(BPT) - As a new academic school term begins for colleges and universities nationwide, many students and faculty are thinking about how to respond to the changes caused by the pandemic as they settle into their first true "post-pandemic" school year.
Research from Barnes and Noble Education (BNED) reveals insights into how education institutions are adapting. The study called “College 2030 — Emerging from the Pandemic: Reimagining Higher Education,” explores changes and visions for the future of higher education by surveying over 2,500 U.S. students, faculty and administrators regarding five areas: the value of higher education, career preparedness, student loans, mental health, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
“This study provides a snapshot of higher education at an inflection point,” said BNED CEO Michael Huseby. “These insights are not only indicative of how higher education is evolving, but can help educational institutions respond more effectively as they set goals for the future.”
Here are five key takeaways from the report, and what higher education institutions can learn from them.
1. The value of higher education
Rising tuition costs and student loan debt have made many question the value of higher education, however, one-third of the students surveyed (33%) said the value of college has actually increased. The majority of students seeing increased value were community college students, graduate or professional students and students 25 years or older. One reason can be attributed to class format, which has pivoted in response to the pandemic. Nearly half the students (49%) said they preferred a hybrid format, while more than half of faculty (54%) favored a fully in-person environment. This difference poses a challenge for institutions.
“Over the next decade, institutions need to continue listening to students by creating personalized learning experiences based on their needs,” said Huseby. “This can be achieved by giving students choices between a variety of class types — in-person, remote and hybrid.”
Hybrid/online learning can provide better access and equity for students of all ages and backgrounds. To further help students have equitable access, Barnes & Noble College (BNC) has created First Day Complete, a program providing all required course materials (digital and physical) to all students before the first day of class, bundling costs as part of their tuition.
2. Career preparedness
The perceived value of higher education is strongly connected to career preparation. When asked, 73% of students said they feel prepared for the industry/field they're pursuing. However, students also wanted more school support with networking (46%), resume help (43%) and mentors (38%).
“Institutions need to better connect students with the business community,” advised Huseby. “They can do that by building strong networking opportunities with businesses, assessing employers' requirements and tailoring curriculum to develop a clear path between college and career.”
3. The state of student loans
While tuition rates remained steady during the pandemic, rising inflation and the end of federal stimulus funding will likely increase costs, impacting students’ ability to pay. According to the survey, just under half of students (47%) had student loans, and of that half, 53% were forced to apply for additional loans due to the pandemic.
4. Supporting mental health
Many institutions saw spikes in student mental health concerns throughout the pandemic. While over half of students (53%) and faculty (58%) say mental health has improved since returning to campus, 28% of students and 21% of faculty noted that mental health has declined, indicating that the transition itself caused challenges, including a lack of preparation to be back in person.
While on-campus mental health support continues to be crucial, a majority of students and faculty are not using available mental health resources. And although 81% of students and 92% of faculty indicated they knew their school offered mental health resources, only 20% said they have used them.
5. Fostering Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Schools could benefit from proactively seeking feedback from students and faculty on DEI efforts, and by educating everyone on DEI issues. Only 35% of students indicated they had been asked for feedback on DEI efforts, while 58% of faculty indicated they had been asked for input.
“Through the next decade, it will be crucial to ensure schools are not just asking for faculty feedback, but are also listening to their students,” said Huseby. “Ensuring student needs are met helps build an inclusive campus that provides mental health support, plus the financial, career and life services students need to succeed.”
As in many aspects of life, the past two and half years have forever changed higher education — and it will continue to change over the next decade. Institutions need to understand the needs of their students and ensure that they are providing them with what they need to continue to succeed in school and beyond.
To read the full report, visit BNCollege.com/insight/report/college2030.