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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

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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