5 ways to help students feel connected to your campus

Students who report a strong sense of belonging at their college or university typically do better in school, and a new survey points to five key steps schools can take to support students’ mental health and success.

This sense of belonging is critical for students, especially students who are first-generation college students and students of color from low-income backgrounds. In fact, feeling a sense of belonging has been proven to have an effect on college completion rates.

A report based on a survey of alumni from the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), which aims to prepare its K-12 students to thrive in education and the workforce, points to clear-cut steps institutions can take to help students feel positive about their path.

The survey results indicate five actionable steps colleges and universities can take to help students sustain a strong sense of belonging and positive mental health.

1. Bolster or create more targeted support for first-generation college students before they matriculate: Programs such as Summer Bridge or other pre-college connections can help build community for students. They also provide clarity on how to access the resources that already exist on campus for both academic and emotional support. Colleges should foster these programs to help students feel a sense of community before they arrive on campus. Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) do particularly strong work with these programs, and other schools can learn from their efforts.

2. Continue to increase the diversity of faculty and staff: Colleges should intentionally recruit faculty and staff who were themselves first-generation college students. These faculty and staff can serve as powerful mentors or presenters at events for first-generation college students.

3. Make it easier for students to access academic and social supports on campus: Colleges can make it easier for students to connect with the services that already exist on campus—for instance, providing office hours and tutoring at flexible hours for students with jobs. They can also frame their resources in inclusive, inviting ways. Additionally, colleges should work to break the stigma students feel about seeking support for mental health in particular, to create a culture in which students feel empowered to advocate for themselves and one another on campus.

4. Seek out student voices and create spaces for students to share their experiences around race and identity: Students do better academically and report stronger mental health when they feel a positive connection to their racial and ethnic identities. Universities should be in dialogue with first-generation college students, students of color, and students from low-income families. By getting student input on what’s working and what’s not, schools can strengthen the support that exists and provide opportunities for new interventions.

5. Conduct and publicize annual surveys on college students’ sense of belonging: Colleges already share data on a host of indicators. Given that a sense of belonging is associated with higher achievement and better mental health, we believe colleges and universities should annually survey students on this topic and share the data with the public.


Need an online program? Here are some top-notch choices

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University claims the top spot for best online bachelor’s program in U.S. News & World Report‘s 2019 Best Online Programs ranking.

The ranking, which is aimed at adults looking to advance education and career goals, looks at bachelor’s and graduate programs in fields such as nursing, education, business, and engineering.

“Online programs can offer a flexible learning environment for students who have to balance classes with working a full-time job, caring for their family, or other responsibilities,” says Anita Narayan, managing editor of education at U.S. News. “The Best Online Programs rankings allow students to compare accredited programs and find those that best fit their education interests and career goals.”

The annual ranking continues to hold significance as online program enrollment climbs. A 2018 report from the Babson Research Group notes that as of 2016, online enrollments have increased for the fourteenth straight year.

Arizona State University is the second-ranked online bachelor’s program, followed by Ohio State University-Columbus and Oregon State University, which tied for third place.

Top online graduate computer IT programs are the University of Southern California, New York University, and Virginia Tech.

Research places Columbia University at the top for online graduate engineering programs, followed by the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Southern California in a tie for second place.


These 10 hard and soft skills will be key in 2019

It’s not always easy to measure soft skills, but more and more, they’re proving crucial in an increasingly competitive workforce facing a shortage of highly-qualified workers, according to new data from LinkedIn.

A large majority (89 percent) of professionals feel their skills are more important than their job titles, according to 2018 LinkedIn research that paints a picture of the changing workforce and the skills that will help workers achieve the most success.

Additional LinkedIn Learning research notes that the combination of a short shelf life of skills, combined with a tightening labor market, leads to skills gaps. Talent developers, executives, and people managers agree that training for soft skills is a top priority for talent development teams–all the more reason why job applicants should focus on strengthening those skills. In fact, 57 percent of senior leaders today say soft skills are more important than hard skills.

Here are the top 5 soft skills companies will look for most in 2019, along with LinkedIn’s explanation for why the skills matter:

1. Creativity: While robots are great at optimizing old ideas, organizations most need creative employees who can conceive the solutions of tomorrow.

2. Persuasion: Having a great product, a great platform or a great concept is one thing, but the key is persuading people to buy into it.

3. Collaboration: As projects grow increasingly more complex and global in the age of AI, effective collaboration only grows more important.


Does your online program hit the right notes?

Career aspirations continue to drive students’ decisions to enroll in online education programs, according to a report from BestColleges.com, which surveyed nearly 300 online program administrators and 1,500 students, to gauge their experiences in online education programs.

In addition to career motivations, survey results show online students are getting younger, and schools report an increase in enrollment of traditional college students.

The survey delves into trends around online program marketing and recruitment, program design and development, and student demographics.

The trends can guide institutions as they tailor their online learning programs to best suit students’ needs:

1. Seventy-three percent of online students say career and employment goals were a major motivation for enrolling in their online learning program. Those goals include transitioning to a new career field (35 percent) and earning academic credentials in a current field of work (30 percent).

2. Online students are getting younger, and 34 percent of surveyed institutions reported an increase in traditional college students (ages 18-25).

3. Demand is increasing, as well. Ninety-nine percent of online education program administrators say demand has increased or stayed the same over the past few years, and nearly 40 percent of respondents say they plan to increase their online program budgets in the next year.

4. It appears online programs are carefully considering enrollment growth and hiring trends—73 percent of schools say they decided to offer online education programs based on the growth potential for overall student enrollment, while 68 percent also considered employment demand.

5. Prospective students use a variety of methods to research online education programs, including reading online reviews from students (23 percent), researching college websites (18 percent), contacting schools directly (17 percent), researching ranking websites (17 percent), visiting campuses (13 percent), and talking to students or graduates (10 percent).

6. The majority of students in online education programs (79 percent) and the majority of alumni (76 percent) think online education is better than or equal to on-campus education, and 57 percent of surveyed schools say employers feel the same way.

7. Cost remains students’ biggest obstacle as they choose as online education program. Estimating annual costs and applying for financial aid are identified as students’ two biggest challenges.

8. Students struggle to find the right online education program. In fact, this challenge was the third-most-identified challenge. This might be due to the increase in younger students who may not have identified goals or chosen a career path.

9. Surveyed schools predict business and related subjects such as logistics and accounting, healthcare and medical subjects, and computer science will experience the most enrollment growth over the next five years.

10. Schools say they are offering a new online education program as a growth opportunity to increase overall student enrollment (73 percent), because there is employment demand for the knowledge or skills (68 percent), and because there is a demand from students who are interested in the subject area or degree level (64 percent).

11. Schools’ biggest challenges when it comes to offering online education programs include marketing new online programs to prospective students and meeting recruitment goals (74 percent), and meeting cost and management demands required by new online programs (54 percent).


A computer science degree alone doesn’t equate to strong skills

A computer science degree isn’t always an indicator of strong programming skills, according to a new survey of more than 10,000 computer science students.

In the U.S. alone, there are nearly 571,000 open computing jobs with less than 50,000 computer science graduates entering the workforce–that’s roughly 11 job postings for every computer science major.

As businesses across all industries transform into tech companies, competition for software engineers is increasingly competitive. If companies want to beat the odds in a candidate’s market, it is critical for recruiters to understand the specific skills of the students they’re trying to hire, as well as the factors they evaluate when choosing a job.

New data from technical hiring platform HackerRank reveals the technical skills, learning preferences, and career motivators of collegiate software engineers.

The findings offer a playbook for corporate recruiters and hiring managers looking to improve how they identify, attract, and retain the upcoming generation of skilled developers.


Is your faculty happy at work?

Most full-time faculty members are satisfied with their roles and are more likely to feel so when they believe they have greater environmental support, according to “The Working Environment Matters: Faculty Member Job Satisfaction by Institution Type,” a report from the TIAA Institute.

The report examines faculty job satisfaction at various institutions and looks at how gender, race, age, and other personal factors meld with faculty expectations, experiences, and perceptions of the work environment.

Lower faculty job satisfaction can negatively impact attitudes, which in turn can affect student learning and overall institutional success, according to the report.

Six factors contribute to faculty job satisfaction pertaining to working environments and were used during analysis: perceived effectiveness of one’s department chair, feelings of fit in department/working as a team, perceived communication and support of dean/division chair, balance of work roles, health and retirement benefits, and advising and administrative tasks.

The report details a number of findings based on data and personal interviews, outlined by author Karen Webber, associate professor of higher education in The Institute of Higher Education at The University of Georgia.

1. Some faculty do report low job satisfaction, and some said they would consider leaving the profession—but most full-time faculty seem satisfied with their work.

2. Women in research universities are significantly more likely to report low overall satisfaction than their female peers in baccalaureate colleges.

3. Instructors in research universities are more likely to report low satisfaction with their department than peers in baccalaureate institutions.

4. Women report lower salaries than men, but not lower overall job satisfaction.

5. Faculty members at private institutions are more likely to report higher overall institutional satisfaction than peers at public institutions.

6. Except for those at baccalaureate colleges, male respondents are significantly more likely to report lower institutional satisfaction than female peers.

7. Race does not contribute to institutional satisfaction for those in master’s and research institutions, but all minority respondents at baccalaureate institutions have greater odds of reporting dissatisfaction compared to white peers.

8. In research institutions, those with a salary between $90,000 and $120,000 are more likely to be dissatisfied than peers who earned more than $120,000; in doctoral institutions; those who earn less than $45,000 were more likely to be dissatisfied than peers who earn more than $120,000; and in baccalaureate institutions, those with a salary between $45,000 and $90,000 are more likely to be dissatisfied than peers earning more than $120,000.

9. STEM faculty in doctoral institutions are more likely to be dissatisfied than non-STEM peers.

10. Although it was not evidenced strongly in the survey data, a few women interviewees spoke passionately about the need for greater family-friendly policies. Several interviewees (both men and women) spoke about the added challenge of having children while on the tenure track.


Gen Z is defining a new era in workplace learning

Gen Z adults are primarily motivated to learn if the benefits are financially worth it, according to a LinkedIn survey of more than 2,000 members of Gen Z.

With 61 million members, the survey asserts that Gen Z “is the first cohort of workers that grew up with the internet, and are used to dynamic and social communication from an early age.” The oldest members of Gen Z are 22 and are just entering the workforce.

Gen Z learners consider learning important if it can help them improve their skills and make more money. Sixty-two percent want to learn to improve their job performance, 59 percent want to learn in order to make more money, and 46 percent are motivated to learn in order to get a promotion.

These workforce members know the skills needed for success in today’s job market are different from skills needed in past generations (76 percent), and 91 percent of L&D leaders agree with this skill evolution.


3 ways higher ed needs to rebuild to survive

Education as an industry has undeniably missed the change cycle. Today’s higher ed system is based on foundations that were built centuries ago for a country fundamentally different from the one we live in today. Historically, higher ed existed to train the clergymen in subjects that many today consider to be “intellectual nice-to-haves.” Over time, the shift in U.S. population demographics resulted in a need for specialized, almost vocational training programs; however, universities were not able to make that shift.

University tuition has become more expensive, the curricula less useful, and high-paying jobs less accessible for today’s college graduates.

In our lifetimes, we will see three major shifts in the U.S. higher education system:

  1. The demise of many ineffective, traditional, four-year universities programs
  2. Increased accountability among traditional higher education survivors
  3. The rise of mainstream alternative education platforms (in person and online)

Public funding for higher ed in the United States is gradually decreasing. Overall state funding for public colleges in the 2017 school year was nearly $9 billion below its 2008 level (after adjusting for inflation). As states sponsor less and less, these institutions are forced to find other ways to survive. More often than not, this means increasing tuition. However, increased tuition, thus far at least, has come without a higher quality of education and more successful career outcome metrics. Schools that cannot create positive return-on-investment (ROI) career outcomes for students will close.

Additional changes on the horizon
Those that do survive will be forced to adapt. The remaining universities will be judged on their ability to create meaningful outcomes for their students. Curricula will become career-focused and students will have the power of choice and information on their side. Pretty soon, a university whose outcomes profiles do not match its costs will be viewed as a scam!

With the restructuring of the traditional higher ed system, we will also see the continued growth of alternative education providers, many of whom are already taking the 21st century by storm. We expect this trend to not only continue but grow in magnitude. Platforms like Udemy, Udacity, and Coursera have made massive open online courses increasingly popular; traditional universities are partnering with these companies to offer certificate-granting programs. Perhaps the most notable trend in alternative education is the emergence of coding schools and bootcamps, and other physical, vocational education providers.


Is AI a game-changer for higher ed?

According to a Northeastern University/Gallup poll, most Americans are optimistic about artificial intelligence’s (AI) impact on their futures while, at the same time, expecting the net effect of AI to be an overall reduction in jobs. If we manage AI effectively, I believe it can be a net benefit to both society and the economy.

The question is: How will higher education manage AI?

Unfortunately, higher education does not have a reputation for managing change effectively. Our experience is much more one of coming late to the party—and not of our own accord. We cannot and should not do this with AI.

First, much of the expertise to develop AI is coming from university laboratories, with AI hot spots in university centers such as Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, and the Research Triangle of North Carolina. If we can develop AI for businesses at home and abroad, why can’t we do the same for ourselves?

Second, many creative applications of AI have already been developed to solve problems within the university. Certainly, enrollment-management processes as well as today’s learning management systems look nothing like those of 20 years ago. These changes are clear applications of AI.

At the end of the day, however, the application of AI within the university is quite limited.

Where are the higher-ed AI opportunities?
To find opportunities for AI growth within the university, we need to distinguish between activities that are uniquely human as opposed to those that can be computerized. Individuals excel at defining problems, distinguishing between “good” and “bad,” at idiosyncratic tasks such as detecting false positives, and in developing novel combinations not anticipated by previous experience. Computers excel at tasks that involve well-understood rules and procedures.

Furthermore, human decision making is enhanced when it occurs in groups. Social facilitation, cooperation, division of labor, and the collecting of different perspectives, knowledge, and experience all combine to enhance decision making by groups.

Of course, neither individuals nor groups are without their problems. Individuals can be slow and inefficient in their decision making, to say nothing of the limits a single individual’s knowledge and experience. Likewise, groups can be guilty of premature closure, becoming too risky or too conservative because of preconceived expectations and group think. Much of the work of organizational psychology has focused on how to manage individual and group decision making so as to keep the good and minimize the bad.


Student wellbeing is more important than you think

[Editor’s note: eCampus News is thrilled to partner with The Brzycki Group to help our audience navigate the growing body of work and best practices in student wellbeing and social-emotional learning (SEL). These are important topics for eCampus News, and we’re excited to work with the Bryzcki Group, who have provided leadership to student wellbeing for more than 30 years. We want to be the central source for our audience and help highlight the great work institutions are doing to address these issues and make wellbeing a core part of student learning.]

Through monthly articles on the eSchool News and eCampus News media platforms, The Brzycki Group & The Center for the Self in Schools will cover the latest psychological, educational, and wellbeing models, policies, and practices in social-emotional learning (SEL) and student wellbeing. These models address the psychological, emotional, and physical well-being of children and can be applied to K-16 classroom teaching best practices, curricula design, counseling best practices, and educational leadership.

Education professionals across all levels of K-16 education want to make a real difference for students, and many are aware of the growing bodies of work in SEL and student wellbeing. Yet there is general misunderstanding about what these bodies of work mean and how to use them to produce mental health and wellbeing outcomes through schooling. Additionally, there are numerous models from which to choose, such as SEL; multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS); school-based mental health curricula; bullying and school violence prevention programs; anxiety, depression and suicide prevention and treatment models; trauma informed instruction; school climate programs; whole child education; student success programs; life coaching; and academic advising; among others. We often hear educators ask, “Where do I start?”

An integrated wellbeing framework
One significant reason for the confusion is that these topics are written about and researched by separate professions within K-16 education—such as classroom teaching, school leadership, clinical psychology, school psychology, academic research, and non-profit SEL services, among others. The issues are described from the perspective of each separate profession, without a common framework or model that grounds and integrates them across the K-16 schooling experience. Educators need new clarity around how to produce mental health and wellbeing through educational processes, along with an integrated framework for educators to apply across K-16 education.

Another challenge is that SEL and student success are most often viewed narrowly through the lens of student achievement and academic outcomes. However, the research shows that positive academic outcomes follow wellbeing outcomes. The overarching framework for SEL, student success, and student well-being is grounded in the psychology of wellbeing, and it is time to put well-being first to empower resilience and success across the lifespan.

The compelling need for mental health through schooling
Life for most of us in today’s world takes a toll on our emotional, psychological, and physical wellbeing. Research demonstrates that people are not emerging from our educational system with the mental framework and associated mental capacities to adequately meet the overwhelming demands of modern life. This inadequacy leaves most people with growing levels of anxiety and depression; disconnection from their experiences of joy, love, happiness, and inner peace; and a lack of sense of purpose in life with related personal and professional meaning.

The issue of mental health and wellbeing is becoming more and more acute as life in modern society becomes more and more complex. K-16 students have expanded needs and more mental and physical challenges and illnesses. We are not adequately addressing or measuring these needs and challenges. As a result, we are seeing dire and overwhelming statistics on bullying, hate crimes, trauma, anxiety, depression, sexual assault, substance abuse, suicide, behavior-based physical illnesses, and more.