At the risk of coming off as someone with early-onset curmudgeon-ness, back in my day graduate students went to graduate school only focused on their academic education—and liked it! (We also walked uphill in the snow both ways, or something.) The program I joined (originally with the intent of pursuing a PhD) was very academic-focused—a terminal master’s wasn’t a thing in that program, and all students, even master’s-enrolled students, were expected to develop the skills necessary to become high-quality researchers. The program thus intensely focused its resources on high-quality teaching, conference attendance, and various research opportunities. Scant few resources (time or money) were put towards the overall student experience in the program or even the college.
After working with various higher education institutions, I have found that student expectations are changing. I see students wanting more than just a good education; they want to connect with those around them. I’ve found alumni looking back and wishing they had been given more opportunities to build stronger relationships with those in their programs and even their programs’ broader communities. In many cases, these students and alumni are looking to the university, individual college, or even department or program to provide the opportunities to build those connections.
Why are they changing? I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps the societal focus on the quintessential college (undergraduate) experience has residually affected the graduate experience, with students making the transition expecting something more akin to, albeit more mature than, their undergraduate experience. It’s also possible that, with the ever-expanding graduate offerings (certificates, short courses, terminal master’s, etc.), a greater number of students are entering programs that are less life-consuming than the classic PhD. Or perhaps graduate students are behaving more like a classic customer, reviewing their options and realizing that most graduate programs will offer the basic education they need, giving them the opportunity to make decisions on what else the program offers. Even more likely, it’s some combination of the three.
Universities must realize they cannot disregard these changing student expectations. Most universities are facing competition that is fiercer than ever. Many states and regions have a plethora of options for the future graduate student, and chances are that one or two of those options are breaking free from pervasive perceptions of the university as rigid, unchanging, and traditional—and are innovating their offerings, including the student experience.
We hope you’ve been following along with the Corona Insights Higher Education blog series this quarter. This is the third post in the series – click here to see all of our posts on higher education and stay tuned for more.