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Future of Work

Salesforce Higher Ed Report: Only 11% of Students Feel Very Prepared for the Workforce

In the post-pandemic era, higher education institutions have an opportunity to reimagine the student experience to deliver better outcomes. New data shows that this work starts the moment a student enrolls. 

Why it matters: Just a third of students report having great university experiences. Institutions are under more pressure than ever to meaningfully engage and support students throughout their journey, adapt to new expectations, and better prepare their students for the world of work.  

A new report suggests institutions must evolve to attract students amid rising education costs, employers removing four-year degree requirements, and a growing skills crisis where just 32% of Gen Z employees feel very equipped with the resources to learn the digital skills needed to thrive.

Driving the news: Salesforce’s third annual Connected Student Report surveyed more than 1,300 students and 1,300 higher education professionals around the world. The report also features insights from in-depth briefings with senior leaders at higher education institutions across 11 countries. Findings include:

  • Almost half (47%) of students selected their institutions based on potential future career prospects, yet just 11% felt very prepared for the world of work. 
  • Just a third of students surveyed rated their onboarding experience highly.
  • Only 2% of students who reported a poor onboarding experience say they went on to have a great university experience overall. 
  • Almost half (48%) of students predicted their qualifications would only be relevant for their chosen career path for five years or less after graduation.
  • Higher education institutions have a long way to go to make students feel at home – only 12% of students reported they felt a strong sense of belonging at their schools.

The opportunity: Higher education institutions can strengthen student success by delivering great experiences and holistic support from their first day campus, whether virtual or in person.

  • Students who had a great onboarding experience were 35x more likely to have a great university experience overall than those who didn’t. 
  • Nearly seven in ten (69%) of students who had a great onboarding also felt that their college offered a personalized experience that was tailored to their individual needs and interests.
  • Half (49%) of students expect to get work-related skills and knowledge from their universities, whether online or in person, and the same number say that their university could support them in lifelong learning by providing access to free elective courses after graduation.
  • Forty percent of students say they need their universities to offer job-specific workshops to help them build their careers.
  • Only 10% of students reported feeling very connected to their student or alumni community and just 24% said they were very satisfied with student services and support.

How can universities meet the mark? By tailoring student experiences to each student’s needs and interests — including greater focus on wellbeing, career planning, and improving workforce preparedness through on-the-job experiences — institutions can deliver better outcomes, attract more students, and build strong bonds that last long after graduation.

  • A third of students want more career planning, while 36% of students want more wellbeing resources (up from 24% just last year) such as mental health support, pastoral care, and financial aid. 
  • Forty percent want more help balancing their academic, work, and personal lives. 
  • And, when asked what values they want their university to uphold, diversity and inclusion was the third most common choice by students, ranking just behind academic excellence and student wellbeing.

The Salesforce perspective: Marie Laxague Rosecrans, CMO, Education and Nonprofits at Salesforce, explains the importance of these insights: 

  • “There is an immense opportunity for higher education institutions to future-ready themselves and connect with students in new and exciting ways by building better connections, prioritizing wellbeing, and tailoring support to better prepare students for their academic journey and beyond,” she said.
  • “Higher education institutions can be powerful change agents that provide meaningful, personalized experiences for their students during every step of their journey, from the moment they accept their offer of admission all the way through to supporting lifelong learners as they look to grow their skills and shape the economy in new ways,” she continued.

The higher ed perspective: Higher education institutions around the world are adapting to  changing student needs and priorities:

  • Howard University has moved many of its competency exams in a student’s major away from pen-and-paper exercises and toward work-study programs. 
    • “There is a fear by some faculty members when you talk about putting vocational spins on majors that we are moving away from the classical degree in English and moving toward the practical and vocational,” said James Davis, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Humanities at Howard University. But, he added, “[t]he world has changed, and we have got to prepare students for what they do beyond the ivory towers.” 
  • At Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, students are paying less attention to the number of articles that faculty members publish and more to the quality of student services. 
    • “These are things that traditionally universities haven’t paid that much attention to but now are becoming increasingly important,” stated Pablo Pareja-Alcaraz, a vice rector at the university. 
  • At Columbia College Chicago, Dean of Students Douglas Eck outlines how the university is imagining student orientation as akin to working with a travel agent. 
    • During onboarding, he said, the institution is trying to lay the foundation for an all- encompassing, successful experience. Much like planning for a trip, the hope is that the experience will be filled with stunning sights, unforgettable memories, and opportunities for adventure. When that foundation works, it becomes a trip talked about years down the line. Or, for higher education, a “great university experience.”

Go deeper: For more insights on how to engage students in a new landscape, download the full report here.


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