New Research Identifies Top Higher Education Trends

By Salesforce.org | February 24, 2020 | Admissions, Advancement, Community Engagement, Higher Education, Student Experience

Connected Student Report - Blog


Insights into the higher ed student experience across North America and Europe

By: Rachel Greenfield & Katharine Bierce

The characteristics of the “traditional” higher education student have changed significantly over the past decade. Increasingly, we’re seeing a growing proportion of part-time, working, and commuting students balancing coursework alongside childcare and part-time jobs. As student demographics change, their needs are shifting, too. Many students are looking for support through online channels and for ways to connect with other students both on and off campus.

So, how can institutions address the needs of today’s students at scale? It starts with knowing what drives both student and institution success, because one can’t happen without the other. That’s why we worked with market research firm radius|illumination to survey over 1,000 students and staff across North America and Europe (U.K, Netherlands, Germany, and France) for the first edition of the Connected Student Report. This global report examines the education trends, insights, and opportunities for higher ed institutions to enhance the student experience across the entire lifecycle.

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“The Connected Student Report provides a unique opportunity for the higher ed community to dive deep into the needs of today’s students. The report explores the gaps between student and staff expectations and uncovers areas of opportunity but most importantly, it takes a close look at how to drive both student and institution success at scale.”
– Nathalie Mainland, SVP & GM of Education Cloud, Salesforce.org


Interested in exploring the top findings? Keep reading for an inside look at the key themes that emerged from our research:


1. Students Expect a Connected Experience

Students expect their institution to know who they are. In fact, close to 80% said they expect their experience to be personalized. Students are also frustrated with having to supply the same information to different university departments multiple times. Capturing a 360-degree view of students on one platform can help eliminate data silos and empower faculty and staff to create connected experiences from recruitment and admissions all the way to alumni engagement.

Image showing that 78% of students expect their experience to be personalized, yet 65% of staff report that it is hard to get the data they need to help students due to organizational silos/bureaucracy


2. A Meaningful Online Presence Matters

Prospective students are researching institutions across multiple digital channels including social media, online rankings, and news. These channels are increasingly influencing a student’s decision to enroll at an institution and staff are taking notice. In fact, close to half (45%) of the marketing staff we surveyed said that they are prioritizing social media as a key channel to improve student engagement. We’re likely to see more strategic social campaigns from institutions in the near future as they work to engage prospects, current students and even alumni.

Graph saying that staff believe a strong social media presence is one of the top reasons for past-year enrollment increases, even higher than a friend attending the same institution


3. Belonging is Key to Student Success

Fostering a sense of belonging is an essential part of creating a positive experience at every stage of the student lifecycle. In fact, feeling disconnected from others was a top reason (34%) cited by students for having a fair/poor university experience. The survey results show that institutions have a unique opportunity to cultivate a feeling of belonging for students throughout their educational journey. Digital tactics like tailored email communications and online communities can create a sense of belonging for both students and alumni alike.

Image saying that students who feel they’ve had a fair/poor university experience say the top reasons are 1) feeling disconnected from other students and 2) a lack of feeling of belonging


4. Technology Enables a Supportive Community

Access to self-service help is one area where technology can have the biggest impact on creating a supportive community, yet many students don’t have access to these tools at their institution. With the shift in student demographics, it makes sense that students would seek more digital support options. In fact, 67% of students say that one-one-one online advising aids their success. Automated text message reminders, online advising and chatbots are all great tools for institutions looking to support more students both on and off campus.

Image saying that students are facing a gap in digital interactions and support: 36% of students want tailored SMS/text reminders about important deadlines, but only 20% of students actually receive text reminders


5. Innovating to Support Today’s Student

The majority of staff surveyed agree that technology helps them better serve their students and many recognize that they need to digitally transform in order to support students across the entire lifecycle. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a huge area of opportunity for higher ed and many institutions are looking to leverage AI in the near future for student engagement, academic planning, financial aid and more. AI tools can be easily applied across the student lifecycle to help automate processes and free up time for staff to engage with more students one on one.

Graph showing that 69% of staff surveyed currently use or plan to use artificial intelligence (AI) in the next two years

Now more than ever, higher ed institutions can take action to create connected experiences that drive both student and institution success. Creating those experiences starts with putting the student at the center of everything your institution does. It requires meeting students where they are during the day (or night), cultivating a sense of belonging, and providing personalized messages on the channels they prefer. Successful institutions look at the student experience as a lifelong journey that starts with recruitment and admissions and continues throughout the student experience into advancement and alumni engagement.

Curious to learn more? Explore all of the student and staff insights from the Connected Student Report today.

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About the Authors

Rachel Greenfield

Rachel Greenfield is a Director of Product Marketing on the Education Cloud team at Salesforce.org. She currently manages the product marketing strategy and messaging for Education Cloud, including the Education Data Architecture (EDA) and the community college market. Rachel is passionate about the intersection of social impact and business, which led to her studies of corporate social responsibility and consumer behavior at UC Berkeley. When she’s not managing messaging or content, you can find her hiking in the Bay Area or traveling.

Katharine Bierce

Katharine Bierce manages the Salesforce.org blog and helps create research-based content at Salesforce.org. She is a lifetime member of Net Impact, a StartingBloc fellow, and has volunteered with TechSoup to produce “tech for good” events and content with the SFTech4Good Meetup (a NetSquared community) from 2014-2018. A self-described “full-stack human,” she is an avid meditator and yogi. When she’s not managing marketing content, you can find her teaching or taking yoga classes around the San Francisco bay area. A lifelong learner, she became a PMP certified project manager in 2019. Katharine graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago with a degree in Psychology.