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Supporting the Diverse and Ever-Changing Student Populations in Higher Ed

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

The Balancing Act

Higher education has traditionally been associated with young adults transitioning from high school to college. However, the landscape of higher education is evolving rapidly, and today's student body encompasses a diverse range of individuals. Adult learners, working students, caretakers, and those with children face unique challenges while pursuing their education.

In order to help these students persist, institutions are finding that they need to increase their student support staff. Inside Higher Ed described how Purdue University is adding 18 Student Success Coaches to their team to help support adult learners. These coaches act as a bridge between students and the institution, providing valuable assistance in navigating academic requirements, financial aid, and personal challenges. Their support is essential in fostering persistence among non-traditional students.

When it comes to students who may not open up face-to-face when they need support and suffer silently, or working students who cannot attend virtual office hours, how do we ensure they're heard and supported? To put this into perspective, according to both the 13th Annual Youth Survey of 1,000 Gen Z High School Students and Forbes:

  • Nearly 30% of students study exclusively online

  • 82% of students plan to work while attending higher ed

  • 67% of students are concerned about student debt

  • 54% of students plan to pay for their education

  • 51% of students plan on receiving financial aid

"Madera and other schools are trying hard to remove red tape and other obstacles, trying to give students the help they need to stay in school." While these numbers are staggering, is hiring additional student support staff to help uncover these barriers always feasible? No.

Simplifying Schedules to Support Students:

Often we encourage students to center their lives around college, organizing their work and personal schedules around their education. However, this becomes nearly impossible when faculty members have assignments and tests due at different times, and there is a lack of consistency in teaching across various courses and terms. Just as students require routine, they also need stability.

While academic freedom holds significance, this situation exemplifies where consistency and simplicity can greatly contribute to student success. Several highly successful and rapidly growing colleges, including online institutions like Southern New Hampshire, have recognized the importance of providing students with a reliable and easily manageable schedule and routine. In these institutions, all assignments are due on the same day of the week, regardless of the faculty member, course, or term. This approach instills confidence in students and establishes a foundation for them to effectively plan their personal lives and careers without the fear that their current job may no longer align with their schedule in the next term.

By simplifying students' schedules, schools have effectively reduced mental load for their students and given them the freedom to pursue responsibilities outside of the classroom. It's simple, a great way to support students is to eliminate unnecessary complexity.

This consistency also facilitates students' time management skills, as they become accustomed to the predictable rhythm, reducing the likelihood of forgetting assignments and coursework. It also allows Higher Ed institutions to preschedule nudges that scale student support in a meaningful way.

Harnessing Student Feedback:

Requiring no lift from staff, EdSights's AI text messaging proactively checks-in with students at scale and not only connects them to a resource in the moment but continues to check-in across different barriers to persistence throughout the semester to support each student's unique challenges as they face them.

EdSights is the only technology that learns about students over time

By obtaining real-time and actionable feedback through simple text message check-ins, institutions can understand what courses, formats, and support services matter most directly from the voices of their students. EdSights's proactive approach enables staff to create relevant, engaging, and inclusive learning experiences that resonate with the needs and aspirations of their diverse student body, enabling them to persist.

When increasing staff simply isn't an option, let's consider how both technology and data can be used to truly boost efficiency:

  • Augment established alert systems meant to identify students who are at risk of not persisting (based on their class attendance or a predictive model) with earlier intervention opportunities. This will result in less students needing to be supported at a time when it may be too late to make an impact.

  • Prioritize outreach to identified students who need additional support based on their recent responses to scheduled weekly check-ins. Compared to a mass outreach effort, the number of students will be more manageable.

  • Celebrate successes by keeping an eye on what’s working. Replicate those efforts while removing redundancy. “This is the way we’ve always done it” is not leading by innovation and it's simply not working anymore.

If you're ready to find out how you can start harnessing the power of the student voice, check out EdSights approach here!


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