Positive marks from students, but stress

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Community college students give their learning experiences good grades, but their stress levels are high, according to new research.

Bay View Analytics surveyed more than 4,300 stakeholders across higher education – 2,266 students, 1,248 faculty and 831 administrators. The survey was conducted on behalf of Cengage, as well as the Association of Community College Trustees, Achieving the Dream, Phi Theta Kappa, the Online Learning Consortium, the Higher Education Research & Development Institute and College Pulse.

Good grades for learning experiences

A majority of community college students (78%) are taking online or hybrid courses, though more students are taking only in-person classes this fall – 22%, compared to 14% in the spring. The good news is that nearly half (48%) of surveyed students gave fall 2021 learning an “A” grade. That’s up from 40%  giving “A” grades for spring 2021.

That tracks closely with four-year institutions; 47% of students gave an “A” grade for fall 2021 learning.

Breaking it down further, 59% of two-year college students taking in-person-only courses gave an “A” grade when asked how well courses were meeting their needs, though they did report more problems with work and technology. Meanwhile, that “A” grade was given by 44% of students in online courses and 49% of those taking hybrid courses.

Looking at faculty at two-year colleges, 46% surveyed gave an “A” grade when asked to rate how well courses are meeting students’ educational needs. And 37% of administrators gave an “A.”

Going forward, the majority of two-year students surveyed (68%) want the option to take some courses fully online post-pandemic. And 63% of students want more digital materials and resources in their courses.

“For all of the disruption that Covid-19 has caused for students, community college students continue to believe that their educational needs are being well-met. In addition, students appreciate many of the changes that the move to online has produced and desire more online options in the future,” Jeff Seaman, lead researcher and director of Bay View Analytics, said in a release.

Increased stress for students

Despite the good grades, students reported less well-being than faculty or administrators.

The survey included the statement “I have a healthy, overall sense of personal well-being (physical, social, emotional, etc.).” Sixty-two percent of students strongly agreed/somewhat agreed with that statement, compared to 80% of faculty and 82% of administrators surveyed.

“There’s a lot more stress upon students,” Seaman said during a webinar about these findings.

Students surveyed did, in fact, identify stress as the most pressing issue. Level of motivation also is one of the top issues affecting their well-being. Just below that were financial issues, followed by family or health issues.

Students rated “lack of academic support” lowest on the list of most pressing issues.

What the researchers also wanted to understand was if faculty and administrators understand this pecking order for students.

“Do they have the same understanding of what is causing problems for students? Because if they don’t, they’re not going to be able to put the right support mechanisms into place,” Seaman said.

For the most part, faculty and administrators did have a good understanding of students’ greatest issues. Faculty ranked stress and lack of motivation as what they understood to be the top two issues affecting students. Administrators ranked stress and financial as the top issues for students, with lack of motivation ranked third.

“There is a real good understanding on the part of those delivering courses and those running the programs that stress and motivation are critical,” Seaman said.

He added that, while it’s good faculty and administrators know what most affects their students, stress and level of motivation are difficult to fix. They are the “least actionable by policies and strategies at an institutional level, as opposed to things like, fixing the technology or academic support,” he said.

About the Author

Tabitha Whissemore
is a contributor to Community College Daily and managing editor of AACC's Community College Journal.