Canvas Releases Global Research Report on the State of Higher Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic

SALT LAKE CITY — September 16, 2020 — Canvas, the largest learning management system provider in the US, today released a global research report on “The State of Student Success and Engagement in Higher Education.” The report reveals changing views among higher education students and administrators around student success and engagement. Key findings include that nearly 70% of college students feel they are falling behind on their studies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the socioeconomic disparities among students have been significantly heightened during the pandemic and threaten student engagement and success.

The new report was issued by Instructure, the makers of Canvas, based on a survey it commissioned from Hanover Research. Among key findings, the research shows that college and university students increasingly define their success as students based on their preparation for the workforce. In light of the global pandemic, nearly 80% of students identified work preparedness as the number one priority as they work toward graduation. 

The survey also shows that socioeconomic inequities are impacting student success more than ever.  Students from lower income families are four times less likely to be engaged in their online and remote studies. 

“Although 2020 has created stressful moments of transition, it has also opened up opportunities and accelerated many changes that were beginning to take place in higher education,” said Melissa Loble, Chief Customer Experience Officer at Instructure.  “Colleges and universities have become much more agile in decision-making and we’re seeing more and more siloes breaking down. Now, more than ever, it’s critical for colleges and universities to better understand what students need to be successful and engaged.”

Career Preparation and Faculty-to-Student Engagement Are Critical

A primary aim of the research was to understand how student success is defined today and how engaged students are with their education. It also aimed to identify factors most critical to students achieving that desired state of success and what kept them most engaged along the way. 

  • Work/career readiness was ranked as the most critical measure of student success as well as the top challenge to overcome in the next 12 months. 
  • 69% of students reported feeling engaged with their classes and coursework.
  • 80% of respondents ranked work or career preparation as the most critical measure of student success. 
  • When asked about the factors that help to drive student success, 88% of respondents identified quality of faculty and 86% said engaging content or hands-on instruction.

“This year, perhaps more than any year in recent memory, we are seeing students actively engaged in how their educational trajectory will lead to a career trajectory,” said Karen Freberg, Associate Professor at the University of Louisville. “It means that as educators, we have an opportunity to create an even more engaging class experience whether online or in person and help our students develop marketable skills like agility and remote adaptability.”

Socioeconomic Disparities are Impacting Engagement

The research explored the impact that socioeconomic factors have on students’ ability to succeed or remain engaged in their studies. 

  • 2.5x more students from upper economic class households reported feeling extremely engaged in their classes and coursework than their lower income peers (56% v. 21%).
  • 4x more students from lower economic class households reported it difficult to stay very engaged with remote or online learning compared to those from upper economic class households (11% v. 48%). 
  • 43% of students from upper economics class households reported that grade point average was extremely important to their measure of success. Only 26% of students from lower economic class households found it extremely important. 
  • Among students who responded feeling the least engaged, 65% self-identified being in a lower economic class,  55% reported having a lack of access to technology when they were in high school, and 50% reported growing up in a home with no parents, or raised by a guardian.

The Global Impact of COVID-19 Has Created Immense Challenges, but also Improved Views on Remote Learning

The research also explored the impact to student success that the global pandemic is having among higher education students and the difficulty they’ve experienced trying to keep up with their studies. It also discovered improved attitudes toward online learning.

  • Nearly 70% of students report that they are falling behind on their studies due to the pandemic. 
  • 85% of respondents said that COVID-19 was most impacting student success. 71% cited its impact on academic progress.
  • Regionally, students in Asia-Pacific countries (78%) were much more likely to report that COVID-19 negatively impacted student engagement compared to their peers in EMEA (62%) and the United States (75%). 
  • More than 60% of administrators and 50% of students say they have a more positive attitude and preference toward online learning. 

A webinar discussing the findings of this research will be hosted by Instructure on September 22 at 11 am MST. For more information about this webinar, please visit: 

Survey Methodology

The survey was fielded, cleaned, and analyzed by Hanover Research. The survey was administered in June and includes 7,070 qualified, completed responses. The data was cut into crosstabs by region, country, and role along with various additional subsegments--such as socio-economic status. Statistical significance testing was performed across segments with a 95 percent confidence level using a Z-Test with p = less than 0.05 and for the overall sample size, a margin of error +/- 1%. For any questions regarding the underlying methodology or data, please contact us at [email protected] 

About Instructure

Instructure helps people grow from the first day of school to the last day of work. More than 30 million people use the Canvas Learning Management Platform for schools and the Bridge Employee Development Platform for businesses. Learn more at


Cory Edwards
Vice President, Corporate Communications