Please Mind the Student Trust Gap

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Project Description

All students should have access to high-quality educational pathways they want and deserve. But do they trust the system to provide it? There is strong evidence to the contrary.

According to a recent survey[1] that measured public trust in the top 135 doctoral research universities, about 35 percent of adult members of Generation Z said they tended not to trust higher education while 41 percent said they tended to trust colleges and universities. Among the four generation groups, those ages 18-25 were the least likely to trust higher education.

At the same time, people of color also have expressed their mistrust in higher education systems. A report from the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University[2] found that Black undergraduates trust college leaders significantly less than their white peers. Report co-author Shannon Calderone, a professor of educational leadership at Washington State University said the findings about Black students’ lack of trust “speaks to the alienation and lack of sense of belonging” historically felt by students of color at colleges.

Within this backdrop, Kinetic Seeds, in the summer of 2022, gathered a group of today’s students to explore:

  1. The dimensions of trust (or mistrust) between students and institutions, and how trust affects the value of an education beyond high school.
  2. The nexus of race, education, and the economy through the lens of trust.
  3. The realities of how higher education either won, violated, or lost the trust of students.
  4. Long-standing power differentials and alienation patterns that exist within racially marginalized communities.

Our research included a foundation-setting survey to understand the multiple dimensions of trust (personal, collective, societal) and 1:1 interviews to gain an understanding of the situations in which students individually perceive, understand, and find meaning within this avenue of inquiry. We ended with a participatory design studio that brought students and stakeholders together to refine and reflect on findings as well as brainstorm ideas within a set of opportunity spaces.

Designed for institutional and organizational leaders and decision-makers, this report offers both a reflection of the realities of students’ lived experiences and an instigation to us all to consider what the renewal of trust could be.


[1] Most Trusted Universities, Morning Consult, 2022.

[2] A Racial Trust Deficit in Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed, Feb., 26,



Kinetic Seeds’ approach to strengthening student voice and engagement in higher education constructs new spaces within which students, learners, educators, advocates, leaders, policymakers, and others can make meaning together. By being attentive and open with one another in ways that encourage our mutual responsibility for the quality and dignity of our lives, true and genuine connection occurs.

We gratefully acknowledge Lumina Foundation for sponsoring this work. We express our gratitude to organizational partners LEDA Scholars, Campus Compact, Veteran’s Education Success, NASPA, UAspire, and Higher Learning Advocates. Without your student recruitment support and belief in the power of student voice, this work would not have been possible.

And finally, to the 51 students who gave so generously of their time and experience – we say thank you. We believe you hold the answers to much of what needs fixing within the system of higher education. As role models and change-makers, you taught us much about how to be accomplices[1] for equity as well as how we might alter the design of higher education to better support you and your vision for the future. And while we acknowledge that you are but one voice who does not represent the whole of your race or culture, it’s through demonstrations such as this when student voice and engagement in higher education transformation takes hold.

[1] For more information visit:



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