What We Discovered

The first large, comprehensive survey confirms how student government leaders perceive the power and influence of the student voice on U.S. campuses.

In 2017, NCLC embarked on a journey to reveal how highly U.S. colleges and universities value student voices and also highlight recommended best practices for advancing student engagement with key institutional leaders.
We discovered that college students find their voice to be most influential on campus when they truly feel supported by college presidents. Specifically, only 55% of study participants, consisting of 200 U.S. SGA presidents, say they are extremely or very influential as a leader on their campus. Below are four key highlights from the research confirming that existing approaches to involve students in the decision-making process is only successful when they feel truly valued and respected by institutional leaders.

Highlights From Our Research

  • SGA presidents meeting with a Chief Student Life Officer (CSLO) once per term or less frequently tended to report weaker student voice than peers meeting with CSLO biweekly or weekly.
  • On average, SGA presidents who had a position, role, or regular engagement with the general board reported stronger perception of student voice, than those not involved.
  • On average, SGA presidents who had some or full speaking rights at general board meetings reported stronger perception of student voice, than those without speaking rights, representing a medium effect size.
  • SGA presidents who considered themselves to be more influential on campus tended to report stronger perception of student voice.
Top-line findings show that SGA presidents who have a position, role, or regular engagement with the Governing Board have a stronger perception of student voice, than those not involved. Access to the Governing Board allows students to be visible to discussions of an institution’s financial reporting, ensure its compliance with laws and regulations and campus policies, lend recommendations to risk management, and more.

Engagement with the Governing Board Matters, No Matter the Role.

While having engagement with the governing board is important to student voice, the type of engagement doesn’t matter as much.

Full Speaking Rights Matters Most.

SGA presidents who had speaking rights at governing board meetings reported significantly stronger perception of student voice than those without speaking rights.

Senior Administrator Relationships Matter, Particularly with the Student Affairs Chief.

SGA presidents meeting regularly with the Vice President of Student Affairs feel they have stronger voice than those who meet less frequently.

Strong Perception of Influence Drives Strong Voice.

When students feel like they’re making a difference, they feel like they have a voice. These findings suggest that having a voice matters, but being heard is more important.