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Reflections on trends in student success

While many of our colleagues across the country are in the throes of fall orientation, the first weeks of classes, and maybe even a little bit of college football, those of us on the quarter system have well over a month until our fall courses start. And if I’m being honest, I’m still knee deep in annual student survey data from this spring. It’s one of my favorite summer projects, and probably the most time consuming. As I analyze new data, comparing it to the themes we’ve heard over the last three years, I’m excited to share what trends in student satisfaction and support we’re seeing at Oregon State University Ecampus. Student satisfaction is something we track carefully using a number of questions to paint a larger picture of the student experience. As we plan for this new academic year, these are some trends that are top of mind for our Student Success Team.
  1. Engagement, of all kinds, is critical. Students tell us each year how much they crave engagement with faculty, students, and course content. Mostly we hear about positive experiences in this area, but the constructive feedback shared is most useful to our course development and training teams as they work with faculty to build high quality online courses. A new theme in the last year, however, has been engagement with the campus community. Students aren’t simply wanting to connect with faculty or other students in their online courses, but they want to more intentionally engage with our campus, services, resources, and other co-curricular experiences outside of the online classroom. They want equitable access to valuable experiences that are offered to our on-campus students.


  2. Success is ultimately defined by the student. We added a new question this year asking students to share with us how they defined student success for themselves. Overwhelmingly, students cited mastering course content, making progress toward career goals, GPA, and obtaining healthy work-life-school balance. Each of these elements of success can be addressed through robust faculty training, holistic student services, and proactive success interventions. We’ve also found that there is generally a lack of awareness among online students of what resources they have at their disposal to achieve their definition of success. Collaborative partnerships with student affairs units as well as creative and repetitive communications have helped to increase awareness and use of services that has lead to greater student satisfaction.


  3. Personal obligations are significant barriers. Our students reported a shift in personal obligations from last year to this year, likely due to the varied impact of the pandemic on students throughout the country. In spring of 2020, 60% of respondents indicated they were working full or part time, and 26% reported they were caring for children or other family members. In 2021, those numbers dropped to 32% and 18% respectively. Two new options were added to the survey this year, which also happened to top the list of obligations that students cited – 26% indicated they were managing physical and/or mental health issues and 20% reported they were managing financial hardships. As we continue to navigate through the pandemic and see first-hand what the long lasting effects may be, we are choosing to invest in services to support our students’ physical and mental health as well as additional emergency aid to maintain student satisfaction and persistence.
At the end of the day my takeaway is that all roads lead back to caring about our online learners and fostering a sense of belonging and inclusivity among them. What online learners need to have a positive student experience simply comes back to acknowledging their unique attributes and providing the resources and support to ensure the whole student is cared for. If we’ve ever met, you’ve probably heard me talk about the correlation we’ve seen at OSU between sense of belonging, student satisfaction, and intent to persist. We’ve heard directly from students how experiences of belonging and inclusivity have solidified their place at OSU and kept them going during challenging times. We’ve also heard how a lack of belonging and a sense of being excluded or invisible can absolutely break the experience and lead to departure. If you’re interested in hearing more about how we’ve integrated belonging into the online student experience at OSU, please reach out to me ([email protected]). Cheers to all who have made it through the initial weeks of the fall semester and best of luck to those still counting down to the start of classes next month!
Marleigh Perez, Ed.D. is director of student success at Oregon State University Ecampus. Marleigh also serves as chair-elect of UPCEA’s Marketing, Enrollment, and Student Success (MESS) Network.

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