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Students revealed barriers and boosts to their academic success, concerns about course materials affordability and more in the most recent Student Voice survey on academic life. The full findings are now available.

Galeanu Mihai/iStock/Getty Images Plus

As coverage from our first Student Voice survey of 2023, on academic life, draws to a close, read on for a recap of the top 10 findings and links to related articles and analysis.

The survey, fielded in January and February in collaboration with College Pulse, had 3,004 two- and four-year college respondents. Questions related to navigating the academic path via advising, along with barriers and boosts to success in the classroom and sourcing and interacting with course materials. Explore the data further by requesting access to findings, with the ability to filter by demographic factors, here.

Now, the survey’s biggest takeaways:

  1. More than half of students (55 percent) say they’ve struggled in a class due to a teaching style that didn’t work for them, making this factor the No. 1 reported barrier to success in a class. This increases to 67 percent among students with learning disabilities or related conditions (n=649), and 60 percent for LGBTQIA+ students (n=899). Looking at these findings, experts recommend adopting inclusive active learning strategies that offer students some degree of choice as to how they’ll participate. In a follow-up pulse survey of students by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse, the largest share of students, about a third, say they prefer interactive lectures over other class formats.
  1. Being more flexible with deadlines is the top professor action students say would promote their academic success, with 57 percent of students wanting this. This appears again to be a slightly bigger concern to students who are receiving financial aid than those who aren’t. In another follow-up pulse survey of students focusing on deadlines and flexibility in the classroom, nearly two in three students say deadlines should be flexible for extenuating circumstances, and nearly half say deadlines should be flexible in general. Few students say deadlines should be eliminated altogether, however, and many rely on deadlines for motivation or say it’s helpful when professors break down big tasks into smaller deadlines, or both. In interviews with Inside Higher Ed, experts say students benefit from well-structured courses and transparent and accessible deadline policies.
  1. Race, socioeconomic status and having a learning disability or related condition may factor into how students think about grades. For example, 76 percent of white students (n=1,265) agree that their professors grade fairly over all, compared to 63 percent of Black students (n=244), 65 percent of Hispanic students (n=458) and 66 percent of Asian students (n=603). White students also are likeliest to agree that grading on a curve is fair. Some scholars of teaching and learning say these data underscore other research on grading, namely that grades reflect existing inequities within higher education. For this reason, among others, more professors may be experimenting with alternative models such as standards-based grading. Alternative grading models, which can clarify instructors’ expectations to students and increase instructor feedback, also may help alleviate the No. 2 and No. 4 reported impediments to students’ academic success: overly difficult materials or exams and unclear expectations, respectively.
  1. Students say external factors, namely balancing schoolwork and other responsibilities and mental health, also impact their student success. Some 47 percent of students cite school-life balance as a concern and, perhaps counterintuitively, this is not elevated among the many student respondents with jobs. Relatively more women than men, and more students with financial aid than without, do cite this as a problem, however. On mental health struggles, four in 10 students say it’s a barrier to their academic success. The rate is significantly elevated—55 percent—both for students with learning disabilities and related conditions and for LGBTQIA+ students.
  1. Just 55 percent of students say they’ve received academic advising on required courses and course sequences needed for graduation. The rate is only slightly higher, 57 percent, for students graduating this year, suggesting a major gap in this core advising function. This gap appears biggest for nonwhite students: while 63 percent of white students say they’ve been advised on required courses and sequences, about half of Asian, Black or Latino students say so.
  1. Most students are assigned an adviser, but just two in five students are required to meet with this professional. Yet even students who report being required to meet just once with their adviser (n=519) appear to benefit: 68 percent say they’ve received guidance on required coursework. While many institutions take the stance that they can’t require meeting with advisers, certain actions can boost voluntary student engagement with advisers.
  1. Institutional holds appear to disproportionately affect underrepresented students. Some 29 percent of Black students and 24 percent of Latino students say they’ve been unable to register for classes due to an administrative hold, compared to 18 percent of white students and 16 percent of Asian students. And 26 percent of students who identify as having a learning disability or other condition that makes learning more difficult report having been unable to register for classes due to holds on their accounts, compared to the 20 percent of students over all. There also may be a link between institutional holds and delayed graduation rates: while 70 percent of the survey sample expects to graduate within the standard time frame (two or four years, depending on institution type), just 59 percent of respondents who have been unable to register for classes at some point due to an institutional hold expect to graduate in standard time. This is important for institutional diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. One suggestion is establishing payment plan options for students whose holds are due to tuition balances.
  1. Three in 10 students over all saw a course they need to graduate fill up before they could register, and registration problems of all kinds are much more likely among four-year students than two-year students. Some 43 percent of community college students say they haven’t experienced any of the listed problems registering, compared to 27 percent of baccalaureate students. This doesn’t necessarily mean registration issues delayed students’ graduation timelines. But students in the survey who expect to graduate in the standard time are significantly more likely than those who don’t (or who aren’t sure about their timelines) to say they haven’t experienced any listed problems with registration. Experts say registration issues tend to arise with advanced courses, which are more common at four-year colleges, and are more expensive and otherwise complicated to run than introductory courses.
  1. Just three in 10 students say they think their professors take affordability into account when choosing class materials. Some institutions say innovative course materials models such as inclusive and equitable access are the best solution to the perennial affordability issue. But skeptics argue that such models reduce student choice and make students more vulnerable to textbook cost increases down the line. As for which type of course materials students prefer, half say a mix of digital and physical materials. Just over three in 10 say digital materials, and fewer than two in 10 prefer physical materials only.
  1. More than four in 10 students say their professors choose diverse course materials representing a variety of perspectives and voices. Just 11 percent of the students say their professors choose homogeneous instructional materials not reflecting diverse perspectives, but the affirmative rate suggests professors could be doing more to diversify their course materials. Expert tips include adopting and adapting open educational resources, asking students to reflect on the personal relevance of course materials, offering textbook publishers feedback, supplementing textbooks with additional materials and interviews, and more.

Next up in Student Voice: Findings from the latest survey, covering health and wellness.

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