Students' Message to Higher Education: Time to Rebalance

The U.S. is shifting from a “working to live” to “living to work” culture, and students want higher ed technology to become more flexible and inclusive to prepare them for future success.

New results from a spring 2022 undergraduate survey, using both quantitative and qualitative research methods, revealed that most respondents experienced tech challenges last year. Approximately half of them said that these issues caused them stress—a major factor in student wellness. Other key findings include:

  • The physical campus is still an important piece of a student’s access to education. While respondents generally deal with their own tech issues, they still use computer labs and campus Wi-Fi.
  • Face-to-face instruction is being disrupted. Students’ preferences have shifted to online options since the pandemic. Even students who prefer face-to-face courses want more online resources and activities. All respondents want more flexibility, social interaction, and academic engagement.
  • Device access is an equity issue. Students with disabilities and pandemic-related housing issues were less likely to use their preferred devices.
  • Assistive technology helps all students. For example, more than one third of respondents said they need captions on videos.

Redefining student success

Students have complex learning needs and goals. In addition to completing a degree, students want to secure a job, high salary, personal growth, and more. Students report a variety of ways their institutions help them succeed: academic advisors and coaches; internships and work experiences; financial support; device loaner programs; flexible student policies; skills-based learning; career services; social connections and community; professional networking; student outreach; online courses; and extracurricular activities.

However, other students feel their institutions are doing nothing to help them succeed. In fact, they point to specific barriers, such as institutional practices and policies that keep them from success. These include financial aid issues and the cost of attendance; inadequate access to technology; insufficient availability of specific courses; inadequate disability accommodations; unflexible instructors; classes only offered in non-preferred modalities; lack of support for social inequity related to age, race, and gender; and curriculum designed for passing test instead of learning career skills.

In addition to institutional barriers, students described nonacademic circumstances that negatively impact their success. These include work schedules, time management, particularly work-life balance, transportation, family responsibilities, and mental and physical wellness.

The survey results can help college and university leaders design and adapt student services, curricula, and learning environments to meet the changing needs of higher ed students.