4 Considerations for Addressing Student Dissatisfaction
by Gregory Milton, Maureen Hall, Suzan Brinker
Tarragona Associates, 4/29/20
Uncertainty for Fall term means most colleges and universities will open either fully online or in some form of hybrid delivery on an alternate schedule for the term. The emergency transformation of their learning during the Spring term has already disrupted student expectations. Looking forward, many students are also significantly affected by the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 for themselves and their families. Both factors create increasing levels of dissatisfaction for students, who may resist additional change at their universities, to the point of transferring elsewhere or dropping out entirely.
As discussed in a previous post, schools must take new steps to care for their students - academically, financially, and emotionally - in these altered circumstances. The reality of remote learning during Spring 2020 has informed perceptions about the cost-value, overall learning experience, feelings of isolation, and detachment from the decisions and steps taken by the university. Your campus should consider actions to address the immediate causes of dissatisfaction, with the goal of demonstrating value and sensitivity towards students through the next stages of change, however long it may be. Here are four ideas:
Facing their own new financial stresses and missing the student life experience they were accustomed to, many students are questioning the value of an all-remote experience, especially at the same cost as before (a few even seem willing to challenge their universities over tuition, as at least 6 class-action lawsuits against colleges have been filed to date). Seeking ways to address this price sensitivity by connecting cost and value more closely is one way to improve student attitudes:
Consider a simple per course or per unit fee, temporarily. Allow students to connect the price they are paying to the specific learning they receive.
Provide flexible part-time options (one or two courses only without academic penalty), allowing students to decide what they can afford and where they want to concentrate their time and money.
Keep students connected to your institution, maintaining some progress towards their degrees, but also giving them a greater ability to choose what they do and how they spend.
2. LEARNING QUALITY
Faculty and students may be increasingly resistant to continued online instruction in the Fall because of perceived low-quality learning. Institutions must make every effort to regain the trust of their students - engaging faculty in the process. Demonstrate that you deliver quality remote learning by improving its development, delivery, and approach:
Offer all faculty a one-course reduced teaching load to use the extra time to focus on conversion of their remaining courses to an online format at higher quality.
Provide faculty the flexibility to assist in drafting standards, expectations, set quality objectives, and develop intentional online course outcomes. Use student, faculty, and technology-staff feedback from the Spring to drive improvement.
Enhance faculty and student confidence, and increase trust across the university community by demonstrating real, visible investment in academic quality.
With their removal from campus, many students - missing their campus life - have experienced isolation and felt disconnected from their institutions. Assist students continuing in a remote environment by offering consistent opportunities to engage with fellow students, staff, and faculty via virtual platforms:
Create virtual communities through organized events. Develop an event calendar and identify key personnel to organize and track engagement.
Allow student-driven connections and interactions, such as virtual dorms, peer-formed study groups, academic and social events based on degree majors, affinity groups, career interests, etc.
Student engagement with their peers through school activities and organically via the mechanisms they use everyday can help overcome feelings of isolation and lack of community.
4. INCLUSIVE COMMUNICATION
Acknowledge the financial, emotional, and circumstantial hardships caused by the current crisis in order to build trust with students, their families, and other campus constituents. Students will be more forgiving if you demonstrate the challenges and choices facing your institution, admit to mistakes, and honestly communicate how those challenges, choices, and mistakes will be addressed:
Holding a weekly virtual town hall with your institution’s leaders is an absolute must during this time.
Delivering memos and directives across social media, email, and other digital platforms - designed specifically for each of your stakeholder groups - can reinforce your transparency, honesty, and determination to work towards progress put forth in those town halls and other meetings.
Publicize available documents to explain your contingency plans, and prioritize student health and learning to demonstrate that your campus - your faculty, staff, students, and alumni - are a team, moving forward together.
Individual solutions must fit each institution, and these solutions must include faculty, student, and staff input and collaboration, not only to create student satisfaction during this crisis, but also to make your college community better and stronger for the future.
With Tarragona Associates’ help, you will:
increase student success and satisfaction
improve faculty and staff buy-in and engagement
enhance the health of your enrollment and retention pipelines
create strong core-mission budgets and build institutional revenue
protect the integrity of your academic promise
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About the Authors
Gregory B Milton, Ph.D., brings 30 years’ experience in the professional development, training and academic fields to his focus on creating innovative lifelong learning opportunities for all learners. He employs an entrepreneurial approach to facilitating teams, always seeking to better achieve objectives, more efficiently and with higher quality, objectives that provide student-centric success through market-driven digital learning opportunities and enrollment growth.
Maureen O. Hall, M.A., is a higher education professional with over 20 years of experience managing business school graduate programs and student affairs. She has worked in public and private institutions. She has been successful in enhancing student and faculty engagement with her office through establishing relationships built on trust, excellent performance, respect, and open communication.
Suzan Brinker, Ph.D., has dedicated her career to helping higher education initiatives build strong value propositions and communicating them to the right audiences. Having served as Director of Marketing at both Penn State and Northeastern University, Suzan now leads Viv Higher Education and consults for Tarragona Associates. She specializes in online education, internationalization, and enrollment marketing.