4 ways Universities can improve the student experience

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AuburnRec

A recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that approximately 20.5 million students attended United States’ universities in the 2016 academic year. Many of these students had difficulty in making a final college decision amongst the 5,300 colleges in the U.S., a fact which highlights the increasingly competitive market that higher education has become. To help maintain enrollment, many universities are now revamping their campuses and curriculums in effort to provide students with as great a college experience as possible. Here are four of the most common ways that universities can improve the student experience.

Improve and expand athletic facilities

Students are looking for more in their university experience than they did 20 years ago. They now want a more 24/7 approach with specialized training areas, great facilities and increased health and wellness opportunities such as fitness classes. Most universities are improving facilities by charging student activity fees to allow them access and use of recreation facilities.

There are a number of benefits to improving recreational and athletic facilities, one of the most essential of which is providing students with the opportunity to develop healthy habits. In fact, recreational activities have shown to improve social interactions outside the classroom with peers and professors and offers a greater variety of training options than an off-campus fitness gym. Student who use athletic facilities see an improvement in their academic performance as well. A 2013 study showed freshman who visited the gym had a 3.08 average GPA compared to 2.81 for freshman who didn’t visit. Improved facilities also increase student usage like the Auburn University Recreation Center, which formally saw 900 students per day. Yet after building a new facility, the center saw a major increase of approximately 3,500 students a day.

Offer latest majors and programs

With rising tuition rates, students have to look at overall program cost, salary expectations, employment rate in the field and advanced degree opportunities when choosing a major. Roughly half of all college freshman enter college undecided and as many as 70 percent of students will change their major at least once in the course of their four-year degree program. Colleges have to provide students with popular majors as well as options that can help them find employment in the future. Universities should consider offering programs in areas where advancing technology are creating opportunities, such as robotics, biotechnology, computer game design, cybersecurity, data science and sustainability. Students will also need language courses and programming skills to better compete for jobs. These program options can help universities compete for student enrollment.

Reach new student demographics

Universities need to target nontraditional students to maintain or increase the number of newly enrolled students. Nontraditional students are not defined by age, but rather by one’s life and educational experiences. This is a broad view, but colleges need to narrow down the group for potential students. This could be a person who didn’t enroll in college the same year they completed high school, only has a GED, attends only part-time, works full time, has dependents or is a single parent. Another demographic that colleges should look at recruiting are English Language Learners (ELL). Many of these students participate in some type of English as a Second Language (ESL) in high school to better prepare themselves for the real world. ELL students in the U.S. speak more than 150 languages, but 73.1 percent speak Spanish. Recruiting these students can be difficult, because many have parents that did not graduate high school or live below the poverty threshold. But with progressing technology and resources, these students have the same opportunity as traditional scholars to succeed.

Make accommodations for students with learning disabilities

While students with learning disabilities can be nervous about the type of work expected in college, it should be helpful to know there are resources available to help them. Many universities have a disability service office available to help them and their professors accommodate their needs such as longer time to take tests, assistive software or a class scribe. New students may not know the range of services provided or feel embarrassed to reach out for assistance. Universities should also create a welcoming environment as well as advertise the disability services offered. With the ability to provide modified teaching and learning techniques, technological advancements and dedicated professionals on-site, students with learning disabilities can succeed at the higher education level.

High competition for student enrollment between universities can make it difficult for prospective scholars to decide the best fit for them. Yet by improving the student experience, universities can not only attract students and maintain enrollment, but also assist the next generation in advancing their personal and academic careers.

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