Good morning, and happy International Day of Family Remittances. (That really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) Your tongue might prefer that you celebrate World Tapas Day, National Fudge Day, or even Fresh Veggies Day – I will leave that up to you!
How the pandemic impacted our students is a pretty thorny question. (I’ve recently explored the learning losses for PSE students and K-12 students here, of course. And I just finished writing a 145-page report on the subject – but the answers are still unfolding.) Worldwide, there have already been tons of surveys examining student learning, frustrations, aspirations and mental wellness amidst COVID19.
Unfortunately, at first glance, the results of those surveys often seem completely contradictory, too. Either the student experience out there is complex and volatile (which is quite possible), or we need to carefully examine the timing, sampling, and context of each survey. (I hope to tackle a meta-analysis of that soon, particularly around attitudes to online learning.)
In the meantime, you need the most recent data possible, on students as much like your own as possible. So today, let’s look at some Canadian survey data, even before it’s “hot off the presses”…
This media release crossed my desk last week, and prompted an exchange of correspondence that provided me with an exclusive sneak peek at Canadian survey data on some key questions about the pandemic’s impact…
Studiosity and Angus Reid surveyed 1,014 CdnPSE students this March for their 2nd-annual Canadian Student Wellbeing Survey (which is being released in several instalments this summer – you can download them here). The sample appears to include a good balance of full-time and part-time, college and university, students of various ages, all across Canada. 11% were international. 14% were francophone. 75% were full-time. (I won’t repeat all the detail here.) Some questions were comparable to data collected in 2021, although sadly we don’t have pre-pandemic baselines.
Yearning for Campus
Unsurprisingly, the data featured in Chapter 1 reveal that CdnPSE students really want to get back to campus. They say returning to in-person learning would be the #1 way to improve their academic performance – even more than financial aid! – and it is particularly true for Arts/Humanities and Engineering/ Technology students. They also say that “more in-person classes” would be the #1 way to increase their level of engagement with their college or university. (Studiosity’s media release emphasized the #2 way: “more professional development/ internship opportunities.” Also important, just not my focus here.)
“Academically, I am pretty engaged, but socially, I am not: I’d probably focus more on improving the social connections between students, while keeping the academic side as is.” – Student suggestion to increase their engagement
The surveys asked CdnPSE students whether they “hope online lectures will become the norm in higher education, with the option to attend in person for those who want it.” (That encompasses everything from F2F delivery with lecture capture to blended/hybrid courses.) Overall, 55% of respondents agreed in 2021, and that rose to 61% in 2022 – although only 24% “strongly agreed.” Online options were favoured most by female students (64%, compared to 58% of males), international students, or those in SK/MB or BC – and the preference rose with age: just 44% of teens 18-19 agreed, but that rose to 67% among those aged 24-25, and stayed at 63% or more for those older still. The desire for online options was naturally greatest among those employed full-time (69%) or part-time (63%), although the unemployed (60%) still showed more interest than those in casual or temporary work (just 41%). Although the preference was greater among part-time students in 2021 (64% vs 53% full-time), by 2022 the gap had almost disappeared. Undergraduates swung from being least in favour in 2021 (52%), to most in favour by 2022 (63%), perhaps reflecting a newfound appreciation for hybrid delivery or recorded lectures. Although sample sizes are small by subject area, it seems notable that students in Mathematics/Physics and Arts/Humanities appear far less interested in online options than those in other programs.
“I’m a mature student, and I certainly felt connected when I was at university when I was younger. Now in my 30s, between my jobs, school, and existing communities and social circles, I really just need to focus on my classwork.” – Student suggestion to increase their engagement
This survey ran in 2021 and 2022, so sadly we don’t have pre-COVID baseline data for many of the questions. But there were several questions that asked students to reflect on the pandemic’s impact, and I wanted to look closely at those…
As you might expect, respondents overall felt that the COVID19 pandemic had a negative impact on their PSE experience: 74% in 2021, and 70% in 2022. (About 15% felt it had no impact. Wha?) In 2021, the effects were worse for young people (especially those aged 18-19 and 22-23), and more pronounced in Alberta and Atlantic Canada. (While most of those differences faded by 2022, Atlantic Canada remained most negative.) Both years, negative impacts were more likely to be reported by full-time and undergraduate students, and those with household incomes under $25K (reflecting the digital divide, no doubt). This year, students in Arts/Humanities, Law/Legal, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences and Architecture felt most negative.
Considered Dropping Out
Overall, 35% of respondents in 2021 said they had “seriously considered dropping out,” and notably that roseto 40% in 2022. (The question actually said “dropping out of university,” but presumably college respondents took it to mean PSE.) These at-risk CdnPSE students are slightly more likely to be female, part-time students, middle and upper income, working full-time, international, or anglophone (41%, compared to just 33% of francophones). In 2021, they were most likely to be aged 30+ (42%), but in 2022 those aged 26-29 (48%) and 18-19 (47%) were closer to the brink. In 2021, they were more likely in Alberta (42%) or Atlantic Canada (40%), but in 2022 the response was most common in the prairies (43% in SK/MB, 42% in AB) and Ontario (41%). This spring, college students (or at least, those in diploma, certificate, or associate degree programs) appear to be notably more at risk than university students (45%, compared to 38% – unless they really meant dropping out of university). The sample sizes are somewhat small by area of study, but sadly it makes intuitive sense that the majority of students in Social Work / Human Servicesprograms contemplated giving up (56%).
There were, however, a fraction of respondents (about 13% overall) who felt the pandemic impacted their PSE experience positively. Who are these people? Well, naturally they tended to be older: age 24+ in 2020, and age 30+ in 2021. (I suspect that reflects the appeal of online delivery for mature learners.) There wasn’t a lot of variation by region, but Alberta students swung wildly, from just 6% in 2021 to 18% in 2022. (That may reflect Jason Kenney’s early moves to end public health restrictions and return students to class – although how that turns the pandemic’s impact “positive” is a mystery.) International student respondents were less positive in 2021 (11%) but considerably more positive by 2022 (23%). Those working full-time were somewhat more positive, particularly by 2022 (19%).
The survey then proceeded to ask those students who indicated a negative impact, to elaborate. In 2021, top drivers included online classes (79%), less F2F contact with academics (77%), struggling to make new friends (69%), less time on campus (68%) and less involvement in extracurriculars (59%). In 2022, when fewer students reported negative impacts, online classes were down significantly (to 67%), and only 2 drivers had risen: mental health supports (36%) and health services (17%) – although struggling to make friends (64%) and get academic support (34%) were less improved than other factors. Female students were particularly likely to cite the struggle to get adequate mental health support (36% in 2021 and 40% in 2022) and health services (18% and 20%, compared to just 11% and 13% for males). International students were considerably less likely to blame online courses and F2F time with academics, but more likely to blame the struggle to make friends, or living at home (or on campus) when they hadn’t planned on it.
One more question caught my eye on the survey, a good “futurist” question…
Campuses in 2042
When asked whether physical university campuses will still exist in 20 years’ time, 84% agreed in 2021 (although that dropped to 82% in 2022). Respondents who felt more confident about campus were slightly more likely to be male, domestic students, aged 24+, from middle- or upper-income households. Unsurprisingly, they were also more likely to be studying Fine Arts/Music, Arts/Humanities, or Engineering/ Technology. In 2021, students in Saskatchewan and Manitoba were most bullish about the future of their provinces’ beautiful physical campuses (88%), while those in Quebec were quite a bit less so (75%). By 2022, though, Quebecers had a resurgence of confidence in university campuses, while those in Alberta were showing new doubt: down to 75%, from 87% the year before. (Perhaps students were reacting to uAlberta’s massive restructuring and real estate plans, or Athabasca U’s efforts to become more virtual.) College students (those in certificate, diploma, or associate degree programs anyways) are perhaps most skeptical (79% in 2021 and 77% in 2022), compared to undergraduates (86% dropped to 82%) and particularly graduate students (84% rose to 87%). (It’s not entirely certain whether those college students responded with university or college campuses in mind, but we’ll let that pass here.) Somehow, I doubt that grad students are more invested in attending physical campuses, but they may realize those campuses will continue to exist – after all, many have been around for centuries now!
Again, a big thank you to Chelsea Parker at Studiosity for pulling this data for me, and allowing me to share some observations with you! Their next chapter, on “Academic Integrity, Cheating, & Assessment,” is scheduled to drop next Wednesday, and will doubtless attract some media attention. (To be sure you see the report, you can sign up to get it here.)
Congratulations to Marion Garden and the marcom team at AUArts…
AUArts just won a 2022 Ad Rodeo Anvil Award for its polished, widescreen 5-min brand video (released Nov 2021). It interweaves the stories of 4 creative alumni and makes an almost poetic case for the importance of a visual arts education to our society and the future. “People with arts educations, regardless of where they go in their lives, are always going to be a little bit more open, they’re going to develop more complex and interesting communities, they’re going to ask more why questions.” The future will demand people who are fluent in multiple “languages,” like art, design, engineering and business. “The one thing we don’t want to be doing is spending all this time and effort solving the wrong problem.” And of course, these proud alums have plenty of fond memories of their time at AUArts! YouTube | AUArts News
As always, thanks for reading!
After managing to publish 4 consecutive issues this week, I’m going to knock off Friday for a long summer weekend. (Although, I’ll be working on the next issue, of course!)
However bad or good your weekend weather may be, I hope you’ll spare a thought for folks facing the threat of floods in Calgary and southeast BC, and the unholy combination of heavy rain, 38°C heat, and a bumper crop of mosquitoes looming over Winnipeg.
For those reasons and more – everybody stay safe out there!
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