6 ways professors can boost student success

A new infographic from Inside Higher Ed proposes six ways that college professors can support students’ success in combination with efforts to promote active, inclusive learning. The strategies reflect feedback from 3,004 two- and four- year college students who responded to Inside Higher Ed’s first Student Voice survey of 2023. In their responses, students identified a variety of barriers to success, including faculty teaching styles, overly difficult coursework, balancing academic work and other responsibilities, unclear expectations, and mental health struggles.

Related: Prioritize inclusive teaching to enhance learning, professors say >

Inspired by those responses, Inside Higher Ed shares recommended actions, along with faculty and student voices, across six areas that shape students’ academic experiences:

  1. Establish clear but flexible deadline policies. Fifty-seven percent of students in the survey said they would benefit from flexible policies about coursework deadlines. Experts suggest that professors balance the need for structure and transparency with students’ need for flexibility when faced with personal emergencies.
  2. Provide meaningful options for class participation. According to the survey, 44% of all students—and an even greater share (52%) of students with learning disabilities and related conditions—said flexibility around attendance and participation would support their success. Faculty say they have had success providing students reluctant to participate in live classroom discussions with options to demonstrate their learning and engagement through written assignments. 
  3. Show students how assignments fit into the larger picture. Forty percent of student respondents said unclear course expectations had been barriers to their success in class. Transparent assignment design ensures students understand the purpose, task, and criteria of their coursework, clarity that can increase academic success, especially for historically underserved students. 
  4. Increase mental health awareness. Nearly 4 in 10 respondents cited mental health concerns as challenges to academic achievement, with the number rising to 55% among students with learning disabilities and related conditions. Experts suggest schools provide resources to professors and staff so they can reach out to students struggling with their mental health and be open about mental health accommodations. 
  5. Make connections with students. Just over one-third of students (34%) said they’d benefit academically from professors taking more of an interest in getting to know them. To facilitate those connections, educators suggest faculty focus on reaching out to students early on and getting to know their names and interests even in large courses.
  6. Vary, increase instructor availability outside of class. Among students who reported struggling to balance academic work with other responsibilities, 47% said they’d benefit from professors being more accessible after class to answer questions or outside of class in nontraditional spaces including dining halls or walks around campus.
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