Today we release results from a large-scale study of student experiences during the spring term. The findings, which represent the experiences and needs of over 15,000 students, provide us with an understanding of the challenges that students—and in turn, their faculty, administrators, and institutions more broadly—have faced as we now approach a new year of instruction.

While these results should not be interpreted to represent perceptions of online learning that occur outside of the context of a global pandemic, they can inform strategies for another academic term that will no doubt be shaped to some extent by these external forces. Indeed, many higher education institutions and systems have already modified academic calendars and modes of instruction in response.

What did we learn? In many cases, the most significant challenges that students faced during the spring semester were those they faced long before the pandemic, such as balancing school and other responsibilities. Unexpectedly having to pivot to online learning, finding quiet space to work, and completing technical and collaborative assignments also proved especially difficult. Many students reported feeling disconnected to one another and had strong concerns about both their mental and physical health. Roughly one in three reported concerns on food and housing security.

What should higher education institutions take away from these results? Our recommendations include giving special consideration to technical and specialized coursework, enhancing connection and collaboration, and investing in academic and financial advising. We also urge institutions to identify and target students with the greatest needs. And, as colleges and universities generate new policies and announce these decisions for the upcoming academic year, they should continue to communicate them broadly.

To continue helping higher education institutions improve the success of their students, we will offer the COVID-19 Student Survey and COVID-19 Faculty Survey again in the coming academic year. These instruments, including versions for mid-term and end-of-term fieldwork, will be available next month. If you would like to hear more about these surveys then, please fill out the form below. In the meantime, we look forward to hearing your reactions, comments, and questions on our findings from spring 2020.

COVID-19 surveys for the 2020/21 academic year