Higher education institutions have long grappled with how to effectively close the gaps that exist among their student populations. However, the challenge has only accelerated as colleges and universities gain a more diverse population of students, including a growing percentage of nontraditional students.
Add to that a new reliance on virtual instruction, and higher education leaders are quickly realizing the need to level up support to ensure student success, particularly with regard to written communication as it becomes a more integral part of educational and professional environments.
“The demand placed on writing is only increasing, yet the support institutions are giving students to communicate effectively is not,” said Dorian Stone, the head of organizations revenue at Grammarly. “As a result, a larger gap exists today than ever before for the quality of written communication and the value placed upon it in [a student’s] higher ed experience.”
To help students succeed in environments that are increasingly reliant on written communication, higher education leaders have a responsibility to recognize institutional communication gaps, evaluate the efforts being made to develop writing skills, and find room for improvement.
Digital communication emerges as a crucial skill for success — but support lags behind
There’s no question that the world is more technology-reliant than ever before, and universities play a pivotal role in developing students’ digital literacy skills.
Students whose classes went remote during the COVID-19 pandemic have primarily returned to the classroom. Yet, according to a recent survey from the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, or NC-SARA, 59% of responding institutions said they intended to continue offering some or all the classes that had been remote during the pandemic. In addition, the demand for remote learning will escalate: 99% of respondents to the Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) report expected that the typical higher ed student experience would involve at least some elements of online learning by 2025.
This shift to remote education has made written communication skills critical to student success. Most virtual interactions occur in written form — through papers that replace presentations, discussions in chat forums, reactions to other students’ blog posts, and email communications with instructors. If institutions aren’t making an effort to help develop writing skills and increase support, their students are at a clear disadvantage.
When the pandemic struck, institutions were laser-focused on how to effectively hold classes virtually, but they might have overlooked the increased need for writing support. As a result, many students struggled and entered higher education unprepared to meet heightened communication standards. This situation only widened preexisting disparities between the skill level expected of incoming higher ed students and the writing support available throughout their high school years.
The reliance on remote engagement and written communication will follow students postgraduation as workplaces continue to embrace virtual or hybrid models, which makes it even more crucial for institutions to assess their efforts to close the widening gap and improve institution-wide communication.
Higher ed leaders are responsible for nurturing change and advocating for resources
In a recent study by Grammarly, 92% of participating college educators said students struggled with confidence in their writing. There were several areas of concern: 80% of participants believed students lacked the skills to appropriately communicate in writing with university faculty and staff, and 79% said they struggled with peer communication. These alarming figures come as writing needs are increasing, with many instructors making their online courses more interactive.
“When students don’t have the support they need to communicate effectively with instructors and peers, both students and institutions pay the price,” Stone said. “How many connections are not being made or made as effectively as they could have been the first time around? Less value, experience, and growth come to and from the individual and others around them when communication isn’t effective.”
That’s where higher ed institutions must step in with tools and systems to help hone communication skills. “Less effective communication is something we’ve all learned to live with — a friction point we’ve accepted as a normal part of life,” Stone said. “One of the first things organizations need to do is step back and ask themselves how much they have already grown to accept the existence of ineffective communication among students, faculty, and other audiences, and what they need to do to turn the tide.”
The onus is on higher ed leaders and educators to advocate for resources that drive greater student success and help the entire institution thrive. “[Instructors are] using new technology and trying to make up for learning loss,” said Mary Rose Craycraft, the head of education customer success at Grammarly. “Grammarly is a tool that can function within existing systems, acting as a personal writing coach to help students form new writing habits through relevant, consistent assistance.”
Implement tools and tech to improve institution-wide communication
Now is the time for higher education institutions and educators to acknowledge the existing divide between writing expectations and support and take steps to set students up for success.
Solving ineffective communication is no small undertaking, but equipping students and faculty with Grammarly for Education is the place to start. Grammarly is an AI-powered communication assistant used by millions of students and trusted by over 3,000 institutions. With Grammarly, your entire institution gains access to 24/7 writing support that offers suggestions that augment classroom instruction and improve student writing and communication. “With Grammarly, institutions benefit from providing students with access to tools that help them properly express their perspectives and insights to succeed in school and beyond,” Craycraft said.
Download Grammarly’s newest eBook to continue exploring the critical role higher education institutions play in equipping all students with communication skills that will foster success in both college and their careers.