The 2 critical areas colleges must address in meeting student need

A study of young and adult learners shows that institutional supports are key, including how technology is utilized.

A new report released by technology provider Anthology on Wednesday offered two key pieces of insight for higher education leaders: the top challenges students have faced over the past year and how they believe learning and technology should be provided on their campuses.

More than 50% of respondents in the Opportunities to Grow Student Success and Career Preparation survey–including first-generation, older students, those at community colleges and those in four-year programs–said they struggled with their mental health during 2021-22. Many of them also faced financial obstacles, including increasing loan debts and/or housing insecurity. When asked what might stop them from attending college in the future, both of those ranked highest. Nearly two-thirds already had either paused or reduced their studies or switched majors.

The good news for higher ed leaders is that most students believe their colleges are delivering the necessary support to try to help. They also appreciate that colleges are thinking about ways in which technology can help them achieve their goals, both on the advising side and in course delivery. Nearly all of the students polled had at least one online course in the past year, and 50% indicated at least one was fully online. Providing those supports and the flexibility of online classes can be difference-makers in students being retained or stopping out.

“Student populations are more diverse than ever and shaping a student’s learning experience to best fit their life is critical to supporting their academic and career goals,” said Richa Batra, vice president of student success at Anthology. “As the global education community attempts to navigate what learning and career preparation will look like in the post-pandemic era, providing a personalized experience delivered online will play a profound role going forward.”

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How should institutions balance what they are doing online compared with in-person? This is what this broad cross-section students are looking for:

  • A combined 65% of students either want asynchronous courses or a mix of both online and in-person classes.
  • Only 15% of students want fully in-person courses, a number likely to rattle administrators who have called for their institutions to return to more normal classroom operations as campus teams get a better grip on COVID-19. That said, those who attend four-year colleges do appreciate the ‘campus’ experience.
  • Only 8% of students at community colleges want to see fully face-to-face formats. They need adaptable schedules and likely a lot more asynchronous options as they juggle jobs, childcare and family needs..

For community colleges and even four-year institutions with first-generation students, providing more online courses is just one part of meeting student need. Ensuring that they have technology is another, as 20% of those students say it is a barrier to their learning. Colleges that are intent on increasing online offerings may need to provide multiple solutions for them to gain access to courses.

Regardless of age or institution, students said they love self-paced assignments and quizzes, as well as recorded lessons provided by instructors. Although virtual lessons, discussion boards and virtual group discussions are less popular, they do want to be able to meet one-on-one with faculty members virtually. They also appreciate being able to connect virtually or through telehealth with providers and have opportunities to meet online with student organizations.

As for advising, students are clear about wanting quick responses especially when it comes to those in a hybrid or fully online format. Anthology researchers note that students expect response times to be twice as fast as when they conduct appointments in person. Most want to hear back on questions within 24 hours. Very few note that it takes more than a week to get support. “Institutions are generally responding quite quickly, with most responses within a day,” the authors said. “However, institutions should still review response times and identify potential ways to reduce this as one avenue to improve the feeling of support among students as well as their satisfaction. Technology solutions would likely be able to be used to increase efficiency.”

Anthology recommends automated reminders, especially for younger students, as a way to keep students engaged and attend advisor meetings. Around 95% of students who are not happy with support services said they would attend meetings if prompted by reminders. Reminders also would get 80% of students to complete assigned work from faculty.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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