Students, higher ed leaders diverge on post-COVID priorities

Students, higher ed leaders diverge on post-COVID priorities

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Dive Brief:

  • College students and educators aren’t aligned with each other about how higher ed should proceed once COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency, according to new survey data covering 10 countries around the world from Anthology, a Florida-based education technology company.
  • In North America, roughly one in four college leaders said their institutions don’t plan to offer remote or virtual class options by 2025. But 63% of students said they preferred fully online classes or classes that blend in-person and remote learning — and 23% said they prefer a mix of in-person and online courses.
  • Respondents agreed on the impact of the economy. Around the world, about three out of four students and campus leaders alike said that outside of the pandemic, the economy has the biggest impact on students. The economy easily outpaced other factors like a lack of access to technology, cited by about a third of students and leaders.

Dive Insight:

COVID-19 forced college leaders to adapt quickly when it first disrupted in-person education. Virtual teaching rapidly became a necessity and remote programs became much more prevalent, with 44.7% of students enrolled entirely online in 2020, compared to 17% in 2019.

Now, traditional in-person colleges face decisions about returning to the pre-pandemic status quo or incorporating more digital-first methods going forward.

“A fully online model doesn’t make sense for a brick-and-mortar university,” said Mirko Widenhorn, senior director of engagement strategy at Anthology. “But there’s an opportunity to take a step back and ask, ‘Are there courses that we can offer online that will have the same or better quality?’”

In March and April, Widenhorn led a team that surveyed 2,572 university leaders and 2,725 students from 10 countries. The resulting report includes a global overview of findings as well as responses by region — North America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and Latin America.

Globally, the number of colleges that only offer fully in-person courses is expected to drop from 30% to 18% by 2025, according to surveyed university leaders. That means the 24% of leaders in North America who said instruction would be fully in person in 2025 are out of step with their peers elsewhere in the world as well as their students.

The reluctance among North American colleges to shift comes despite a majority of their students having access to strong technology infrastructure. Only 26% of U.S. college students said lack of access to technology affected their education. That’s similar to the share who said the same in Europe but well below the share recorded in the Middle East and Africa, where over half of students said a lack of access to technology affected them in their home countries.

Leaders must take student feedback into account to help students and colleges succeed, according to Widenhorn.

“What is going to benefit the student in their experience will in return help the university,”  Widenhorn said. “Students are more likely to retain and complete on time. They’re more likely to have a better experience, so they’re more likely to engage and potentially give back when they’re alumni or recommend the university to prospective students. It’s all interconnected.”

Almost all leaders responding to the survey said their institutions actively sought to use student data when making decisions. Despite this, 54% of higher ed leaders in North America are not currently considering additional investments in learning management or student information systems.

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