How do we really hear the voice of the students?

Margaret Becker

How do we really hear the voice of the students? Hint: It’s not with a one-time survey.


In higher education it’s always important to have a pulse on the student body, but now more than ever in the wake of COVID-19. Beyond the disruption to learning and campus life, students face a looming resilience crisis where core well-being skills are critical to survive and thrive. 


For universities to truly support students during this unprecedented time, they must understand what students are feeling and doing in real-time. Unfortunately, most higher ed communities lack the tools to most effectively achieve this objective. Fortunately science and technology have evolved to help fill the gap. We’ll dive into this topic more, including actionable next steps, in this blog. 

Challenges in getting the voice of today’s students

Higher ed communities across the country understand the benefits of student feedback, but most are using outdated tools that only scratch the surface of accomplishing this mission. Truly hearing the voice of the student requires a human-centered approach that doesn’t treat students as survey-takers, but, well, as human. 


A one-time survey response simply isn’t sufficient. Humanizing student feedback requires assessment (asking questions) and intervention (immediate response to their answers). 

The benefits of a human-centered approach

Universities today must move beyond the status quo of one-time surveys to gain a deeper and more authentic understanding of the students’ day-to-day experience. This allows institutions to respond and intervene at the right time with the right response to support students’ social, emotional, and academic needs. The way to comprehensively hear the student voice is through an experience-centered approach to gathering real-time insights and providing immediate response.


Doing so creates a powerful domino effect:

  • Meeting the social, emotional, and academic needs of your students means building more resilient students and more resilient communities
  • More resilient students mean better academic performance
  • Better academic performance leads to better student retention
  • Students who develop lifelong social, emotional, and academic skills in higher ed are more likely to hold stronger affinity to the university and be lifelong supporters, donors, and partners



How to move toward human-centered student assessment 

Start by assessing your current approach. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Identify a few problems you really want to address in the student experience. Perhaps it’s helping students build healthy social and emotional daily behaviors or technology support in remote learning.

2. How are you currently assessing student thoughts, feelings and behavior related to this problem? How are you responding or intervening after gleaning those insights?

3. Do you currently have digital community spaces or other student resources available? 

4. Where do you see gaps? 

  • Are you getting the information you need to address your target challenges? 
  • Are you lacking a deep understanding of real-time student needs (and perhaps relying on your “gut”)? 
  • Is it taking too long to get a pulse on students’ experience before facilitating a response? 
  • Do you have not enough (or too many) community options and resources for students?

5. Design a solution. We know standard surveys aren’t the answer, so you need to find a more comprehensive approach that seeks to truly understand the student experience, rather than making students feel like they’re just taking a survey. That might include use of (or a combination of) your intranet/website, student learning portal, on-campus or digital communities, a mobile app, and more. It could also mean consolidating disparate communities to one focused resource.

In a post-COVID world, understanding, connecting with, and supporting students is a top priority for higher education institutions. An experiential and human-based approach can help you achieve that goal.

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