected, but make sure that you as the family members, have that copy. And don't worry about sending it to us because if you need it, you need to be able to pull it up on your phone, send it an email, do something very quickly, and not just leave it in our care.
Does the insurance provide coverage for students to use the counseling center? Say they need some short-term therapy. Is that covered?
Nick: It does not. However, the Counseling Center also falls under that same student health service fee as McKinley does. If your student does need to use Counseling Center services, they go in, they can make a call, no additional service fee for them to go there. Nothing at all that you're going to have to worry about. Again, to your point, it is a short-term care model. If the student does need that longer-term care, that is again where that insurance would pick up something that they would do in the community for a longer care process.
What else do you think are some highlights of the plan that parents might want to know about?
Nick: For me, the thing we always talk about when trying to let parents know the important things about the plan is the premium on the plan is very inexpensive. For an undergraduate, it is currently $2,400 For a graduate, it's just over $3,000 When you compare that to a premium plan that is outside and, in the marketplace, that low-end policy for the undergrads is going to be a $7,000 policy, instead of a $2,400 policy. We always like to highlight that because depending on what you are paying for your student, it can be cheaper for your student to switch over to us. Now we do stress if your student switches to us and they graduate, and you think you're going to take advantage of that under 26 type of situation. If they leave your plan, they can never go back on your plan. That is just something we always like to know for our parents. The other nice thing is our deductible. Our deductible right now is a $400 deductible. It is very low. As far as the deductible goes for our undergraduates, the out-of-pocket maximum is $6850 So just under $7,000 is all that they hit. We have fewer than 6% of our students that hit that out-of-pocket maximum. Everybody tries to use McKinley first, which keeps those costs low. That's a huge benefit over the benefit package in general, it's a gold-level package for undergrads, which means it covers everything very well. Right now, it is a premium PPO policy, which means if they are going to a network provider or an out-of-network provider, it's currently covered at $820. We are looking to change that soon enough to align more with general models. But right now, anybody they see is 80% covered and taken care of. I can tell you because we get to see all the numbers, our students’ premiums and they use the policy to make sure that they are staying healthy and for illnesses very well. We are like any other policy, we're going to see things go up, but it's because our students are using it to stay healthy. It’s a huge benefit for them.
Right now parents are watching carefully the opting out process and students can still do that through the 29th of September, 2023. How long does it take for students to be notified if they've submitted a request to opt-out?
Nick: Parents, please encourage your student to check your Illinois email address because that will usually happen within about 2 minutes of the time that they put in. The United portal that we utilize has an instantaneous response to check many of the policies that get submitted, they can ping those databases and have a response back very quickly. If the response is yes, it's done, taken care of the automated process is done, the waiver is done, it’s fine. To be transparent, Blue Cross is one of those that does not play nicely with United and if it's a Blue Cross policy, what they'll do is they'll send you a thing that says, hey, we need additional information. It's often something we call a summary of benefits that the student must get from either the parent or from the insurance company. Upload that, it's reviewed very quickly. Usually, if we have somebody who gets a denial and they end up having to do that, it's about a two-day turnaround by the time you get the information and get it uploaded back into the system. But the system works very quickly and very smoothly. About 85% of everything that we see that is parked with them on a Friday night is done by about 10:00 a.m. on Monday morning. They are a very responsive team.
So, if they do submit a request to opt-out, students should hear relatively quickly within a few days at the longest. Again, parents, do encourage your students to check their U of I email, the one that ends in illinois.edu because that's where the communication will come from. And if they have questions, it's important for the student to respond directly to the insurance company as opposed to you. The student is the person that they can correspond with about that process. Is there anything else you think parents might want to know about McKinley?
Nick: I think the biggest takeaway is that at both McKinley and Student Insurance, we're here for your student. We understand that for many students, especially our freshman and our transfer students, this could be the first time away from home. And we want them to have a safe and secure place where they can come to ask questions. One of the things that we've talked about for a long time is yes, we are providers. We're trying to provide care, but we also want to be that trusted advisor, right? Because we want to teach our students, just like the rest of the university, about what needs to go forward. And we know that you've been there, guiding them for many years now. You're not there all the time. And how do they start to navigate that process if you're not right in front of them, or sitting next to them helping? We're working very diligently to make sure our students understand that and can use us for that service as well. Know that we're here for you, we're here for your students, and please continue to guide them to us so we can keep helping them.
Prescriptions: what's covered? How do they get them? What if a student has a prescription that they've been receiving? Maybe for some type of ongoing care that's been provided at a home pharmacy, but it might be more convenient to get that at McKinley.
Nick: The one thing about McKinley is, while we are very busy, we are a very robust pharmacy, but we're a very limited pharmacy. We don't do any controlled substances whatsoever. A lot of times we'll have students who come in and they're like, I want this medication. And we don't have necessarily that brand, but we have that class of medication. We’re very happy to talk about what we can do instead of working with providers about that, but McKinley does accept internal prescriptions, obviously, from our providers, and external prescriptions from anybody else in the community or back home anywhere that we can get a prescription from within the United States. Happy to honor that. When you search on McKinley’s website, you can search formulary and it will list everything on the formulary. We update that as often as possible. We make as many changes to help support students as we can with that. But oftentimes it is a situation where we do have to send students out into the community and our local pharmacy partners are fabulous to help whenever your student can't get something at McKinley.
Anne Marie, can you talk about how and when a student might interact with the Student Assistance Center? You touched a little bit on the Eemergency Dean. Could you give us some other examples? Maybe when students do reach out to your office, how do they contact you?
Anne: First of all, in terms of how students contact us before I get to the why, I'll talk a little bit about the how. So here in the Student Assistance Center, we are open 8:30-5:00 so students can call in. We have an email address which is helpdean@Illinois.edu. We respond to those emails as students might have just simple questions, and then we also have appointments. Students can certainly make appointments, especially if they know that they have an issue or concern that's a little more involved and that they'd like someone's undivided attention for some time. Posted on our website, we have drop-in hours. Those are times when students don't need to have an appointment, they can just pop in. It's designed for maybe a quicker question, but even if it is a little more involved and it's a busy day in the Student Assistance Center and we've got a line building, then we can at least get the tip of the iceberg, and talk about some first steps, then schedule a follow-up appointment for the student to come and engage further. Students are invited to engage with us in any of those ways. Family members as well, are welcome to give us a call or send us an email. We're happy to respond as best we can. One of the things that I'll just hit on is the elephant in the room oftentimes, and that is FERPA. I know we talk a lot about FERPA during new student registration. You'll see all kinds of things about it. Please know that at the Student Assistance Center, we're happy to talk to you. Now what we won't do is say, well sure, your student came to meet with us last Tuesday. And let me tell you about all the things that we talked about. Most of what we talk to families about is how the university works, and what the resources are. We listen and hear about concerns, and we help advise families on how best to support their students. So don't ever be nervous about calling us thinking that we won't talk to you because of FERPA. We will, we're happy to engage. The one thing that we won't do, the one thing that we can't do, is to get into at all whether your student is engaging with us. Unless we have your student’s permission, please know you're welcome to engage with us as well. In terms of why students contact us. Much to my chagrin, one of the things we're most famous for is a little something called an absence letter. This is sort of the part of our work that I liken to being part of the principal's office in high school. First, let me start by saying faculty are the boss of their attendance policies and their courses. They decide what it means to have an excused absence. They determine if is there a certain number of absences that once you pass that number, it's no longer possible to pass the course. Those are all decisions that are made by each instructor. An attendance policy can vary across a student's schedule in terms of who might be very strict and have very specific policies, some who might have more lax or more general approaches to attendance. But some faculty will say to students if you're going to miss class, and if you want this to be excused, then you need to get an absence letter from the office of the Dean of students. On our website, under the Resources for Students section, there is more information about absence letters. But what I will say is that there are some very specific reasons. Prolonged illness? Yes, I want to leave early to go on a family vacation. No, I've had a death in the family. Absolutely, we can help provide an absence letter. I have a wedding that I want to attend that wedding, not so much. Students can read more about when they might be eligible for an absence letter and how to request those. But that's probably number one, how students hear about us. The other things that will talk to us about are oftentimes health-related matters, sometimes it's mental health, Sometimes it's "I'm struggling with my mental health, and I don't know what to do." They haven't yet had the opportunity to engage with our fabulous colleagues over at McKinley Health Center Mental Health Unit or the Counseling Center. They're not too sure what's going on with them. They might have stopped medication before coming to campus and now realize that some things aren't quite going the way that they had hoped and they need some assistance getting connected. We talk a lot about health-related matters, sometimes mental health, sometimes it's physical health–students who in the winter slip and fall on their way out of their apartment and break their leg, students who experience appendicitis and find themselves in the hospital–we will help advise them on what are the best steps to take, which is to communicate with their faculty if they're able to alert them to what's happening. Then once the immediate health concern has been managed, reach out to our office for further advice. Our office also manages the medical withdrawal process. Some students who are managing a health condition realize at a certain point in the semester that "my health needs to take precedence rather than to continue to try to slog through and do my best." We encourage students to prioritize their health. If a student realizes come mid-October that "I've done as much as I can, I'm not going to class, I'm not doing my best work. My health is really suffering," we can talk about a medical withdrawal process, all their options for withdrawal. Medical withdrawal is one of those options, and we can talk about the pros and cons of each of those routes. Again, our emphasis is on a student's health and well-being. I've said this for many years. I've been at the university. This is my tenth academic year. I said this before COVID, and I say it even more after COVID: The University of Illinois isn't going anywhere. Students can take some time to focus on their health and then think about coming back. I know that can be scary for both students and families to think about maybe “derailing” their college plans. But I have worked in higher ed for a long time, and I think we've been brainwashed into thinking there's one way to do this, and that is to graduate from high school, start college, and four years later leave with a degree. Please know that on a daily basis, I am talking to students who are managing a wide range of issues, both health and personal, that indicate, "Hey, you know what, I need to take a little time away so that I can focus on what's most important right now and I will be able to come back when I'm ready to focus and give it my all so that I can achieve the goals that I set out for myself before coming to Illinois." We talk to students about that. We also talk about a whole range of concerns, academic issues, financial concerns, relationship issues, and any and everything students can come to talk to us about. Now, we might not be the person who can solve the issue, we might not be the person or the unit that's the boss of that area, but we're going to know the person who is. We can help students navigate this place. It's huge, it can be intimidating, and it can be confusing. We pride ourselves on having great relationships across campus with both our academic student affairs and other divisional partners to be able to help get students connected to the right person and or place who can help them navigate the issue or concern. I do have a couple of things that I'll share about why parents often contact us. As I referenced earlier, families will often contact us to consult about how can I best support my students. We get a lot of folks who don't want to tell us who they are, or they don't want to tell us who their student is because they're very concerned that their student will find out that they called, and that will upset them. Don't worry, we won't tell, but please know we're here to as you have concerns about your student, or if your student discloses struggles, we're happy to coach you on how to coach your student. The other thing that we get a lot of calls about is what we like to call unresponsiveness. In this era of instant communication, cell phones, texting, FaceTime, and the like, we know that many families are used to having regular and constant contact with their students. We always encourage students and families to have conversations about their communication plans, for lack of a better term, what to do if a family member tries to contact a student and you don't get in touch with me right away. Students should be responsive if and how families should become concerned. I joked over the summer when I spoke at new student registration that we often receive emergency Dean calls about University Police conducting welfare checks because families have called in because they haven't heard from their student in sometimes 24 hours, sometimes 3 hours. The record, friends, which was a call I got just about a month ago, was 15 minutes. Nine times out of ten, if not ten times out of ten the call is, "We found the student sleeping," "the phone was not charged," "the student was working," etc. But please know that we encourage you to work with your students on how best to communicate with one another and what to expect in terms of, how shall I say, timely responses because 15 minutes doesn't necessarily require an emergency Dean call.
Thank you for reinforcing that parents are welcome to call your office. A question was put in the chat about FERPA: is FERPA only for educational records or does it go into the health realm as well?
Anne: That's a good question. I want to be careful about the health realm because that is not my realm. But certainly, any educational record, which is most of a student's records, I would argue here at the University of Illinois is governed by FERPA. That means that without a student's permission, we cannot release information. We get a lot of questions. Sometimes family wants to know about grades, families want to know about a student's attendance. If a professor takes attendance, that's certainly not something that our office has access to. Even if we wanted to share it with you and it could be shared with you because we had access to it because of FERPA, we wouldn't be able to share that. There are some things that are considered directory information that can be found on the Registrar's website. That directory information can be shared unless a student chooses to suppress that information for whatever reason. In which case that is not anything that we would be able to share. Students can request or complete a waiver, which would allow staff in various units to engage with families or with whoever's listed on that waiver if they so choose. By and large, I will say even with a waiver, most offices really do want to work directly with the student. Our office is always happy to loop in families along with the student if that's what the student would like. I think our goal is always to be fully transparent with the student, even when they give us permission to engage with their families so that they know who we're talking to and exactly what we're saying, but educational records are exactly what FERPA manages. More information can be found on the Registrar's website and exactly the boundaries of what is considered educational records.
Nick: I will throw in the McKinley record is part of the educational record. Student insurance is separate from that entirely, but Student Insurance does operate along a similar line where when we're talking information, we're talking directly with the policyholder, which in our case is the student.
If your student does wish to sign a waiver for FERPA, that is done in person at the Registrar's Office. What kind of stressors are students facing in their first year? What are some typical stressors and how your office might assist with those?
Anne: To ring the mental health bell again, I would say we're engaging with students who are finding that they're experiencing maybe some exacerbation of some symptoms as they engage in this transition to life at Illinois, some students, again, may have stopped taking medication. They may have found that they're starting to lack some motivation. One of our staff members met with a student today who finds that she's sleeping a great deal. She stopped some medication a while ago and is experiencing some symptoms, one of which is just lethargy and a lot of added hours of sleeping. We're working with that student and students like her to get connected to mental health resources on campus to help folks realize there are staff and units here who can provide some support and assistance so that they can manage their mental health. So that they can consider, now that they're living on their own, what do they need for themselves to manage their health and be successful. At this time of year, we have conversations with students who might be having a harder time connecting than they thought they would. There are 50,000 students running around campus; however, it can still sometimes feel isolating. Stepping out of your comfort zone, seeking connections, and meeting new people can be a challenge for students. We will often sit with students and engage with them about what are their interests, what they like doing, and what they've tried so far. Do they know about intramurals? Are they aware of how to look up the registered student organizations, have they spoken to their resident assistant? We will engage often with students around some of the things that they enjoy doing so that we can help them connect to others who have that same interest. We also talk to a lot of students about how to navigate this place. It is huge, you get tired just driving around campus for crying out loud. Helping students learn how to navigate some of the systems of this place is another thing that we do a lot of.
You mentioned having a communication plan, so they know when it's best to reach their students. Are there other tips or suggestions you would offer to parents to maintain a healthy style of communication? A good balance of how often to talk with their student? What are you hearing about from students?
Anne: Yeah, that's a good question. I don't know, and we joke because most often the answer that our office is going to give anyone with a question, certainly one along those lines is, it depends, we're the most unsatisfying office to talk to because we are always saying it depends. Let's dig into that a little bit more. Certainly, I would say that students are most comfortable and most happy engaging with families daily, if not multiple times a day. Other students are starting to find that as they spread their wings, so to speak, they're finding the need to reach back to that touchstone of family just a little less frequently. I think an open line of communication is important. I think even for both students and families to challenge one another from time to time, maybe we go for a few days. How about I check in with you after the weekend? You know, I think that that certainly can be good for both parties to just explore a little bit and live maybe in a little bit of that squeamishness of what do you mean we haven't spoken today? But to allow for some of those growth edges, if you will, for students to begin to experience a life that's a little more untethered, a little more independent. But by and large, I think every student is different. And it is up to the student and the family to explore what's going to work best for us.
It's hard to imagine, but it won't be long before students are faced with midterms. What are some resources or ways students can handle the pressure that builds up during the semester? Midterms are one of those points where it can start to feel high intensity for them. And then again, when we get closer to December and students have finals, we're going to see some of those levels of stress rising as well. How should parents be supporting their students when they know these stressful periods are coming up? What resources should parents know about to then say to their student, "Well, have you thought about contacting this place," or, "Have you talked to so and so?"
Nick: Mental health services on campus are geared toward this type of stuff, this is what we see often. The two biggest things we see within McKinley truly are anxiety and depression. We see it very often. The other thing we also specialize in is we have a stress educator. That stress educator is there for literally the purpose of "I'm stressed, not that I'm necessarily anxious or depressed or I don't even know what's going on with my mental health, but I just can't necessarily continue to function the way I've been functioning." To be honest, what we often find is that your student is so invested in their education, that they're not doing anything else. And it is, they have to start finding that other thing. To take that mental break away from the education. To let them realize, oh, I am a real person. I really can do these things and I can still strive within the classroom as well. But that's the stuff that we encourage is you have to find outlets. You have to change your brain just a little bit to not be just so academic all the time and the students who do adopt Anne Marie's point like find intramurals, find RSOs, find those things to give you something else to do. It is that great break that they need because then when it comes time for midterms or finals and you're buckling down for a week, you're only buckling down for a week. And you've been doing your studying all along and you've been engaging in life as well.
Anne: Another thing I would encourage families to do is to encourage their students to seek academic help. I think so many of our students are used to sailing through their high school experience. We've got a lot of highly motivated, very bright students who maybe have not had a ton of hurdles thus far academically. And sometimes are a little shocked at how challenging some things are, finding that they do need some assistance, whether it's tutoring, whether it is. Various academic resource centers in the individual colleges, we have a writer's workshop on campus. A former student of ours who's currently in a graduate program, swears by the Writers Workshop that for every paper she wrote in the entire time that she was here at Illinois, she would go to the Writers Workshop because it kept her honest in terms of being proactive and not waiting until the last minute. It also got her some feedback and kept her on a good path towards getting a good grade. There are a lot of great academic resources. Sometimes it takes a little bit to find them, but we're a good resource to start with if students aren't sure where to go to find some of those academic resources. So, families, as midterms approach as students might have a disappointing first round of tests, which is entirely okay, encourage them to seek resources. It's not a failing to find that you need some help and learning how to. Finding help and learning how to ask for help is a lifelong skill that they need to develop. Encourage them to seek those resources.
Many of the faculty are very open to having students stop by during their office hours and answer questions. TAs and RAs, all welcome interaction with students. Students can also benefit from the small groups that they work in. Many classes are very collaborative and that's a great way to be learning from your peers as well. If you find they're struggling, there are lots of ways they can get some help on campus. Anything else you think parents should know about your offices or just in general, for students to stay healthy while they're here on campus?
Nick: I think the biggest thing Anne Marie and I have both had champion your student to go, be engaged. We are all adults out in the private sector, and the public sector, doing whatever we're doing, and we're required to go and engage. And this is your student's opportunity to be that intro to everything. And I said it earlier because I mean it, we're here to help your student learn. We want them to be healthy, but we want them to learn about health care. We want them to learn about health insurance. So that when they leave Illinois with their degree, they're able to enter that workforce. And enter life in general. And not hit more stumbling blocks and have more places that they have to turn to learn. We want to be that resource today. The more they engage with things on campus, the more they engage with things in the community, and the more well-rounded they'll be ready to go when they do graduate from Illinois.
Anne: And I'll just say quickly, you know, one of the Associate Dean who hired me here in the Student Assistance Center herself was an alum of Illinois. And one of the things that she spoke about a great deal was when she graduated from Illinois, she could manage just about any and every complex system that she encountered as an adult. On the one hand, I think it can be intimidating and a little, maybe frustrating sometimes at how decentralized the university can feel and how many processes there are to try to navigate. However, I think that as students, you know, kind of step into the breach and take those steps to engage various offices and learn the various systems and begin to navigate them. They are going to be steps ahead of some of their peers from other institutions because they're going to know how to manage Comcast or hospital administrative processes. They're going to know how to do all of that. Because they will have had the experience here at Illinois of managing a complex system.
It's so important for our students to learn how to be advocates for themselves. We want you as family members to walk away, knowing that there are many, many resources here on campus to support your student and to support you as well.
Student Health Insurance
1109 S. Lincoln Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
McKinley Health Center
1109 S. Lincoln Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
Office of the Dean of Students
300 Turner Student Services Building
610 East John Street, Champaign, Illinois 61820
Phone: (217) 333-0050
New Student & Family Experiences
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Champaign, Illinois 61820
Phone: (217) 333-4057