Driving Increased ROI in Higher Education By Listening to Our CustomersLester Lefton | President Emeritus, Kent State University
State legislatures, tuition-paying students and the tax-paying public are all demanding a greater return on investment when it comes to higher education. As an industry, we need to figure out how we’re going to deliver on their demand.
As a former college president and longtime professor, one clear way to display an increased ROI as an increase in graduation rates; showing growth in the number of baccalaureate degree-holders. In fact, in February the National Student Clearinghouse published a report on college completion rates by state. In many states—including Oklahoma, New Mexico and Utah—less than half of students at four-year public institutions complete their degree. Taking all types of higher education institutions into account, about 45 percent of students do not make it to graduation. That statistic demonstrates that there is a clear need for change within the higher education system.
As our key stakeholders are demanding more from us, we have to think about what’s missing in the equation. I believe that the most critical component that’s missing is the voice of our customers—the student voice. I believe that when we start listening, we will figure out what our students really need—what teaching styles work best and what tools and services these students really want and are essential in order to enable them to succeed academically.
Whether at the top or bottom of their class, there are huge differences in the way students learn. We know this. This isn’t news. Yet, higher education has remained a stagnant industry. Public and private, large and small, our institutions continue to try and “innovate,” when what really happens is they are merely replicating what’s been done for the last 300 years. They recognize that there are unique differences among students, and they discuss it at length, but they are not willing to take action. It’s time for a paradigm shift that focuses on the student.
I propose we allow students to tell us what they want, then build a way to guide them through the learning process. I’m a psychologist by training, and one of the things we learned long ago is that you often need to let the patient guide the therapy to achieve a successful outcome. The same applies here. We need to listen to the students, and stop telling them how they should learn and, more generally, what they should expect from the institution. Learning should become a professor-led, student-empowered process.
The reality is that students are not buying traditional learning materials like textbooks, but they are relying more heavily on Google and Wikipedia, which both lack the depth and credibility to be real academic resources. I’m asking that professors and institutions take a leadership role in ensuring academic integrity by stepping up and empowering students to use appropriate resources—and one another. If students were able to play a more active role in their higher education learning experience, perhaps more of them would be walking across the stage to receive a diploma. The current generation of both traditional and non-traditional students wants to be constantly connected to one another—let’s use that desire for connectivity to improve the learning process. If students were encouraged to listen more to one another, and engage in collaborative, thoughtful, peer-to-peer learning significant gains in academic outcomes could likely be seen.
If we really want to increase our ROI, let’s start by investing in our students and fostering greater participation on their part. Let’s start listening to what they want and what it is that will facilitate their success. Today’s students want information quickly, they want it 24 hours a day, they want distance learning and peer-to-peer learning. Let’s find out what else they need and let’s start delivering on that. If we get them to participate in the process and start empowering students to play a more active role in their own academic success, we’re going to yield better results, and ideally, more diplomas.
Author Perspective: Administrator