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College Students Say They Are Very Happy With Their College Choices

By Derek Newton
Reposted from Forbes, with permission

In a survey of college students in seven countries and regions (Australia and New Zealand, Canada, India, Japan, KSA/UAE, UK and Ireland, and US) college students seem to be quite happy with their college choices, according to a new report from EY.

By a lopsided margin of 67% to 13%, college and university students in the surveyed nations said they were either “happy” or “very happy” with their “choice of university.” In the United States, the numbers were not much different – 62% reporting they were happy and just 13% saying there were not. In the US, just three percent of college students said they were “very unhappy” with the decision, while 25% said they were “very happy” with it, which is slightly higher than the international average.

Even though students are not customers in any traditional sense, every business leader in the country would probably be quite pleased with a customer satisfaction score of 62 to 13, with the “very” ratio being better than eight to one.

The high happiness score is certainly against the prevailing narrative that colleges are failing students, or falling behind, or need to change or become extinct.

Even EY took the lopsided happiness finding and spun it as “universities failing to deliver.” Catherine Friday, EY Global Education Lead wrote that, “Our survey found that one third of students aren’t happy with the choice of university they’ve made and given the size of the investment they’re making that number is high.”

Although that is not what the survey found.

To get the one-third number, you have to nudge in the 21% who said they were neutral – neither happy nor unhappy with their college choice and collectively describe them as not being happy. By that logic, it’s just as true to say that a staggering 87% of college students were not unhappy with their choice.

But as mentioned, among those who expressed a feeling one way or another, the responses were overwhelmingly positive – 67% to 13%.

In fact, the scores for college overall are probably actually higher than the EY numbers show because they asked about individual student choice of their school, not the decision to go to college.

That just three percent of US students said they were “very unhappy” is not only very good, it’s unsurprising. There are some bad schools out there, many of which rely on online education models.

In the same EY survey, students said they were pretty unhappy with “online learning.” The report found that, “Students also give low ratings to their experience of quality of ‘online learning’ — putting it at the bottom of all surveyed aspects of university life in terms of satisfaction. One in five students say the quality of online learning does not meet their expectations at all.”

If 13% being unhappy is a failure to deliver, what is 20% saying online learning did not meet their expectations, “at all”?

The EY report also found more evidence of the holes in digital and online learning. “Not all university leaders or faculty are convinced of the pedagogical merits of incorporating digital learning into [higher education]. In our focus groups, some faculty expressed concern that increasing digitalization is reducing students’ critical thinking and social skills,” the report said.

It continues, “Even institutions offering completely online programs still need a campus where students can come in to access labs and equipment, play sport, connect socially or visit teaching faculty.” And further, “There is a real sense that the more virtual the university experience becomes — and the less human interaction there is — the more difficult it is to create real connection, engagement and enjoyment. In this environment, some students are missing out on the chance to improve their social skills and are suffering from isolation, contributing to the mental health crisis,” the report said.

That context may help explain why 20% of surveyed college students said the quality of online learning did not meet their expectations.

It’s probably also correlated to the EY report finding that among all students, just 13% said they preferred to access academic lectures either fully or even mainly online. The majority said they wanted lectures either fully or mainly on campus. Same thing with formal assessments, where just 19% said they preferred them online. Seminars, group discussions and Q&A – the same thing. Just 13% of surveyed students preferred to access those online, most wanted them on campus.

With so many schools pushing online programs so hard despite student preferences, it’s actually somewhat remarkable that only three percent of American college students told EY they were “very unhappy” with their college choice.

What do students want and value the most in their college experiences?

According to EY, quality teaching.

Maybe that’s no surprise.

“The research findings could not be clearer: students value high-quality teaching that is complemented by digital learning — not replaced by it,” EY’s report says.

That’s in addition to showing that, overall, students are quite pleased with their college decisions.

Those are things you don’t hear every day. Though they are important enough that we probably should.

Originally posted on Forbes on November 27, 2023.