College enrollment has continued to decline since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s in part due to the high cost of a college education and a stronger job market. But the drop in college interest may also be tied to student needs—many of which aren’t being met by colleges and universities today.
Steven Mintz, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, recently highlighted a few of those needs and discussed how colleges today can provide the necessary learning experiences, guidance, and support to help students succeed.
A CHANGING STUDENT DEMOGRAPHIC
Today’s undergraduates are largely nontraditional students. In other words, Mintz says, “the new student majority consists of commuting students, part-time students, working students, older students, family caregivers, transfer students, re-entering students, international students and students with disabilities.”
But colleges haven’t adapted to the changing student demographic. Institutional calendars, course schedules, and campus services have largely remained the same. But the problems are much deeper, Mintz says.
“Too many students feel disconnected, unsupported and directionless,” he explains. “Campuses need to do more to cultivate a sense of belonging and connection with faculty, classmates and the campus itself.”
Cultivating a college experience goes beyond academic functions. And colleges today need to recognize that.
“These offices bear responsibility for a remarkable range of campus functions, involving student conduct, student emergency services and student activities,” Mintz says. “Student engagement, students’ health and wellness, belonging and inclusion, the residential experience, student activities, orientation, Greek life, recreational sports, civic engagement, and parent and family relations fall under their purview.”
WHAT CAN COLLEGES DO?
There are a few ways that Mintz says colleges today can help to enhance the college experience beyond the classroom. Whether it’s facilitating more interaction with faculty or offering more workshops that cater to student interests, colleges play an integral role in building a community that meets the needs of the modern student.
“Our institutions also need to strengthen advising, both academic and nonacademic. Students are more likely to persist, graduate and express satisfaction if they receive more guidance in identifying a career direction, selecting a major and choosing courses,” Mintz says. “They also need more career counseling and ready access to psychological or learning services.”
On courses and learning experiences, Mintz believes colleges should integrate things such as “academic success courses” that align more closely with academic planning, degree mapping, and major selection. Clinicals, practicums, and studio classes should provide opportunities for students to apply what they’ve learned in their classes. Experiential learning opportunities should include internships, mentored research, project-based learning, field experiences, civic and service learning, and study abroad.
“In addition to traditional discipline-based lecture and discussion courses, many of today’s students would benefit from other kinds of learning experiences, which must count for credit and towards a degree if they are to attract enrollment,” Mintz says.
A BETTER ROADMAP FOR POST-GRAD LIFE
For the most part, college life is bubbled, and students often aren’t well-prepared for the challenges of adulthood. This is a challenge that Mintz says colleges can offer a solution to.
“We might, for example, consider creating opportunities for students to explore the challenges of young adulthood, including the changes that are taking place in the life course, the job market and relationships and provide more guidance and support as they undergo the tangled processes of social and emotional maturation,” Mintz says. “How about offering classes in adulting?”
Colleges should also be doing more to prepare grads for a rapidly shifting job market.
“Even if the specifics aren’t well defined, at least some of the economy’s future contours are clear,” Mintz says. “Future success will hinge on acquiring certain digital skills and soft skills as well as specific disciplinary skills and content knowledge. Whether in specific academic classes or noncredit workshops, let’s find ways to help students acquire the skills that will give them a leg up in the job market.”
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