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Top Takeaways From Inside Higher Ed Survey of Chief Academic Officers


Student with a backpack walking on the sidewalk next to academic buildings on a college campus

Recently, Inside Higher Ed published the results of its annual survey of Chief Academic Officers. The annual report focused on key issues related to the academic health and perceived value of education delivered by participating institutions.


Additionally, the study touched on issues related to mental health among faculty and staff. The findings have direct implications on students and parallels to key drivers impacting student persistence and retention.


Measuring Institutional Academic Health


While the majority of respondents indicated they felt the academic health of their institution was favorable, roughly 2 out of every 10 respondents rated academic health at their institution to be fair or poor.


As we continue to move on from the COVID-19 pandemic, perspectives are more mixed. When asked if they felt that changes made during the pandemic negatively impacted the academic quality of the institution, 40% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed. This indicates that major changes and innovations that are widely regarded as good for educational access, such as going test-optional for admission and embracing remote instruction, from the perspective of Provosts and Chief Academic Officers, are not viewed as favorable. This perspective has led institutions to reinstate pre-COVID standardized testing policies for admission.


One item from the research that cannot be ignored is the perspective of Provosts and Academic Officers on student success. While 65% of the respondents indicated they felt they provided a quality undergraduate education; only 39% feel they are very effective at identifying and assessing student outcomes ... and only about half indicated they felt they were very effective at preparing students for the world of work. Institutions must improve how they proactively identify students who are at-risk of not completing their degree over leveraging simple reactive methods. Adaptive frameworks that measure important indicators such as career readiness and academic engagement are needed to better support student success.


Communicating the Value of Higher Education


While 90% of respondents to the Inside Higher Ed survey agreed that general education is a “crucial part” of an undergraduate education, only one-third of respondents felt that students understand the purpose of general education requirements.


Not surprisingly, most respondents (90%) feel that the liberal arts are central to undergraduate education, even in professional programs. However, 88% of respondents agreed that the concept of a liberal arts education is not well understood.


Demonstrating value goes beyond career placement outcomes. Students are more likely to persist when they feel engaged and understand the value of the coursework they are investing in.


Recognizing Faculty Mental Health Challenges


Less than half of respondents rated the mental health of faculty and staff as very or extremely important and less than 40% feel that it is important to have a formal plan to address the mental health needs among faculty and staff. With rising concerns of mental health across campuses it is clear that institutions can and should do more. By not recognizing and supporting the needs of the members of the campus community tasked with delivering a quality education, institutions run the risk of making deeper negative impacts on academic engagement and mental health challenges of their students.


Driving Stronger Student Academic Engagement


One voice that is consistently overlooked in this type of research is that of the student. Recently we discussed the top 5 reasons students aren’t returning to college (and what can be done about it), and those reasons are mental health and a feeling of a lack of faculty and staff support.


Given what we understand from the research it should come as no surprise that if faculty leadership do not believe there is a need to address mental health issues amongst faculty that their ability to engage and inspire students will break down as a result. Additionally, the less than enthusiastic response to innovations driven by the pandemic that support educational access and attainment, is a signal of a desire to “return to what was” over “embracing what is”.


To most adequately support their faculty and staff, Chief Academic Officers must find a way to listen to students regularly and impactfully. Beyond trailing indicators like attendance or late indicators like surveys; a researched-backed and adaptive framework delivered via SMS texting can help to provide meaningful and real-time feedback from students to help faculty and staff remain engaged and better understand how to communicate value and connect with students.

 

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