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Most of the 5,025 two- and four-year respondents to the annual Student Voice survey say they’re somewhat (58 percent) or very (20 percent) confident that their education and experiences during college have prepared them for success, however they define it, in life after college.

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Public doubts about higher education may be increasing, but three in four current students rate the quality of education they’re receiving as good (46 percent) or excellent (27 percent), according to just-in results from Inside Higher Ed’s annual Student Voice survey. This is relatively consistent across institution types.

Initial survey results hold more good news for higher ed: Most of the 5,025 two- and four-year students surveyed say they’re somewhat (58 percent) or very (20 percent) confident that their education and experiences during college have prepared them for success (however they define it) in life after college. This, too, is consistent across institution types.

Additionally—and perhaps surprisingly, given the tumultuous spring term in many places—two in three students say that their campus climate is one in which nearly all students seem to feel welcomed, valued and supported (18 percent) or most students do (49 percent).

The annual survey was fielded May 6 to 21, in partnership with Generation Lab. Nearly three in 10 respondents (28 percent) attend two-year institutions and closer to four in 10 (37 percent) are post-traditional students, meaning they attend two-year institutions and/or are 25 or older.

The student feedback isn’t all so positive, however. For example, even as the majority of students seemingly approve of their campus climate, just over half of students (52 percent) say they have some or a lot of trust in their college or university president and other executive-level officials. This makes senior campus leaders, as a group, students’ least-trusted employees from a long list, suggesting there’s work to do to build or rebuild these relationships. (Professors rank No. 1 here, with 87 percent of students having some or a lot of trust in them.)

Additionally, rating their institution’s overall effort to support students in career exploration and development, less than half of students say it’s good (34 percent) or excellent (11 percent). What do students want more of in this area? The top response by far is help finding internship and job possibilities, with nearly half (48 percent) of students selecting this from a list of potential institutional priorities (multiple options allowed).

Student wellness also remains a challenge: Just about half of students rate their overall well-being as good (37 percent) or excellent (15 percent), with fewer (42 percent) rating their mental health, specifically, as good or excellent.

Looking at dimensions of belonging, relatively more students rate their sense of academic fit at their institution as good or excellent (57 percent) than their sense of social belonging (42 percent).

Asked about stress, four in 10 (41 percent) students say their ability to effectively manage it is good or excellent, meaning the rest may need more support in this area. Students’ top two sources or kinds of stress experienced in college (selected from a long list) are balancing academics with personal, family or financial responsibilities (48 percent of the sample) and paying for college (34 percent). So work-life balance and financial concerns are impacting students’ sense of well-being, too.

As for how their mental health, physical health and stress levels impact their ability to focus, learn and perform academically, four in 10 (40 percent) students say their mental health impacts this a great deal. About the same share (43 percent) say that stress is impacting academics, underscoring the connection between student wellness and student success.

More Initial Findings From Across the Student Experience

Below are some more initial results from the annual survey, organized by Inside Higher Ed’s four pillars of student success. Look for additional findings, analysis and demographic breakdowns in the coming weeks and months.

Academic life: Asked which classroom-focused institutional actions would most increase their academic success, the No. 1 response from a long list of options (with multiple selections allowed) is encouraging faculty members to limit high-stakes exams, such as those counting for 40 percent of one’s course grade, with nearly half (46 percent) of students choosing this.

Asked which student experience-focused institutional actions would most increase their academic success from a long list (multiple options allowed), 55 percent of students choose making tuition more affordable so they can better balance school and work. A close second choice (49 percent of the sample) is creating more opportunities for on-campus work, including internships or leadership opportunities that fit their field of interest. These findings further highlight the link between students’ academic success and financial concerns.

As for whether students have a clear sense of when, how and whether to use generative artificial intelligence to help with their coursework, just 19 percent say they don’t, while another 11 percent are unsure.

Health and wellness: From a long list of factors, students most attribute what’s been called the collegiate metal health crisis to the need to balance personal, economic and family responsibilities with schoolwork (42 percent); increased academic stress (37 percent); and prevalence of social media (33 percent, with multiple options allowed for this question). This differs from what college and university presidents said this year in an annual survey by Inside Higher Ed and Hanover Research, with vast majority (87 percent) attributing the collegiate mental health crisis to the prevalence of social media (the No. 1 choice) and relatively few (42 percent) attributing it to academic stress (the least-selected option).

Asked which in a list of institutional actions would be most helpful in promoting their overall well-being, including their mental health, Student Voice respondents’ No. 1 choice is rethinking exams schedules and/or encouraging faculty members to limit high-stakes exams (46 percent). This echoes students’ responses to the earlier question about what classroom-focused actions would be best promote their success, though few institutions appear to have made changes in this area: In their own annual survey, just 5 percent of presidents said they’d rethought exams schedules at their institution to promote well-being on campus since 2020.

The college experience: Despite reports of decreased student involvement on campus post-pandemic, most Student Voice respondents appear to consider participation in extracurricular activities and events as somewhat or very important to their overall well-being and success, both while they’re in college (68 percent) and after graduation (6 percent). As for how that translates to action, 6 percent of respondents indicate some level of involvement in activities on campus—think clubs, organizations, research opportunities, paid positions or other volunteer roles. Four in 10 (40 percent) students say they’d be more involved in campus life if timing and location of events and activities were more convenient.

Maybe unsurprisingly, given growing concerns in some corners that higher ed is moving toward a customer-service model of education, four in 10 (41 percent) students say they consider themselves customers of the institution, both in classes and across campus, rather than simply as students. This is defined in the survey as thinking their college or university should meet their needs and empathize with their personal experiences because they’re paying tuition and fees.

Life after college: Students seem to have mixed feelings and experiences (or lack thereof) with their campus career services or career center and staff: just a third (34 percent) affirmatively describe their campus career services and staff as welcoming. However, only 4 percent of students say they’ve had negative interactions with their career center. Another third (33 percent) aren’t sure either way, or have had no relevant experience.

Thinking about their stress level in preparing for life after graduation, the largest share of students say they’re somewhat stressed (47 percent). Another 22 percent of students say they’re extremely stressed about this, in that impacts their daily life.

What strikes you as surprising or resonant about these initial findings? What would you like to hear more about? Tell us. We’d also love to hear about any relevant student success programs or initiatives at your institution; share here.

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