Amplifying the voices of college student government leaders

A large majority of student government presidents say they have a role in campus decision-making, though just more than half feel “very influential,” according to the first annual “Student Voice Index” report by the National Campus Leadership Council.

The study, which examined about 200 institutions, lays out the conditions that must exist to give student leaders the ability to represent their classmates’ needs effectively.

“Students know when they’re being taken seriously,” says Andy MacCracken, the council’s executive director. “This comes down to a culture where institutional leaders solicit student input actively on all levels of decisions as they come up.”

Texting the provost

Shamina Merchant, Ohio State University’s student body president and a study participant, says a shared governance model gives her ample opportunity for administrator interaction.

She serves on the University Senate and its steering and fiscal committees. She and other student leaders also have regular meetings with everyone from OSU President Michael Drake to the head of dining services.

SIDEBAR: Influence index

“I’m lucky enough to have the access that I can text the provost if there’s an immediate concern,” Merchant says. “That growing trust between students and administrators has been built over time. We all recognize we have the same common goal.”

Her organization conducts surveys, focus groups and other engagement activities to solicit student concerns.

So far this year, the student government participated in a successful effort to cut course fees by 70 percent. Merchant and her team are also working on a university initiative to enhance mental health support for students.

Elements of campus impact

The “Student Voice Index” found that student body leaders feel most influential when they have:

  • regular access to leaders, particularly the vice president for student affairs
  • a seat at meetings where decisions are being made
  • speaking rights at meetings of the administrative governing board
  • training to advocate for student needs

The council will continue its research into best practices for strengthening student representation at American University (Washington, D.C.), the University of Cincinnati and other institutions. This work will include an analysis of the decision-making process and workshops focused on collaboration between administrators and student leaders.

Student voice scores for individual colleges and universities can be found by entering a school’s name on the voice index website (

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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