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Enrollment, Absences, Lack of Engagement Top Challenges During COVID

declining enrollment

It's no surprise that enrollment has been a pain point for colleges and universities during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent D2L survey of 171 higher education leaders across North America, 30% of respondents confirmed that enrollment was an area where they've seen the greatest drop-off for students over the past two years. Absences (both online and in-person) have been another top challenge, cited by 29% of respondents, followed by disengagement and decreased concentration during classes (23%).

Other key challenges, though important, seem to have had a more limited impact. Just 8% of respondents said financial pressures or not enough tuition assistance have been a source of drop-off for students, and an equal share cited incomplete coursework or learning gaps. Only 2% pointed to on-time graduation concerns.

The survey also asked how institutions have worked to foster student success during COVID-19. The largest share of respondents — 41% — said they've established new technology to support hybrid/hyflex learning models. Other, more holistic approaches have garnered less attention, the survey report pointed out: Financial support programs came in second, at 17%, followed by diversity, equity and/or inclusion initiatives (14%), mental health initiatives (11%), accessible or assistive learning (10%) and supporting socioeconomic burdens (7%).

"While these are seen as disparate factors, notice that they are all 'non-cognitive' in nature," commented Jeff Borden, chief academic officer and vice president of academic affairs for D2L, in a blog post. "The pandemic really put a spotlight on the notion that student success is far more than what happens in a classroom. Students … people need support through relationships, networks, mindset and more."

When asked about the most important pain points to solve in the future, enrollment concerns again topped the list, with 43% of respondents citing the need to boost declining enrollment and re-enrollment rates. But wellness concerns also came to the forefront: 21% of respondents said improving mental health programs for students and faculty will be a top priority. Other challenges for the coming years included graduation delays or drop-outs (13%), funding more diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives (13%) and establishing more financial assistance programs (10%).

"At the end of the day, we know there is no silver bullet for success," said Borden. "On the pragmatic side, finances matter. But when it comes to student well-being, we are seeing more administrators ask how they can support, understand and work with the 'whole' learner. It is wonderful to see so many schools taking a holistic view."

The full report is available on the D2L site.

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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