Student Influence on Campus

Student Influence on Campus

Do students feel “heard” by professors in the classroom and by administrators at their college or university? The survey explores the issues students most want a voice in and offers insights into how campus officials might listen and respond better.

Do college students feel heard by professors and administrators on their campuses?

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50% of students are just slightly or not at all confident that if they had to raise an issue on campus, they would know which department could address it.

When students have problems or concerns, they are likelier to seek out professors than administrators and to feel faculty members listen more to their perspectives, Inside Higher Ed’s initial Student Voice survey finds.

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How to overcome challenges in connecting with college students

The influence of technology on higher education, well before COVID shut campuses down, has been profound. As a faculty member, I once had lines outside my door during office hours, but today most questions are handled by email. I championed offering all of my department’s courses online as well as face-to-face, to make it easier for our students to complete their degrees.

But online courses make it harder for faculty to connect with students in some of the rich ways that can best happen face-to-face. The time before and after in-person class used to be filled with chatting students and lots of questions, but now students go straight to the small screen to check messages as they head out the door. Academic advising that was once done by faculty is now done by professional advisers. While this has had positive results for student success, it has removed an opportunity for a student to come to a faculty member’s office.

As both a vice provost for student success and professor of psychology, I was interested in the results of a recent Inside Higher Ed survey covering students’ ability to share campus feedback. Three in four of the 2,000 students said they were comfortable sharing their perspectives on issues with peers, one in three with faculty, but only one in 17 with a campus administrator -- like, say, a vice provost.

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Unfortunately, half of the respondents also said that if they did have an issue to raise, they would not know the correct department to contact.

It is not shocking that students would rather share important issues with faculty than administrators. But the fact that only one in three of the survey’s respondents felt comfortable sharing their perspectives with faculty has me concerned. We know that students who have strong connections to faculty are more likely to stay in school, engage on campus, do well in their classes and graduate. Making just one good connection with a faculty member -- particularly early on in college -- can influence whether that student drops out or stays in school.

Yet it’s harder for faculty to connect with students today.

Ideas for Strengthening Connections

So what does all of this mean to a professor-turned-student success administrator? Should I be concerned that students would rather talk to Professor Lampman than Vice Provost Lampman? No. But it is worrisome that many of our students know neither that we want to hear from them nor where to go to provide us with feedback.

So how do we do better? In the student success world, we talk a lot about “meeting students where they are.” When it comes to letting our students know that we want to hear from them, I have found my most successful efforts have happened by literally meeting students where they are: in the classroom and on Blackboard.

As a social scientist, I love data. I trust data. But a survey that only 5 percent of students respond to is not going to tell me as much about the big problems on campus as one a more representative sample of students complete. I’ve found that if I go into classrooms to recruit students for a survey or ask faculty to post a video request, the student response is much greater. It is critical to communicate my care and concern as authentically as possible.

I also find that having a student success section on our Blackboard main page is a great way to communicate with students. I am a huge fan of our chancellor’s Ask Me Anything campaign, too. That language is so open and inviting. So maybe a "tell me anything" button needs to appear prominently on Blackboard, where our students are spending time every day, especially during the pandemic.

Finally, Vice Provost Lampman will never connect with her students as well as Professor Lampman. As an administrator, I need to be thinking about how to make it easier for meaningful interactions between students and faculty to happen. I believe the pandemic has actually pushed us in the right direction in this area.

Faculty are very focused on building instructor presence, promoting engagement and setting a tone of care and inclusivity by welcoming students to class, doing emotional check-ins and incorporating storytelling into their courses. Having a 2-year-old on your lap during a lecture also makes a faculty member seem approachable and relatable.

Vice Provost Lampman will never connect with her students as well as Professor Lampman. As an administrator, I need to be thinking about how to make it easier for meaningful interactions between students and faculty to happen.

As we transition to the new normal, administrators should focus on giving faculty the time and tools needed to build inviting and inclusive classrooms. But it is more challenging and expensive to foster the deep faculty-student connections that come from high-touch experiences most likely to help a student stay in school and graduate. Mentoring students in undergraduate research, scholarship, clinical skills and career preparation is every bit as important as instructing students in the classroom, but it must be recognized as true teaching in faculty workloads and rewarded in promotion and tenure.

Student success is not just the job of faculty and administrators. Everyone who works on a college campus must understand that our daily actions and words tell our students this: we value you and your feedback about how we are doing. They will not speak up if we do not make it clear that we want them to.

Author/s: 
Claudia Lampman
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Claudia Lampman is vice provost for student success, dean of the Honors College and professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

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Administrators can help students know how to get support on campus (opinion)

During the standard campus orientation, incoming students are looking forward to meeting new friends and scheduling classes for their very first semester. For hours on end, they participate in sessions, learning about university policy as well as basics like obtaining a student ID and parking pass, where to eat, and how to get involved.

As university administrators, we have this fantastical notion that each and every student is mentally attentive and present, remembering all the details. Surely every student now knows how to be “successful”? And when an issue arises, they will know -- all on their own -- where to go to resolve it.

Most if not all of us know this to be an accurate assumption in theory, but not true in practice. For the record, I am not disparaging orientation programs or suggesting they are the source of the problems; rather, I use this as an illustration of an opportunity for improvement. In my career in higher education, I have worked with orientation programs and supervised orientation leaders. I thought I was making sure all the information we chose to share with incoming students was vital and worth remembering. We relayed a lot to students, but the notion that we only have to do it once is shortsighted.

In the Inside Higher Ed Student Voice survey on whether students are speaking up and feeling heard, half of respondents have minimal confidence in where to go on campus when they have an issue. This raises the question, “What is our responsibility to inform students whom they need to talk to about a concern?”

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If they have concerns about campus parking passes, do they know which office handles this or even the location of the office? If they experience a gender- or racially biased incident, do they know who will support them in their time of need?

Voicing Concerns to Faculty

Students feel more confident speaking with faculty than with administrators for support, the survey found. But are faculty aware of the wide range of resources available throughout the campus and where to refer inquiring students? We tend to look to faculty to instruct and academically advise students, not to be the primary support for student issues and concerns.

As this survey was conducted during COVID times where online classes are the norm, faculty probably have the most frequent “face-to-face” contact. Students are not on campus as much (or at all), and many administrators are staying in their offices or working remotely to minimize exposure. That leaves the faculty to primarily interact with students, but that is typically the role of nonfaculty administrators such as members of student affairs divisions.

Read more content from Student Voice.

The question then becomes, “How do we as nonacademic administrators frequently and consistently support our students?” I argue we need to be more present with the students. Even if we are not physically present, there are other ways to be better connected with our students. These options include:

  • Sharing opportunities for students to connect with administration through means such as open Zoom sessions or other virtual town halls. While we have shifted our programming to a virtual format, for the most part its content does not inform students about where to go when they have issues or concerns.
  • Creating check-ins or roundtables on specific topics a couple of times per month with students en masse to hear what they have to say.

A Self-Advocacy Problem

Another interesting piece of the Student Voice survey speaks to the lack of students who actually voice their concerns. Only one in five has actually raised a concern, with multiracial and Black students having been more likely to express their concerns.

Why is this? Are these students more accustomed to self-advocacy because that is how they have been forced to live their lives? Are these the students who have to speak up even more during a time of racial injustice and social inequity, especially during an era of Black Lives Matter? Their advocacy can teach others the importance of speaking up and not accepting the status quo.

Only one in five students speaking up about issues is startling. Are we failing to instill in students the importance of self-advocacy or even a sense that we want to hear their feedback? We need to make sure students understand we want and need to hear from them when times are good and bad. Students should be made to feel comfortable sharing, both when they are thriving or barely surviving.

Fewer than half of the survey respondents feel administrators make it clear we want to know about their experiences. In my experience, this is critical to enhance what we do and how we serve students. The students, it would seem, do not echo this sentiment.

“You spoke, we listened” or “We heard your voice” messaging campaigns can help show students that their voices matter.

How do we share that we want their feedback? How do we confirm we heard what they had to say and not only listened, but we then made changes as a result? We gather student feedback. It helps us inform future practices or changes to existing services, but we are not as good about letting students know their voice was heard and that it mattered.

“You spoke, we listened” or “We heard your voice” messaging campaigns can help show students that their voices matter. It is critical to let students know they inspired change, and to inform them of what that change looks like. A belief that their voices carry weight could be taken with them postcollege -- when their voices hopefully affect societal change.

A lesson to be learned from all of this is the need to be present for our students, even when we cannot be physically present. Students have little desire to only see or hear from administrators when there is a problem. We need to be out and about among students during the good times as well as the bad.

Students need to see administrators … and not just the front-line staff. Upper-level administrators and senior staff are well served to walk the campus, introduce themselves to students and ask them how they are doing. It is these kinds of interactions, especially for a more insular generation, that help tether students to their institution so they feel seen, heard and cared about.

Jon Kapell, the director for campus activities and involvement at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, has worked in higher education for over 22 years.

Author/s: 
Jon Kapell
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Jon Kapell is the director for campus activities and involvement at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

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Infographic: Students May Need Support in Speaking Up

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Findings from the Inside Higher Ed/College Pulse survey on student voices across campus and in the classroom -- plus ideas for action.

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