With record numbers of students being accepted onto UK University courses last year, it seems that, on the surface, higher education is a more popular choice than ever. But attracting students is no longer enough. On average, 1 in 10 will drop out before their second year in higher education, and even the ones that stay are becoming less and less engaged, both with their course and with the University experience as a whole.
Even though in many Universities the situation isn’t quite so drastic, the wasted debt even one student is left with and the resultant cost for their University is still far too great a loss to simply let slide. So what can we do to make sure institutions don’t just acquire students, but retain them, too? Meet them at their level.
In the last decade, huge advances have been made technologically, culturally and socially and these advances have the potential to make higher education an inordinately more inclusive experience. The record number of students applying to University can be attributed to those student’s new found assertions that they belong there. Students from WP backgrounds, international students, lgbt+ students and anyone considered to be from a minority background are being welcomed into higher education circles. And about time, too. University is not the ‘exclusively for the rich, white and male’ experience that it once was. This is the product of an increasingly inclusive society.
So, what’s the problem? Yes, these students are drawn in with the promise that they belong. But when they arrive, they find that (not for want of trying) not much has changed. It can’t be denied that the reason international students tend to spend most of their time together is that not enough has been done to help introduce them into wider society. Nor that more WP or lgbt + students experience welfare issues because, when they go looking for support, it’s hard to find someone who understands their unique situation. As a result, many students are suffering. Not just academically, but mentally. And this is why many of them choose to leave.
It would be hard to argue that Universities aren’t trying their best. Well being services, societies, support groups and schemes are all well publicised and readily available to be taken advantage of. But the problem is that students simply do not engage. Why? It’s not in a format they’re used to, or comfortable with. And so it’s largely ineffective. No 21st century student really wants to go for an awkward conversation in a stuffy room with a well being therapist who they’re convinced couldn’t understand their problems if they tried. They don’t want to ask their personal tutor for help for fear of seeming like they can’t cope. Nor are they communicating with those around them for the same fear of being judged. Why would they, when we do nothing to show them they’re all feeling the same?
Another issue is the obvious 21st century ‘laziness’ (I use the term loosely, because it’s pretty much standard). Young people (and not just young people) complete the majority of tasks on their phone, and from their bedrooms. They don’t connect with those around them because there’s no method that meets their 21st century demand.
So what’s the answer? Give them the tools to access all the guidance, support and communication they need. But let them do it their way. At Tyfy, we use a matching algorithm to pair students based on course and module, providing online peer mentoring to the masses. Younger students feel too awkward to walk up to a scary third year and ask a question about Freud. But it’s far easier to send a quick message and get a helpful response. Older students don’t have time for a meeting with a first year. But they do have time to send a quick message in reply. The added bonus is that they get to prove they possess qualities employers look for (leadership, communication, the like) and build their CV in their spare time.
Perhaps more importantly, Tyfy provides an online community for all those people who feel like they don’t belong. Our mentoring scheme provides academic support. The blog provides relatable content from real life students from a wide range of backgrounds that appeals to all manner of people. We refer students back to existing University services in a way that shows them asking for help is really okay. And they’re engaged because we meet them on their level. They can access all this from their phones. A connected campus is a happy campus, and one that all 21st century students should feel a part of.
If you’d like information about how to use Tyfy in your University please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our Business Engagements page.