Faculty focus on belonging can improve student experiences and grades, report finds

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Dive Brief:

  • The portion of students who reported positive learning experiences rose 10.5% in the 2020-2021 academic year, when they were in classrooms where faculty members worked to make them feel that they belong, are valued and can succeed, according to a new report from the Student Experience Project, a consortium led by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities.
  • Black, Latina, and Native American women who were experiencing financial stress responded to efforts most strongly. Their positive experience rate jumped by 25% according to the report, which compares data from surveys covering the fall 2020 and spring 2020 terms
  • Improvements in student experience were associated with better grades, the report said. Students’ likelihood of earning an A or B in a course increased, and their likelihood of earning a D or F or withdrawing decreased, as they reported more positive experiences over the term.

Dive Insight:

The Student Experience Project partnered with 295 educators at six universities across the country — Colorado State University, University of Colorado Denver, Portland State University,  the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the University of New Mexico and the University of Toledo. It surveyed 10,000 students each term about their experiences in the classroom.

Researchers emphasized the importance of faculty when developing best practices to create an environment conducive to student success.

“When campuses create learning environments designed to promote social belonging, students are more likely to take advantage of campus resources and actually succeed at the university,” said Samantha Levine, associate director of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities and co-lead on the Student Experience Project.

Students of color, first-generation students and low-income students often don’t use campus resources for several reasons, including a desire not to perpetuate negative stereotypes, according to Levine. Outdated policies or cultural norms can also impede access.

The project chiefly theorizes that faculty are essential to improving the student experience and can do so with the right resources and institutional support. The report advises college leaders to partner with faculty on student success goals. The Student Experience Project developed over a dozen practice guides for faculty and administrators that are freely available on its website.

The project created resources for employees of all levels of higher ed so anyone can use the guidance, according to Levine.

“We fully recognize that most institutions are not able to turn around and implement every one of these practices quickly. That’s very resource intensive,” Levine said. “We’ve tried to create resources that can be easily incorporated into what institutions are already doing to support students.”

The tools used to collect student feedback are also available. The report encourages faculty to gather real-time data on students’ experiences, rather than waiting until a class is finished. 

“A lot of faculty are used to getting their course evaluations at the end of the term,” Levine said. “That doesn’t do anything to help the students who are already done with the course and maybe didn’t have the most positive experience.”

Researchers also found that instructors experienced an increased sense of belonging and job satisfaction through their efforts to improve student experience.

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