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Top 5 Higher Education Trends for Colleges and Universities

A woman sitting at a desk and taking notes, while on a video call with a colleague.

For many institutions, last year’s pivots during the pandemic have evolved into strategic, long-term change. These changes have paved the way for a new era of learner success focused on flexibility, supporting lifelong learners, and holistic wellbeing. At the 2021 Education Summit, leaders highlighted the opportunity for higher education institutions to shape this new era of learner success together.

The voices of over 2,000 students and staff echo the importance of these sentiments in the second edition of the Connected Student Report. The report, which surveyed 1,128 students and 1,076 staff members from 10 countries earlier this year, highlights what’s top of mind for students going into fall and how staff can drive student success throughout the entire education journey. Despite the diverse range of countries included in the survey, five global trends clearly emerged as important areas for all higher education institutions to consider going into the fall semester.

For further insight, here’s a look at the top five takeaways from the report.

Download the Connected Student Report

The second edition of the Connected Student Report surveyed 1,128 students and 1,076 staff members from 10 countries.

1. Supporting Student and Staff Wellbeing is Critical

Wellbeing continues to be a top challenge identified by both students and staff. Understandably, students are feeling extra isolated after the past year and want more opportunities to connect. Additional emotional and social factors contributing to student wellbeing challenges emerged during the pandemic and are likely here to stay going into the fall semester. And while students are understandably the focal point of wellbeing conversations in higher education, staff are also citing the need for extra wellbeing support from their institution.

  • 76% of students say they have trouble maintaining their wellbeing and so do 73% of staff
  • The report data highlights how wellbeing challenges can often be multifaceted for students, with 65% saying they have difficulty finding a quiet place to study
  • Student responses provide clear direction on what institutions can do to best support their wellbeing this fall

2. Flexible Learning and Working Options Are Here to Stay

Both students and staff expect more flexibility to be provided by their institutions coming out of the pandemic. In fact, flexible course options are a top consideration for prospective students when deciding to enroll at a particular college or university. For many, this newfound flexibility was one silver lining of the past year and many higher education leaders are now investing in more part-time learning options for students as a long term strategy for institution success.

  • Staff members and students both want to see more flexible learning/working options from their institution
  • Students expect 50% of their courses to be online coming out of the pandemic
  • 46% of staff are anticipating more remote work in the near future and 48% said their institutions are investing in new models focused on flexible learning
  • The report also highlights a shift to more hybrid learning opportunities and how students view flexible course options as critical to their success

3. Student Career Pathways are Top of Mind

Students continue to place a high value on how their institution is preparing them for a career post graduation. In fact, data from the report highlights how career concerns start long before students attend a college or university. Many higher education leaders have an opportunity to not only strengthen alumni and student connections with regards to certain career pathways, but also attract more students to their institutions by focusing on career prospects.

  • 35% of students say their college or university does not provide an internal system for linking students with alumni who work in their planned career area
  • 49% of students say that future career prospects are the most important factor when deciding to enroll at a college or university
  • The data within the report uncovers key areas where institutions can focus their efforts to ensure students have the support they need from college to career

4. Universities Explore New Business Models

Many institutions are investing in new business models with an emphasis on attracting and engaging lifelong learners. With the demand for shorter, more flexible programs on the rise and overall enrollment numbers declining, institutions are looking for ways to get back to growth and combat summer melt. Data within the report shows that many of these new models are likely here to stay as many institutions are expanding their offerings, hiring new leadership roles, and doubling down on strategic plans for the long term.

  • 45% of staff say their institution is implementing new business models
  • There is a global focus on reskilling and upskilling with 37% of staff saying their institutions are implementing more adult learning options and 33% highlighting a focus on new executive education programs
  • Key findings in the report point to an overall shift in models focused on more flexible learning opportunities and new staff support services

5. Learner and Institution Success Requires Innovation

There’s no shortage of compelling feedback throughout the report to suggest that the adoption of new models and student-centric innovation requires the use of an agile platform to empower faculty and staff throughout the entire learner journey. The sudden shutdown proved the long-term worth of digital strategies in areas like virtual campus tours, digital advertising, virtual advising, and hybrid courses.

  • 45% of staff say their institutions are investing in a CRM (constituent relationship management) platform, followed by data analytics and marketing technologies
  • In fact, marketing communications are a clear area of opportunity for institutions, with 59% of students and 53% of staff citing a lack of consistent communications as the main reason for trust gaps with university leaders
  • The report uncovers how students prefer their institutions to communicate with them, as well as top technology challenges identified by staff

The pandemic has surely been a catalyst for lasting change across higher education, significantly altering how institutions drive learner success moving forward. In order for institutions to offer more flexibility, support lifelong learners, and focus on holistic wellbeing, addressing the needs of faculty and staff will be just as critical. The findings within the second edition of the Connect Student Report emphasize the importance of driving both learner and institution success while providing actionable steps for universities to take this fall.

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