Student Engagement a Growing Problem for Colleges Post-COVID, According to New Wiley Research

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Wiley’s State of the Student report suggests financial and emotional stress are key drivers of student disengagement

HOBOKEN, N.J.Student engagement is becoming a bigger problem for colleges and universities post-COVID-19, with many students feeling unmotivated, insecure and uncertain about their futures, according to new research from Wiley (NYSE: WLY), a global leader in publishing, research and education.

Wiley’s State of the Student 2023 report, based on a survey of thousands of college students and instructors across the U.S., suggests financial and emotional stress are key causes of disengagement, making it difficult for students to select a major, maintain interest in their classes and even stay in school.

"Students are facing a wide range of financial and emotional challenges in today's new normal,” said Matt Leavy, Wiley Executive Vice President. “These challenges are leading to disengagement that threatens their success and the outcomes and objectives of the schools serving them. Students will need extra support to remain in school, stay engaged and ultimately meet their academic and career goals.”

Financial and Emotional Stress

According to the report, the main reasons students took a gap year or dropped out of school were financial and emotional insecurity.

The findings show a growing percentage of students are struggling to pay for tuition and materials (51%, an increase of 7% from a similar survey last year) and living expenses (43%, up 14% from last year). And nearly half of undergraduates say they are experiencing declining mental and emotional health.

As a result, more students are working while in school and delaying their education to support themselves and their family and take care of their emotional health challenges.

These struggles have also impacted students in other ways. The majority (53%) acknowledge they find it challenging to retain all their class material, and nearly half (48%) are concerned about being able to keep up with their class work.

In addition, over the past year, students have grown more uncertain about choosing their field of study, with two in ten (21%) saying they are unsure about what major to declare, more than double the percentage of last year.

The data point to engagement issues within the classroom as well. Despite the return to in-person instruction, more than half (55%) of undergraduates admit they’re likely to struggle with staying engaged and interested in their classes, and two-thirds (66%) of instructors identify keeping students engaged as a challenge.

In terms of engaging course content, students are widely looking for a career-connected educational experience that teaches them real-world skills and experiences. They are focused on finding jobs after graduation and want to know their education is preparing them well for their future careers.

Recent Wiley research suggests a skills-based approach in the college classroom might be well received by employers. The data point to a rapidly widening skills gap in the U.S., with more and more companies having a difficult time finding workers who have the skills needed to fill their open jobs.


The report offers a number of recommendations for how instructors and college administrators can help ease some of the challenges students are experiencing and improve their engagement both inside and outside of the classroom.

  • Provide more financial and mental health assistance and/or take steps to ensure students are aware of the financial and mental health assistance currently available to them. Some colleges are already making such efforts, with 10% saying they are offering more financial aid, scholarships, and grants for students and 5% saying they are lowering tuition.
  • Check in on students earlier and more frequently, especially those considered at risk, to offer support and relevant guidance. Encouragingly, 31% of institutions report offering additional academic counseling this year.
  • Offer more projects that help students connect what they’re learning to the real world, such as company-based projects, simulations, scenarios, connections with real professionals and realistic case studies with direct links to what students be doing in their careers.
  • Show students what careers and jobs they can pursue with different degrees to reduce uncertainty around their future career choices and help with motivation and engagement.
  • Ensure that students understand the career possibilities and positive impacts associated with the courses they take.


The data in this report are based on surveys completed by 5,258 students and 2,452 college instructors in North America in August 2022. The vast majority (89%) of students were undergraduates with the rest (11%) being graduate students who attend four-year public universities (64%), four-year private schools (20%), two-year public schools (13%), or vocational or technical institutions (3%).

About Wiley

Wiley is one of the world’s largest publishers and a global leader in scientific research and career-connected education. Founded in 1807, Wiley enables discovery, powers education, and shapes workforces. Through its industry-leading content, digital platforms, and knowledge networks, the company delivers on its timeless mission to unlock human potential. Visit us at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

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Source: John Wiley and Sons