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The gains made in the United States over the past 20 years in access to education for first-generation and minority students are potentially at risk, according to information from the Hechinger Report.  

It’s widely known that socioeconomic status and household income contribute to many decisions around higher education, including students’ ability to enroll in the first place, which college they’ll attend, and how likely they are to graduate, according to a 2019 federal study.

Once at college, there are just as many factors that play into student engagement and success.

One key barrier for students? Lack of reliable broadband access.  

Commonly thought of as an issue primarily impacting K–12 students, technology is a critical enabler for college students across the world. In fact, our 2020 global benchmark study on the State of Student Success and Engagement found that some of the socioeconomic factors that impact student success and engagement include access to the internet, learning resources, and technology devices.

Socioecomonic factors that drive student success:

  • 89% access to the internet
  • 88% access to learning resources
  • 87% access to technology devices
  • 88% psychological well-being

Socioecomonic factors that drive student engagement:

  • 88% access to the internet
  • 86% access to learning resources
  • 86% access to technology devices
  • 87% psychological well-being

Our research also found that students from higher-income households are 2.5 times more likely to report being extremely engaged in classes and coursework than other students.

In fact, students from lower-income households are more than four times as likely to report difficulty in staying engaged in online learning. Remote learning only heightens these disparities. Equitable access to technology and resources remains a critical enabler to closing this gap.

As institutions continue to balance online, remote, hybrid, and in-classroom learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, establishing processes to support student engagement and success is vita—especially since this challenge stands to continue for months.  

#1 Seek to understand and improve technology access.

To help students thrive, institutions can explore ways to improve access to technology resources that are available to them. That may come in the form of partnerships with corporations to support initiatives that offer technology to students, such as iPads or laptops at a reduced cost, or other foundational initiatives within the school.

Standardizing tools and resources when possible can also help level the learning field. A good place to start? Consider information faculty training on best practices for inclusion related specifically to the use of technology and online course design.

When designing online courses, instructors can conduct surveys to better understand what resources their students have regular access to. Providing flexible options and additional information to support students who may be working exclusively on their cell phones, for example, or who may not have access to a printer, is important.

#2 Make course requirements flexible and supportive.

Reinforcing your faculty’s ability to provide a diverse set of options for remote, online learning can help make it easier for students to engage on their terms. That can include asynchronous video, transcripts, online quizzes, readily available notes, and handouts, among other options.

Providing students with easy-to-find instructions on how to use and access the tools available to them both within your LMS and accompanying third-party solutions can reinforce that effort.

Incorporating a range of ways to complete an assignment can also help diverse learners. This can include tactics such as enabling students to retake quizzes and showing students different ways to participate in peer-to-peer assignments and activities, for example.

Using student surveys and one-on-ones to check in on each student can help identify potential issues and provide opportunities for faculty to help students stay on track with their coursework.

#3 Support their psychological well-being.

As you might expect, psychological well-being also plays a large role in a student's ability to connect inside and outside of the classroom, focus on their assignments and projects, and do well enough on tests and in labs to earn good grades.

Many institutions already provide a host of health and well-being resources for students, but our survey found that students aren’t always aware that they’re available. They may also feel hesitant to reach out. Focused communication efforts can help raise awareness and comfort levels for on-campus students needing academic and behavioral health counseling or physical health resources. It's also important to augment support resources for online and remote access as we continue social-distancing practices.

Ultimately, offering greater flexibility as students navigate their educational journey and providing equitable access to both technology and well-being resources will be critical in ensuring that all students have the support they need to succeed. Finding ways to strengthen your inclusion strategy and providing students with a range of options can help them stay engaged and drive greater student success.

Get more insights.

Download the full report to access even more insights from our study and learn why internet connectivity is one of the basic needs of the modern pursuit of education.

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