Students happy with quality of education despite challenges

A new Lumina Foundation and Gallup study shows the effects COVID-19 is having on students' outcomes, wellbeing and considerations for remaining in college.
By: | December 15, 2020
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Students seeking associate and bachelor’s degrees are largely upbeat about the quality of the education they are receiving from higher education institutions, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Lumina Foundation and Gallup.

More than 70% in fact say their colleges and universities have been “excellent” or “very good” in providing robust academic courses and programs, even during the COVID-19 pandemic and as most of those who responded in the State of the Student Experience study were operating in remote environments.

That positive outlook is not without its caveats – as the 6,000 students who were surveyed raised concerns about the switch to virtual learning, the potential financial impact of COVID-19 on their ability to complete degrees and the continued strain on their wellbeing.

“COVID-19 presents an ongoing challenge to schools given students’ concerns about their ability to continue,” said Stephanie Marken, Gallup’s Executive Director for Education Research. “Increased access to mental health and financial aid resources will be critical for student completion.”

Inside instruction: The good and not so good

Despite the disruption that has occurred throughout higher education, quality is still strong, according to the majority of respondents.

Those studying fully in-person ranked their education quality highest (with more 51% responding excellent and 34% saying it is very good). More than 70% of those in hybrid or fully online learning models rated their institutions either excellent or very good.

However, students who experienced a change in models were not as positive about their instruction. Between 53-60% of associate degree and bachelor’s degree candidates said the quality of education was slightly worse or much worse than prior to the start of the pandemic.

First-time students were far more positive about the instruction they are receiving, with 80% giving a thumbs up.

Students at private, for-profit institutions were the most positive about the quality of the education they are receiving, with researchers noting that it was likely due to the fact that most students already were learning online before the pandemic. The same was true for older students, whose satisfaction at 78% outpaced younger students at 73%, because many of their offerings also were online.

Inside the numbers

For those who made the transition from fully in-person models to fully online, researchers noted a large disparity in their ratings on “wellbeing and the quality of the student experience.”

  • Just 27% say they are thriving, compared with 45% of those who had no change in instruction model.
  • Only 25% say they strongly agree that “their professor cares about them as a person” compared with 65% with no instruction change.
  • Only 17% say they have a mentor, compared with 41% of those who have experience no change in model.
  • Only a third agree they belong at their college or university.

For those enrolled students, the majority are aware of mental health services, emergency financial assistance and tutoring that are available at their colleges. However, most are either unaware or say their institutions don’t provide career counseling, food assistance or childcare support programs. The response numbers were lower for all categories among two-year students and Black and Hispanic students.

About a third of students, no matter their instruction model or changes to it, say they have considered stopping taking courses, primarily because of COVID-19, emotional stress, cost of attendance and childcare responsibilities. The students mostly likely to stop taking courses are those who have moved into completely online environments. Some 50% of bachelor-seeking students say it is likely that COVID-19 will affect their ability to complete their degree. That number is higher for associate degree students at 56%.