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Students are asked to make big decisions about their lives—what to do after high school, which community college or university to attend, which degree to pursue, what career path they want to follow. Often, the adults in their lives are asking students to make these decisions without access to the information they need to make them.
Students don’t want to be making these decisions in the dark, and leaders shouldn’t be asking them to. Postsecondary leaders must ensure students have the information they need to navigate their education and workforce decisions throughout their educational journey.
The problem starts before students even reach postsecondary institutions. Recently, the Data Quality Campaign and the Kentucky Student Voice team worked with the Harris Poll to survey high school students across the country about how they are thinking about data as they navigate high school and making their postsecondary and workforce plans. What we found was that high school students want access to their own information but don’t have it.
A mere 35 percent of high school students reported that their school informed them about what postsecondary or career paths are available to them. And 80 percent of high school students agree that they would feel more confident about the path they will take after high school if they had better access to information.
Many of these students will go on to postsecondary education programs they’ve chosen without real data to guide their decision-making. And this lack of information doesn’t get better the moment students step onto a college campus. Postsecondary students still don’t have all the information they need, and a recent technology-focused Student Voice survey of 2,000 undergrads—conducted by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse with support from Kaplan—sheds light on the kinds of information that they’re asking for and what postsecondary leaders can do about it.
College students aren’t just consumers of higher education, they should be viewed as an active part of the postsecondary community. To answer their clear calls to be part of the conversation, postsecondary leaders must prioritize communicating with students. By doing so, leaders can build the trust necessary to encourage their students to participate actively in decision-making. The Student Voice survey provides valuable evidence that leaders should start communicating in the following ways.
1. Share progress toward graduation.
Just as high school students want information about their pathways after high school, college students want clear information about their pathway to graduation. And they’re asking for more ways to access that information, sharing that they’d like to see their college improve online student portals (37 percent), automated degree-progress tracking (29 percent), online student records and transcripts (29 percent), and student progress monitoring, which includes tracking progress in online courses and alerting students at risk of failing (22 percent).
Access to information on their progress will allow college students to make clear decisions about their lives, including their course load, extracurricular opportunities, additional academic support and career pathways.
2. Provide access to faculty.
More than a quarter of students surveyed want improved communications technologies to connect with faculty and staff (chat, text, web conferencing, etc.). At the beginning of the pandemic, institutions were forced to rethink how they operate and asked to provide their students with any number of new technology platforms. While many institutions have returned to in-person learning, college students are asking for better ways to communicate with their professors.
Increased access to faculty will provide these students with yet another important data point on their progress and ensure that they are getting the support they need to successfully pursue their degree or credential.
3. Safeguard data.
Safeguarding student data is more than just a box-checking exercise—it’s a foundational part of effective data use. However, institutions of higher education often lack cohesive strategies for protecting student data at every level. By establishing data privacy as an institutionwide priority and setting shared expectations for faculty and staff, higher education leaders can ensure that student data remain secure and can be properly used to help students succeed.
Wanting a Voice
While college students are asking for more information, the Student Voice survey also uncovers a fair amount of what some might call apathy among respondents. Students think, however, that they should have a voice: 85 percent believe that college students should have at least some input when it comes to the technological investments that the institution makes. Yet 43 percent report that they aren’t sure how their institution gives students a say. Involving college students in decisions about how their data are used and protected is an important part of building trust.
Data allow students—whether they’re in high school or pursuing postsecondary education—to make the decisions necessary to chart their own paths through education and into the workforce. But data don’t help college students make those decisions if they can’t find them or share opinions with leadership about what information they need to feel supported and to feel that their data are protected. To truly support the students they serve, postsecondary leaders must prioritize not only listening to their students, but also creating open lines of communication for how to improve.
Click here for more results from the Student Voice survey on technology perspectives.