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Academic Experience

Understanding what’s important to college students

Two years into the pandemic, many of today’s college students have never known a traditional on-campus experience but instead have spent countless hours attending virtual classes and socially-distanced events. Now, even as the end of the pandemic appears to be in sight, students are questioning whether it’s all worth the financial cost.

New research from Qualtrics on more than 1,000 college students in the United States shows that only 55% of students think the education they’re receiving is worth their tuition. But listening to and understanding students is key to improving their experience. Students who feel like their institutions understand what’s important to them have higher levels of satisfaction with their academic experience and their social experience. Eighty-seven percent of students who report feeling understood are satisfied with their experience overall compared to just 45% of students who say their institution doesn’t understand what's important to them.

The past two years have been marked by endless change, but higher education is at another point of transition as the world potentially heads toward an endemic stage of COVID. Now is a critical time for administrators to listen to student voices and ensure those voices are heard. Here’s what leaders need to do to understand what’s important to students and apply their feedback to provide an educational experience that is highly valued.

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Create frequent opportunities for feedback

In order to understand how students are being impacted by their experiences, colleges need to create opportunities for feedback as a first step. One in 10 college students in this study (11%) say they don’t have opportunities to provide feedback at their institution.

Colleges could benefit from greater knowledge of the student experience, as there are clear gaps in understanding between administrators and students. While 87% of college administrators think that students are satisfied with the academic experience, only 78% of students say they are satisfied. That gap is even wider when it comes to how administrators and students view social experiences — 78% of college administrators think students are satisfied with their social experience, but only 58% of students say they are.

Schools should collect feedback frequently and through various means so that all students — no matter where they live, what activities or classes they are involved in or how often they check their email — have a say in what their college experience looks like.

See how Western Sydney University gathers and uses student experience data

Make sure student voices are heard

Beyond asking students what they think and feel, institutions of higher education must act on that feedback in decisive ways that improve students’ lives. While 75% of students say they have opportunities to provide feedback to their institution, only 52% of students agree that when they give feedback, they know their voice is heard.

Nearly two in three (65%) students agree that their institution understands what is important to them. Students in this group also report higher levels of ‘feeling heard’ and satisfaction with their experiences. Once gaps in experience and understanding between administrators and students have been identified, it’s time for communication, actions, policies and programs that directly address those gaps and seek to close them. Students won’t believe their voices are being heard until they see evidence of change.

Show students that leaders care

Eighty-five percent of college administrators agree that leaders at their institution care about students, but only 68% of students say the same – a 17 percentage point gap.

Among students who do say their school understands them, 83% agree school leaders care about them. But among students who said their school does not understand what’s important to them, just 37% agree leaders care.

Leaders in higher education are mission-driven individuals who want what’s best for students. Ultimately, caring about students’ education and wellbeing means you are willing to listen to their voices and set aside preconceived notions about what learning looks like to step into a future of education that is more equitable, accessible, innovative and caring.

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This study was fielded between January 27, 2022 and February 8, 2022. Respondents were identified through a panel and considered eligible if they live in the United States, are at least 18 years of age and are currently enrolled in a college associate’s or bachelor’s degree program. Respondents who did not pass quality standards were removed. The total number of respondents is 1,009.

Qualtrics // Experience Management

Qualtrics, the leader and creator of the experience management category, is a cloud-native software platform that empowers organizations to deliver exceptional experiences and build deep relationships with their customers and employees.

With insights from Qualtrics, organizations can identify and resolve the greatest friction points in their business, retain and engage top talent, and bring the right products and services to market. Nearly 20,000 organizations around the world use Qualtrics’ advanced AI to listen, understand, and take action. Qualtrics uses its vast universe of experience data to form the largest database of human sentiment in the world. Qualtrics is co-headquartered in Provo, Utah and Seattle.

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