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Student Voices


Student voices. They sometimes speak up in some classrooms, speak out about certain incidents, and shout loudly at most athletic events. But do they influence university decision making? Administrators usually hear the voices of two types of students: leaders and strugglers. Administrators need to listen to both of these groups. But a broader set of voices need to guide decision making.

Institutional data provide a mechanism for student voices to be heard. For example, data can show which majors are “found” by students who change majors after admission. But institutional data are an imperfect instrument. They answer “what” questions, but they cannot, for example, tell us “why” students are drawn to those “found” majors.

Surveys can provide access to student voices. But when universities seek student feedback, too often they operate from an institutional agenda without considering what is really important to students. For example, students are regularly asked to complete end of course surveys. The data they provide are useful for everything from personnel evaluations to curriculum revisions. But they seldom reveal what students value most about their educational experiences.

Focused interviews and specialized surveys can offer a powerful way to capture student voices. Two quick examples. First, in a recent specialized survey, students were asked to indicate why they chose to study at a particular university. Their answers were open ended and often fairly detailed. By using “word cloud” tools, TorchStar was able to determine that students made their college choices based on three primary factors: proximity to home, cost, and a cluster of factors related to the particular experience offered by that institution. While some students mentioned specific fields of study, most students were more interested in overall academic opportunities in areas such as undergraduate research.

Second, in a recent focus group with students studying in one of the smaller humanities disciplines, several key insights were gleaned about how to recruit more majors. First, high-school teachers in related disciplines were key allies. Second, students revealed that they often needed help in negotiating parental pressure to pursue STEM and/or professional majors.

Administrators need to hear student voices. Interacting with leaders and strugglers is not enough. Reviewing institutional data and standard survey responses can answer some “what” questions. But to get answers to the “why” questions, more focused tools are needed that can help administrators fine tune their strategies and tactics. Contact TorchStar today to explore ways to creatively incorporate student voices into your institution’s decision making.