“Let’s Improve Student Engagement”

Harrington Shaw:

Undergraduate student engagement is on the decline. That’s according to the publishing and research firm Wiley, which, in February, released a “State of the Student” survey indicating that student engagement remains a “significant challenge” as universities have returned to in-person instruction. Wiley’s researchers found that more schools are facing enrollment and retention issues, as students are unsure which programs to pursue amid economic and emotional insecurity. Alarmingly, more than half of surveyed undergraduates indicated that they struggle to “stay engaged and interested in their classes,” while nearly half are concerned about keeping up with coursework.

As Inside Higher Ed noted in its own coverage of the study, students’ responses indicated a strong desire for a greater career-preparatory focus in their college classes. Wiley reported that students are “looking for current, relevant content that’s applicable to the real world and promotes interaction.” One-quarter of students stated that their educational experience would be improved if professors focused more on the applications of course material rather than on theoretical study.

Many institutions fail to educate students about the value of a college education.

Students also expressed a desire for more “company-led projects,” demonstrating their increasing focus on job skills, work experience, and professional certificate exam preparation. Activities like case studies, interactions with professionals, and workplace simulations were all suggested by students as productive uses of their instructional time.

There are, of course, solutions to this student engagement crisis, some of which are already in motion. First, higher-education institutions should work to reduce costs so that students can focus on school without having to work outside of class to afford tuition. Enabling students to spend more time studying and socializing will empower them to better understand material and meaningfully participate in class, in addition to forming more tightly knit learning communities.