The last several years have been anything but typical for the average college student. Students across the nation have faced a world of uncertainty – one filled with the ongoing effects of a global pandemic, a society filled with social and political unrest, and the most recent concerns of another world war… all of which fall on top of the typical uncertainties college students face regarding their futures. Faced with these uncertainties, we wanted to explore – what is going on in the minds of higher education students today? To obtain a glimpse of how students are thinking and feeling across the country, we had students complete the MindVue Profile, a psychometric assessment designed to provide a snapshot of how a person is thinking and feeling relative to others by measuring an array of positive psychological factors such as resilience, growth mindset, self-control, intrinsic motivation, grit, and other factors found in research to be related to numerous positive life outcomes. These various mindset skills have been shown to be related to anything from academic performance in school, to performance outcomes in the workplace, to health and wellness indicators throughout a person’s life.
Altogether, we collected data from 1,025 students representing over a dozen higher education institutions across the country. In having these students complete the MindVue Profile, we then aggregated their data together and compared those results to our global database, which is primarily composed of working professionals at organizations across the world with whom we work to support.
In assembling the data and analyzing the results, many notable findings emerged. Foremost, we found that among the 13 skills assessed, higher education students were below average in every single factor when compared to the norms in our global database. The data suggest what many leaders within higher education already know – students’ mindsets are not in the best spot right now.
We did find, however, there were some areas that were in relatively decent shape. For instance, we found that students’ sense of intrinsic motivation was only slightly lower than our global averages. Intrinsic motivation involves a person having a sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In other words, students appear to currently feel as if they are pursuing highly meaningful goals that provide them a sense of purpose.
Second, we also found students’ grit was also just slightly below average. This data suggests that students are feeling a solid degree of passion and perseverance in what it is they are doing. It seems they are feeling nearly as passionate about their goals as others while also experiencing levels of perseverance to remain committed to achieve their long-term goals as other people do.
Third, we found that students’ self-efficacy was also in decent shape. Self-efficacy involves having the confidence and belief that you can accomplish your goals. It seems students’ confidence to attain their goals nearly matches what we see among other working professionals.
Another positive finding involved students’ sense of hope. As a psychological construct, hope is much more than wishful thinking. Hope involves having the “will” and the “ways” to accomplish your goals. Said another way, hope involves believing you can find pathways around the obstacles that arise while in pursuit of your goals. It was encouraging to see that considering everything students have faced over the last several years, they are still retaining a solid amount of hope.
Of course, when analyzing the data and comparing the results to others, there were some findings that were not too encouraging. One factor that was significantly lower than we would like to see was the students’ sense of self-awareness. We found students are struggling with a sense of identity. They are not currently feeling comfortable and confident in who they are. Students could greatly benefit from support and interventions to help them cultivate greater confidence in their sense of self, where they feel they know their strengths and then are able to utilize those strengths.
In addition to self-awareness, another area where we saw students struggling involved the factor of conscientiousness. Conscientiousness entails being organized, attentive to detail, and reliable in the completion of your work. It tends to be a very good predictor of academic performance in students as well as workplace performance in employees. Taking steps to assist students with their time management as well as helping them learn strategies to reduce procrastination could prove very helpful to improve student outcomes.
Finally, the greatest area of concern involved the students’ sense of integrity. The aggregate scores of this variable were concerningly low, scoring seven percentile points lower than their second-to-lowest score of conscientiousness. Considering these results, it is important to reiterate that these low integrity scores do not suggest that higher education students have no integrity. Because the MindVue Profile provides a glimpse of how a person is thinking and feeling (as opposed to serving as a description of who someone is as a person), the results should be interpreted to understand that, for whatever reason, students are struggling to believe they are operating with a strong moral compass, being honest and trustworthy, and feeling as if they are doing good in people’s lives. While we can only speculate on why these scores are so low, one thing is quite certain: students could greatly benefit by working to enhance a sense of honesty, integrity, and ethics.
In conclusion, higher education students across the country have faced a very atypical collegiate experience over the last several years. In light of all this going on, we wanted to obtain some insight into how students were thinking and feeling. What is going on in the minds of higher education students? While it was encouraging to see the areas of intrinsic motivation, grit, self-efficacy, and hope were relatively close to what we see among working professionals today, it was a bit concerning to notice that students were lower in all the mindset skills we assess, with significantly lower scores in the areas of self-awareness, conscientiousness, and integrity. With a growing body of research showing the importance of these skills throughout a lifetime, the positive benefits that occur as these skills develop, as well as the ability to influence and cultivate these skills through intervention and support, we are hopeful more institutions will take efforts to proactively build these valuable skills to help students in the years ahead. Doing so will help to enhance mental wellness among students and help them navigate through the uncertainties they face, improve student success outcomes, and equip students with a set of skills that will assist them throughout their lives.