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5 Simple Steps Colleges Can Take to Enhance Student Satisfaction

Sometimes complex problems respond to simple remedies.

I was reading recently how psychologists David Yeager and Greg Walton discovered that the dropout rate for disadvantaged college students could be cut significantly simply by exposing them to a one-time, thirty-to-forty-five-minute-long presentation on neuroplasticity showing that people can improve their brain functioning on complex intellectual tasks just by practicing. A simple message—that you can get better at studying if you work at it—seems to help struggling students to stick with it and succeed.

Another simple solution to the difficulties of transitioning to college for disadvantaged students was pioneered by the Posse Foundation: just place them in supportive, multi-cultural teams of ten students.

Similarly, some years ago, I discovered that doing some very simple things around our own college campus had a significant effect on student satisfaction with our community of learning.

Here are five things that just about any college can do to increase the sense of community and shared endeavor on campus.

  1. Where possible, keep classes small, and have them take place around a centralSt. John's College Annapolis table rather than in the usual arrangement of teacher facing rows of students. Arranging desks in a circle also works. This invites the participants to feel the truth about the classroom, namely, that it is a place of shared inquiry.
  2. Use forms of address that show respect for every individual. For example, here at St. John’s, we all—both faculty and students—refer to one another as “Mr.” and “Ms.” in our academic encounters. In addition to acknowledging everyone’s value in our shared intellectual enterprise, such forms of address also remind us of our commitment to the ideal of human equality.Collaboration
  3. Since some students always need more help than can be provided during class hours, devise a student-to-student mentor program. This not only provides assistance to those who need it, but also reinforces the communal nature of the learning activity and creates bonds of mutual responsibility among the student body.
  4. Increase the presence of responsible upperclassmen and adult residents on campus—especially where freshmen are living. Nearby and easily accessible role models help younger students in making the transition to adulthood.
  5. Maintain physical facilities and put in place ways to encourage student self-policing, so that everyone gets in the habit of expecting the campus to be clean, in good repair, and inviting.

Of course, there are many other ideas along the same lines that could be just as easy to implement. The goal is to magnify both the perception and the actuality of community. Since that is what a college is—a community of learning—anything, no matter how small, that impedes the sense of community impedes a college’s mission. And anything, no matter how small, that enriches the sense of community enhances the mission.