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  • I Am Not an Outlier: Two Years On, Part Two

    Written By: Aly Hill The higher education sector faces a crucial set of decisions that will shape its future for decades to come. While the pandemic has amplified the strain on an already vulnerable higher education sector, institutions have the opportunity to transform in proactive and student-centric ways. To better understand how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted higher ed students and capture student voices, the MAPS team created the ‘I Am Not an Outlier’ campaign. In 2020, we sat down with six higher ed students from various backgrounds to track and document their stories throughout the pandemic. In 2021, we caught up with them to learn more about their higher education experiences. We explore six emerging themes among students in higher ed in a two-part series. Analysis of the first three themes can be found in Part One and the remaining three, below. Increasing Institutional Flexibility During the pandemic, hybrid learning, recorded lectures, modified attendance, and deadline policies were among the rapid and widespread adaptations designed to mitigate mental health challenges among higher ed students. Today, many of these changes persist, with colleges and universities offering more hybrid courses and moving away from once-rigid grading and testing policies. Yet, as the Covid-19 pandemic wanes, and institutions reimagine the future of higher ed, many face a moment of reckoning: whether they should maintain this flexibility or reinstate the once commonplace policies. Among the students interviewed for ‘I Am Not an Outlier,’ many stressed the importance of institutional flexibility in advancing a more equitable and student-centric future. Divyam, a pre-med student, found success in courses in which professors were flexible, responsive to student needs, and listened to student feedback. He believes student success post-pandemic requires institutions to continue these practices of flexibility and student responsiveness. “Yeah, we’re adults as college students, but this is the first time we’re really being adults...Being a little bit more relaxed about it is the biggest thing,” said Divyam. “That word – relaxed – is the best word we can use...don’t change everything, don’t give up on your standard, but just relax a little bit.” By relaxing these standards and accommodating varied learning needs, institutions can better address students' individual needs. Erika, a low-income student studying international relations, underscored the need for more personalized learning, emphasizing the importance of individualized academic experiences. By attending to a variety of student pathways in education and tailoring offerings to their unique needs, Erika believes that universities can help students achieve greater success in the evolving higher education landscape. “There’s a lot of different reasons people choose to go to college and disaggregating those and providing experiences that are specifically attuned to that is really valuable, especially given how much higher ed is changing,” said Erika. “I’d want to stress the importance of flexibility and individual academic experiences – the same styles of support are different for different people.” Individualizing student pathways to success requires understanding the full spectrum of student circumstances, a point stressed by Carolyn, a non-traditional student. As an increasing number of students work while attending school, Carolyn believes that an inclusive approach with more diverse course options and class times would enable more students to pursue and succeed in higher education and ultimately move into fulfilling careers. “Our ability to get students through classes in a way that builds them up rather than having to just take what’s available to them will make the college experience more valid and valuable...Making us fit into these cookie cutters – it’s a hindrance that just doesn’t need to be there,” said Carolyn. Students interviewed for ‘I Am Not an Outlier’ agreed this flexibility shouldn’t come from professors alone, but should instead be reflected in larger institutional policies. Designing Institutional Policies That Serve Students Student resources, tution, and diversity are among the many factors that decision-makers are considering as they enroll students into the ‘new normal’. While individual professors and departments adopted changes during the pandemic, ‘I Am Not an Outlier’ participants expressed the need for institutional policies that serve diverse student populations. Dante, an American immigrant studying architecture, reflected on the role of universities in ensuring affordable tuition for its students, a guarantee that Dante believes will pave the way for greater access to higher ed and help students achieve improved career outcomes. “The University of Utah cannot run...without their students - It’s not going to be successful, and I feel like recognizing the students is going to make a huge difference,” said Dante. Indeed, research shows that institutions that fail to provide affordable education to students will disproportionately affect students of color, first generation students, and disenfranchised students, exacerbating declining enrollments and causing institutions to struggle. Diversity in higher education is associated with a range of positive outcomes including a more inclusive curriculum, increased intellectual engagement, and community building. For Tammy, an Indigenous student studying education, inclusive enrollment and curriculum matter. While many of Tammy’s courses included social justice within the curriculum, she wishes the program went beyond the surface level and was aimed at serving students of color like her, rather than solely informing white students. Moreover, Tammy expressed her desire to see universities take a more proactive approach to admitting a more diverse student body and developing more active representation among professors. “They need to have more people of color enrolled,” Tammy said. “It’s one thing to talk about social justice and say that you’re going to support students of color, and then it’s another thing to actually have diversity at your school.” Empowering Student Voices For some students, the pandemic was a turning point. As students shared their needs for more flexibility and student-centric policies, they reflected on their own agency in navigating their academic and post-academic careers. For students like Carolyn, this awareness prompted her to become an advocate for herself, becoming more assertive about her needs and more actively engaged in her work and education. Periods of isolation taught Carolyn that she alone is in control of her future, a realization that led her to prioritize herself. “The last year has taught me that, in order to be successful, I have to be actively engaged in what I want,” Carolyn said. Others, like Erika, began to prioritize their identities and activities outside of education. Like many during the pandemic, Erika expanded her hobbies. But it was her reflexivity that led Erika to evaluate the role and reason behind each of her hobbies that she found the most rewarding. “Something that has been huge for me over the past year that has occupied a lot of my time and has been huge for my taking time, without question, to assess the components of my life and my time and think about how they got there,” Erika said. Moving Forward A desire for increased institutional flexibility, policies that better serve students, and growing self-awareness were common themes among higher education students during the pandemic. While these themes are not representative of all student experiences, they offer a brief snapshot into the issues affecting higher ed students during this time. By centering student voices in decision-making spaces and facilitating a culture of inclusivity, innovation, & co-creation, higher education institutions will be better equipped to address student barriers, facilitate student success, and manage future crises.

  • I Am Not an Outlier: Two Years On, Part One

    Written By: Aly Hill The MAPS Project: Capturing Student Voices In 2019, the Sorenson Impact Center launched the MAPS Project, a student-centric initiative to chart the rapidly evolving higher education landscape and bring historically marginalized voices to higher ed using innovative data modeling and storytelling. The Covid-19 pandemic began just one year later. Having an outsized impact on student success and exacerbating the inequities faced by marginalized student populations, the pandemic serves as a case study in higher education crisis response. To better understand how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted higher ed students, inform proactive and student-centric responses from higher education decision makers, and capture student voices, the MAPS ‘I Am Not an Outlier’ campaign was created. In 2020, we sat down with six higher ed students from various backgrounds to track and document their stories throughout the pandemic. In 2021, we caught up with four of them to learn more about their experiences, state policy implications, and institutional reactions. In doing so, we identified six emerging themes among students in higher ed. In this article, we explore three of those themes. Providing and Promoting Access to Institutional Resources In March 2020, with little warning, thousands of colleges and universities shuttered in response to the global Covid-19 outbreak, taking with them many of the networks and resources they offered to students. While many universities pivoted to expand access to virtual resources and support, social isolation, virtual learning environments, and the loss of in-person opportunities had demonstrable effects on students’ mental health. More than half of higher ed students reported increased anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness during the pandemic, with students citing concerns regarding health and safety, financial stability, and continued education. This was compounded by a perceived lack of mental health resources by students, which disproportionately impacted students of color. While the criteria for mental health problems rose among students during the pandemic, the percentage of students seeking help declined, demonstrating students' struggle with access to institutional resources. Growing mental struggles coupled with fewer institutional resources were reflected by ‘I am Not an Outlier’ participants. Erika, a low-income student studying international relations faced uncertainty about graduation during the pandemic, is not an outlier. Like many students during the pandemic, Erika reported feelings of depression and anxiety, but rarely utilized university resources to manage her mental health. She shares, “When I think about a loss or a challenge that the university could have helped with, I guess in my mind I would never think the university was a resource for helping me…In my mind, they aren’t an institution that provides services beyond academic courses.” Carolyn, a non-traditional student pursuing a political science degree, similarly recognized the importance of mental health and counseling resources, speaking to the broad spectrum of students’ mental health challenges during the health crisis. “There’s this whole spectrum that happens from being emotionally healthy to death by suicide,” says Carolyn. “There’s lots of ways that we can work to make sure students are healthy and that they get the help they need.”Students were not only concerned about their ability to stay healthy during the pandemic, but their financial status became an issue. Financial Strain: Limiting Barriers to Access For many students during the pandemic, financial resources posed a major challenge to educational outcomes, as they coped with job loss, the loss of university housing, and the loss of financial assistance. Reflecting on the cost of her own education, Carolyn spoke to the financial challenges faced by higher ed students. “These little nickel and dime costs...add up,” she shares. “Those are the barriers that keep students from low-income or first generation families from being able to make it into the programs….All of this stuff is...daunting and overwhelming to kids. If we want to make a difference in marginalized communities, we have to reduce those barriers.” Tammy an Indigenous student exemplifies these challenges. During the pandemic, Tammy was kicked out of her housing twice. Having to find housing on short notice while going to school created added stress for Tammy given the already challenging circumstances. Tammy is not an outlier. Financial stress and hardship were common experiences among higher education students, with 46% of students reporting that universities didn’t do enough to support them during the pandemic according to the 2021 College Student Financial Survey. Among those, research from the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium survey found that “students from low-income/poor and working-class backgrounds were significantly more likely than their peers to experience financial hardships, including the loss or reduction of income from other family members, unexpected increases in living experiences and technology, the loss/cancellation of expected jobs or internships, and the loss of wages from off-campus employment.” Moreover, poor financial health may have contributed to additional resource barriers for students in virtual learning environments, whereas financial status impacts students' access to affordable housing, high-quality internet, and overall well-being. These data demonstrate the need for institutional policies that better address disparities during financial recessions. Opening Doors: New Academic and Professional Opportunities Despite challenges, the pandemic meant new opportunities for some students. A study conducted among 200 U.S. college students in 2020 found that, when asked how COVID-19 impacted their current and future plans, 16% of students reported that the pandemic provided them with beneficial opportunities. This trend was observed the most among men, followed by first generation students and low-income students. Following the pandemic outbreak, Divyam, a pre-med student, was forced to abandon his extracurricular activities to protect the health of his immunocompromised father. But with the health crisis came new opportunities. Having never explored opportunities outside of science, the pandemic empowered Divyam to look at science from a public policy perspective, a decision that he believes will influence his long-term career pursuits. “I realized that there’s a lot more that I like to do than biology, and...I’m looking at a lot more public policy and medicine sort of related field,” Divyam shares. “In that way, Covid definitely left me rethinking, but also saying I found new things I like to do.” For Carolyn, the pandemic enabled her to move her expected graduation date forward. As a full time mom, employee, and student, the switch to online learning meant that Carolyn could take additional courses while working and taking care of her family. “The fact that..more classes and a variety of classes are offered online is actually probably helping me make that decision….If they weren’t offered online before, I probably wouldn’t have taken them.” she says. “The variety has opened up a lot of ideas to me that logistics would have just removed from my capabilities.” Conclusion Despite some pandemic opportunities, difficulties assessing institutional resources and financial struggles were common themes among higher education students during the global health crisis. While these themes are not representative of all student experiences during the pandemic, they offer a brief snapshot into the issues affecting higher ed students during the health crisis. By centering student voices in decision-making spaces and facilitating a culture of inclusivity, innovation, & co-creation, higher education institutions will be better equipped to address student barriers and manage future crises. Stay tuned for the next article in this series.

  • Centralized Access for Student Services and Why It Matters

    Written By: Alex Rodriguez / Member of Student Coalition on Higher Education Resource Access in Higher Ed: My Experience As the former Student Body President at a Community College, I saw firsthand the limited access and knowledge students had of available resources such as health services, academic support, housing and more. One program, designed to help students pay for university application fees, saw less than 10 applications in a given cycle, submitted only by student government members and student employees working within the department. While the program was created to provide low-income students with the opportunity to explore other universities, the low application rate highlighted that students lacked the awareness of programs that were intended to support them. These challenges are exacerbated among first generation students, low-income students, and students of color. Only 14% of first-generation students sought out health services and academic support use from first generation students was only 30%. Across the board, first generation students utilized fewer resources than continuing generation students. As a child of immigrant parents who immigrated to the U.S. with the hope of giving their children a better life, I faced hardships meeting basic needs in higher ed: difficulties paying for housing, food, and accessing financial aid. As a first-generation, low-income college student, I was not alone. My experience mirrored the stories of my peers who face disproportionate barriers in higher education. Time constraints and limited background knowledge of post secondary institutions are significant barriers, especially in times of need. And yet, while these systemic problems are recognized by higher education administrators, few solutions have been implemented to connect students with essential resources. To meet this challenge and advance student-centric-equity in higher ed, the Student Coalition For Higher Education created the Centralized Access for Student Services (CASS) project. Centralized Access for Student Services In an era marked by reliance on technology for basic functions, resources that are not easily accessible online likely won’t make it to their intended recipients. By partnering with students, higher education institutions, and community organizations, CASS was created to provide students with centralized access to social services and community resources online. It’s a framework that provides a pathway for colleges and universities to increase student access to basic needs resources by centering student voices in the decision-making process. The CASS project outlines a student-led team, working in collaboration with higher education administrators to centralize access to student resources, especially for students in crisis. This includes making resources more accessible to all students – on-campus and virtual. By incorporating students into institutional decision making, institutions will better reflect student needs. One example is institutional investment in online learning modules such as canva or blackboard, which empowers students with an all-in-one access point for institutional and community resources such as housing assistance, food stamps, and mental health resources. Just as technological advances enable non-traditional students to be involved in higher ed, they can also serve as a gateway for students to access resources. The MAPS Student Coalition on Higher Education recognizes that each institution is unique and faces its own challenges to engage students. We present that there needs to be a mindset change on how to get these resources to students. Students should be involved in the higher education decision making process, not just as a result of being enrolled but, because they understand the hardships and gaps in the systems created by institutions. Empowered students and programs designed with the assistance of students garner a better chance of success and a better utilization rate. CASS reiterates that programs should be created with students, and not just for students. While universities often prioritize resources for traditional learners, which are post-secondary students under 25 years old who enroll directly from high school, attend full-time, and typically are socio-economically advantaged. On campus outreach has been the typical avenue to reach the majority of traditional students, up until the last few years remote or non-traditional students were in the minority. Programs such as food pantries, counseling, and housing insecurities typically have physical locations on campus. With changes to the student body, campus administrators should seek to better connect working students, non-traditional students**, and students in need with resources to improve their academic career. By acknowledging the diverse needs of students, colleges and universities will be better suited to help students meet these needs and achieve long-term success both in and outside of academia. The CASS project will be publishing a framework for institutions to look holistically at the challenge of access to resources. Please stay tuned to the MAPS project social media, website, and newsletter to stay up to date on all publications. **non-traditional student-a student who postponed post-secondary education until later in life (definition varies among institutions)

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  • Student Equity | MAPS Project

    The MAPS Project is a student-centric initiative to chart the rapidly evolving higher education system and works to bring high-quality data and historically marginalized voices to higher ed decision-makers. The MAPS Project aims to Model, Analyze, Prototype, and Share innovative solutions to challenges in higher education. THE MAPS PROJECT Student Perspective Institutional Response Community Impact INSTITUTIONAL INSIGHT REAL STUDENTS. REAL STORIES. The higher education sector faces a crucial set of decisions that will shape its future for decades to come. While the current pandemic has amplified the strain on an already-vulnerable higher education sector, institutions have the opportunity to transform in proactive and student-centric ways. IMPACTS OF COVID-19 VIEW THE STUDENT EXPERIENCE COVID-19 DASHBOARD As institutions grapple with the challenges brought by Covid-19, data on student preferences, state policies, and institutional reactions are more important than ever to help drive decisions that are student-centric. Equitable outcomes for students rely on stable and resilient financial standing of institutions, informed by tools that provide sector-specific financial modeling and insightful peer-to-peer comparisons. FINANCIAL HEALTH DASHBOARD THE CRITICAL ROLE OF THE STUDENT VOICES ​ Millions of students across the nation have faced the difficulties of transitioning to online learning, increasing inability to afford tuition, and general feelings of being abandoned by their universities and colleges. As institutions of higher education form decisions, it is critical that higher-ed decision-makers prioritize students. STUDENT PERSPECTIVE With COVID-19 forcing the closure of campuses early this spring, colleges and universities moved classes online and closed housing facilities, separating students from their campus communities and resources. This disruption accelerated several trends that already existed in higher education, with a disproportionate impact on students from historically marginalized backgrounds. Given the rapid change brought on by COVID-19 and augmented by the United States’ accelerated fight for racial justice, it is more important than ever that students' voices and experiences are included in conversations on the future of higher education. To begin this work, the Sorenson Impact Center MAPS project convened students from across the nation to share experiences, perspectives, and needs from their institutions. In response to major interest from this event and in an effort to continue these conversations, the MAPS project has launched the inaugural Student Coalition on Higher Education. The Student Coalition will provide opportunities for young leaders from across the nation to discuss emerging trends, engage with industry practitioners and community leaders, and contribute to key conversations within higher education as we seek to make higher education more equitable and student-centric. Now more than ever, we know that it is essential to elevate student voices and encourage higher education leaders to consider student experiences as they seek to chart the future of their institutions. COALITION MEMBERS 2021-2022 Alex Rodriguez | He/Him Abhi Harikumar | He/Him Heidi Seabrooks-Smith | She/Her Catalyzing Student Equity In Higher Education Drawing from a months-long process speaking with students and administrators across the nation. The Student Coalition of 2020-21 on Higher Education designed a guidebook that dives into factors that emerged as important in catalyzing student-equity-centricity. Guidebook Executive Summary Full Student Guidebook BY STUDENTS. FOR INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE. COMMUNITY IMPACT THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF HIGHER ED DECISIONS The U.S. higher education sector, already in the process of disruption before COVID-19, remains one of the most sensitive spaces to the effects of the pandemic given the multifaceted roles these institutions play in the lives of students, staff, faculty, and communities. As McKinsey & Co and other leaders have noted, many traditional, place-based Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) are essentially micro cities, serving not just as schools, but as employers, primary residences, healthcare providers, civic institutions and more. INSTITUTIONAL RESPONSE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF INSTITUTIONS ​ As institutions grapple with the challenges brought by Covid-19, data on student preferences, state policies, and institutional reactions are more important than ever to help drive decisions that are student-centric. ​ This crisis raises new questions as we grapple with an uncertain future, but colleges and universities have an opportunity to help create a new system of higher education that is more equitable and improves outcomes for all students. I Am Not an Outlier: Two Years On, Part Two I Am Not an Outlier: Two Years On, Part Two I Am Not an Outlier: Two Years On, Part One To better understand how the Covid-19 pandemic impacted higher ed students, inform proactive and student-centric responses. Centralized Access for Student Services and Why It Matters Written By: Alex Rodriguez / Member of Student Coalition on Higher Education Resource Access in Higher Ed: My Experience As the former... Student Blogs IN THEIR VOICE Students are often the last to have their voice heard. The MAPS project seeks to amplify the student voice within the higher education sector. ​

  • Financial Health Indicators | MAPS Project

    Financial Health and Equity Dashboard To achieve their missions, colleges and universities need appropriate resources - but right now, resources aren't equitably distributed across the postsecondary system. This has real consequences for equitable student success, particularly for historically marginalized students. ​ Leaders need tools that provide deeper insight and equitable foresight into how financial decision making affects student outcomes historically and moving forward. ​ To support this need, the Financial Health Indicators Index offers a first-of-its-kind visibility into the financial health of more than 3,000 colleges and universities* nationwide and the system as a whole. ​ Leveraging six years of data and sector-specific models, this interactive resource provides decision makers with a data-driven way to understand the current financial state, learn from peers, and together shape a system where every student can succeed. Explore the Index What the index is Uniquely comprehensive: Integrates financial data with student trend data for 3000+ colleges and universities Sector-specific: Outlines separate models for six different institutional sectors (2 and 4 year public, private, and proprietary) Interactive: Engage with data points to understand the "why" and "what" behind the scores What the index is not ​ Condemning: Does not predict the future failure (or success) of any institution ​ Exhaustive: One resource to be used in conjunction with other tools for a robust and contextualized understanding ​ Static: Expect changes to the index over time as new data and feedback become available EXPLORE THE TOOL *The FHII will not include profiles for institutions who have not reported sufficient financial data to IPEDS via the IPEDS Finance Survey. These use cases provide fictional examples of higher education leaders, such as college presidents and governing board members, using the tools to gain insights into their institutions’ financial performance with an equity lens. Dashboard Use Cases READ ALL FOUR USE CASES HERE PUBLIC UNIVERSITY HBCU REGIONAL UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY COLLEGE Methodology: Learn more about how weights are designated and assigned to categories ​ Glossary: Learn more about how terms are defined ​ User Guide: Learn how to navigate through the Financial Health and Equity Dashboard METHODOLOGY GLOSSARY USER GUIDE Understand the Tool View institutional details The Index at a Glance Financial Health Impacts Students Additional resources Several leading organizations and individuals have made important contributions to increasing transparency around the costs, value, finances, and economic models of higher education. NACUBO Economic Models Project This effort seeks to help institutions pursue greater financial sustainability as higher education changes. It provides a framework for strategic decision making across four pillars: mission, structure, strengths, and resources. The website offers structured engagement ideas through strategic questions to help institutions understand their own standing and also provides examples and case studies of well-positioned institutions. This index is part of the MAPS Project, which is hosted and run by the Sorenson Impact Center. The MAPS project charts the shifting landscape of higher education to help create a more equitable future. This project is based on research funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These materials do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE MAPS PROJECT Get updates on MAPS Project data tools, industry insights, and peer discussions by joining our LinkedIn community. MAPS LINKEDIN COMMUNITY

  • Newsletter Archives | MAPS Project

    NEWSLETTER ARCHIVE ​ The MAPS newsletter seeks to provide a platform for students to speak alongside thought provoking articles and MAPS work. View past newsletters and subscribe to stay up to date on MAPS news. MODEL. ANALYZE. PROTOTYPE. SHARE. Click Here Click Here Click Here Click Here "We are never going to reach equality in America until we achieve equality in education." -Sonia Sotomayor Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States In Their Voice Our Work What We Are Reading MAPS Newsletter Thought Leaders Takes

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