When envisioning the ideal student experience within higher education, what comes to mind? What’s missing from the current education environment that would contribute to the ideal?
Higher education institutions have taken great strides to boost academic resilience, make college more accessible and affordable, and help students achieve success in school and into their careers. Schools are making the college navigation process simpler and more fruitful for students through innovative initiatives designed to help those struggling with grades, finances, jobs, mental health, and more. In order for this to continue, keeping up with the status quo simply isn’t enough. Institutions must foster an environment where innovation is encouraged among faculty and staff decision-makers. We must continue to explore new and better ways of teaching, supporting, and connecting with students as new generations begin their college journey.
What’s Next for Higher Ed?
The way students access and consume information is always changing. Every new generation grows up in an increasingly technologically advanced environment that shapes their perspective and expectations of the world around them. Hence the notion of meeting students where they are. Although we cannot predict the future, we should always be thinking a step ahead beyond what we’re doing now to evaluate what technologies can advance us further. It’s not just technology for technology’s sake, but rather technology for the sake of student retention and academic resilience.
At EVAN360, we are excited to see what’s next. These are a few steps we see higher education institutions taking in the near future:
Colleges and universities are providing students with ample resources to help them throughout their journey. However, there’s friction in the process of accessing these resources due to the sheer volume of information. New students receive so much information at orientation—website URLs, email addresses, building numbers for different offices—that it’s nearly impossible to retain all they heard in one eight-hour day. When school starts and students need to access the information, they don’t always know where to go. Finding the right person to answer questions is more like a game of hide-and-seek than a simple process. Resources are spread out among different websites, apps, and even physical buildings. In the future, we envision institutions consolidating access points and providing a one-stop-shop for all the resources students need. Ideally, students will have a better understanding of exactly where to go when they have a problem or question. The right technology will decrease the time spent searching for help and allow students to focus on what’s most important.
College students are usually typecast as 18-year-old high school graduates entering a four-year university. In reality, the higher education population is much more diverse. It includes adult learners, veterans, students who took a gap year, working students, students with children, trade school students, and more. We must look ahead to anticipate diverse student populations and the unique needs of every individual. Is tutoring available after hours for students who work until 10pm? Are there quality childcare options for students with kids? Do students who have faced trauma have access to qualified counselors when they need them most? Are students struggling to afford housing or other basic needs? Colleges and universities are already on their way, but they must continue to anticipate needs and provide an environment that is conducive to every type of student. This means broadening services and resources, evaluating new technologies, and talking with students to hear about their experiences and gather feedback.
We must keep exploring new opportunities for improvement. Cost and implementation time are two of the biggest hindrances to innovation, but that shouldn’t stop us. A new technology is a worthy investment if it helps students succeed and makes it easier to complete their degree. More often than not, the right technologies actually save time and money in the long run—and it helps students stay in school.
Imagine the Possibilities
Free Wi-Fi and/or sufficient data plans – Some students don’t have access to Wi-Fi, which has become an even bigger problem due to the pandemic. These students are unable to attend Zoom classes without internet access and it hampers their progress. What if institutions provided home internet access or a sufficient data plan for students so they could attend classes and continue learning from home?
Free rentable campus bikes – Some college campuses are huge and students have 10 minutes to walk from one side to the other between classes. Imagine if students could scan their student ID, rent a bike for free, and drop it off at a bike station outside their next class. Easy and efficient.
Sufficiently staffed and highly-qualified counseling centers – Mental health counselors are in short supply and high demand. UT Austin has one full-time professional counselor for every 1,800 students. The University of Houston has one for every 3,200 students. Imagine if we could change that. One full time counselor for every thousand-something students leaves people waiting weeks for an appointment when they need help immediately. This should be a major focus for universities in the years to come.
On-demand tech support – Imagine if students could get laptop or course program help instantly without having to walk across campus, make an appointment, or wait in a queue. Peer technology support could even be included as a work-study program.
Quality childcare programs – Imagine if students with children had access to an affordable (or free) day care or preschool for their children while they’re in class and working during the day. Students could focus on academics while knowing their kids are in a positive, safe learning environment.
These are just a few of many ideas that could contribute to a more ideal student experience. We encourage you to keep innovating and learn from other institutions that are a step ahead. As we learn from the past, we can envision an even better future for higher education—one where students can grow in resiliency, achieve academic success, and access every resource they need to thrive.