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The Need for Change in Higher Education

Updated: Sep 26

by Nicholas Diaz

Photo by Dom Fou on Unsplash

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

The problem today is that many students feel their investment in higher education, one that is increasingly expensive, is not giving them a high return.

According to the National Opinion Research Center, two-thirds of Americans desire change in higher education. Many students feel that their needs are simply not being met. That is what makes change so imperative.

Student's needs can be organized on Maslow's pyramid of needs to determine which institutions of higher education should prioritize to better serve the interests of their students. Reference to Maslow's pyramid also helps explain the large extent to which higher education is failings its students.

Starting at the top of the pyramid are the needs for self-actualization and esteem. The problem here is that students feel limited in their opportunities for success.

Salesforce reports that just 11% of students in higher education felt very prepared for the world of work. There is a widespread discomfort surrounding the transition from education to work life, which institutions of higher education can ease.

Salesforce explains that one-third of students want more career planning, which is a service that higher education could offer.

In addition, according to College Recruiter, 78% of students say they need more experiences to build their resumes. Higher education can mitigate this problem by offering more internship opportunities, organizational opportunities, job-related workshops and networking events.

These opportunities to establish networks and immerse oneself in the world of work also address student needs related to love and belonging, the next level of Maslow's pyramid.

Humans are inherently social creatures, which means they require social connection and a sense of belonging in a community. However, only 12% of students report feeling a strong sense of belonging at their schools, according to Salesforce. Many institutions do not put as much emphasis on community as they should, which makes attending these institutions less desirable for those who struggle to fit in.

Higher education can rectify this issue by prioritizing values of diversity and inclusion and applying these values to how the school is run. Practical measures to build a sense of belonging for students include investing in diverse clubs, organizations and networking events.

One reason why this sense of community is so important for students is that students carry with them the relationships they form in college into work life after graduation. These social opportunities can also expose students to different people and different professions, which makes for more well-rounded individuals.

At the base of Maslow's pyramid are the physiological and safety needs. These are the basic needs humans must meet to function as members of society. That is why these needs are the most important ones for higher education to prioritize.

The problem on many college campuses is that needs such as food, shelter and health are not being met.

According to the Hope Survey, 38% of students at two-year colleges and 29% of students at four-year colleges reported experiencing food insecurity. Food insecurity is linked to worse academic performance and poor physical health, which threatens the success of students,

The Hope Center also reported that 48% of students experienced housing insecurity in 2021, while 14% of students reported they were homeless. This problem is of immense magnitude as homelessness makes being a student a near-impossible task.

To make matters worse, the American Psychological Association finds that student mental health is worsening by nearly every metric. More than 60% of college students meet the criteria for at least one mental health problem, which negatively affects academic and social life.

This condition of overall poor student well-being is a crisis that higher education must address. It comes prior to the other issues students face since one cannot be a student at all if one's basic needs are not met.

When it comes to food insecurity, higher education can focus on making campus food more affordable, supporting food pantries, and establishing websites that provide information on healthy and accessible food options nearby.

Institutions can also collaborate with local housing authorities to address housing insecurity. Other options involve expanding financial aid, focusing on insecurity risk factors early on, establishing resource centers for housing, and investing in more on-campus housing options.

To address the mental health crisis on college campuses, schools can devote resources to student well-being and support free counseling programs to aid those struggling with mental illness

Even if many of these solutions seem unfeasible, just implementing one can be an effective way of meeting the needs of students and making college life a little bit easier. This is especially true if the changes occur at the base of Maslow's pyramid since a healthier and more secure student has a greater potential for being a more social and successful student.

Thus, higher education should work from the bottom up by prioritizing the basics if it wants to change to better serve the needs of its students.

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