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About the Connected Student Report, 2nd Edition: Higher Education Trends Research

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Posted By Katharine Bierce

By Katharine Bierce 

Tableau Study Hall invites data-impacted influencers in higher education and K12 to share best practices, editorials and stories. This week’s guest is Katharine Bierce, Senior Lead, Research Content at

Cover image of the Connected Student Report, 2nd edition, by in 2021

Higher Education Trends Research: Towards a “New Normal” in 2021

The higher education landscape has shifted dramatically with the pandemic. While many campuses are reopening, or planning to, many of the effects from the last 18 months will have a lasting impact, requiring schools move from short-term pivots to long-term strategies.

In order to better understand higher education trends coming out of the pandemic, worked with Ipsos and the Chronicle of Higher Education to survey students and staff from around the world. We collected responses from 1,128 students and 1,076 staff in North America, Europe and Australia to uncover what issues are top of mind. For the full Connected Student Report, second edition, you can download it here.

Highlights from the Second Edition of the Connected Student Report

Supporting Student and Staff Wellbeing is Critical

While student and staff wellbeing is always important to institutions, the pandemic created additional pressures that propelled the physical and mental health and safety to new levels. Naturally, both students and staff are looking to universities for more support.  For students, this means resources to help with their courses, with about a third (34%) of students surveyed in the report saying they need more help managing their course load. Three quarters (76%) of staff said that maintaining a work-life balance was a top challenge. 

It’s worth noting that the pandemic exacerbated the stress that many first-generation students face, particularly with regards to a feeling of isolation. Although we only had a small number of first generation students (34 in total) in the U.S., the report uncovered a few things that  institutions can do to support these students better. The top three things first gen students wanted from their institutions are more opportunities to engage with others to feel less isolated (44%), more flexibility in learning options (41%), and more online wellness support. Besides the obvious health services, including providing access to and/or requiring vaccinatinations, universities will need to explore a variety of resources and options as they take a more holistic approach to meeting the changing wellbeing demands of students and staff.

Flexible Learning and Working Options Are Here to Stay 

Given that 41% of students surveyed are working part-time or full-time and 15% said they were a mother or father, part-time learning is becoming an increasingly popular option for students of all ages. 

In addition to part-time learning options, another way to achieve the flexibility that a changing world requires is hybrid learning: combining in-person and online experiences. After experiencing the flexibility that remote learning provided, students expect 50% of their courses moving forward to be online. 

While there is an increased appetite for online courses, online only isn’t the most popular format: only 21% of global respondents to the survey say they would prefer taking all of their classes online. Clearly, some learning is better done in person. This hybrid learning model preference is also reflected with staff. 54% of staff say they prefer hybrid courses and 46% of staff anticipate more remote work in the near future. With the desire for flexibility and preference for hybrid in-person and online learning models spanning both students and staff, schools that can create or maintain those course-offerings will be able to both support wellbeing, and can potentially increase enrollment in the post-pandemic world.

Student Career Pathways Are Top of Mind

With the increased financial stress wrought by the pandemic, career prospects are top of mind for students. Nearly a third (29%) of students said they need more career resources from their institution in order to be successful, and 31% of students identified low career prospects as the reason they are having a poor higher education experience. Again, first generation students feel an added layer of pressure. Among the small number of first generation college students we surveyed in the U.S., the vast majority (88%) said having financial concerns was very or somewhat challenging.

To remedy this, more “town-gown” connections and clearer paths to jobs are needed. Thankfully, 50% of staff say their institutions are strengthening corporate partnerships in order to help students prepare for digital careers. 

Universities Explore New Business Models

As the education landscape continues to evolve rapidly, educational institutions are looking at new business models to meet changing demands and diversify revenue. This has become even more urgent with fewer international students paying full price and enrollments down from quarantines. Nearly half (48%) of staff surveyed said their institutions are investing in new business models focused on more part-time learning options, and 29% of staff said their institutions are investing in new business models focused on credentialing and micro credentialing. These options will increase accessibility to education, and help institutions support a wider variety of lifelong learners.

Learner and Institution Success Requires Innovation

How can universities attract students without bringing them on campus? How can they serve students with full-time or part-time jobs, or make sure parents have what they need to learn, too? To help communicate with students where they are — increasingly online — universities need to invest in the right technology. Forty percent of staff respondents said their institutions are prioritizing investments in real-time data analytics, 53% of marketing and communications staff, or those familiar with marketing/communications, said staff will rely on social media to better engage with students in the coming fall semester, and 27% of staff say their institutions are hiring for a head of digital experience. These investments will enable schools to better connect with existing, incoming and prospective students, so they can start building lifelong relationships at every stage of the student lifecycle.

The pandemic disrupted education in ways we could have never predicted. The education community was able to move with speed and agility to ensure that students and staff continued to receive support as learning continued. Despite the impressive changes made in record time, schools are facing the next wave of challenges as they build long term strategies. The full report aims to shed more light into what will be important for students and staff moving forward, and the opportunities for charting a new path forward in education. 

To dive deeper into the research, visit the website and download the full second edition of the Connected Student Report here.

Katharine Bierce works on thought leadership research content on the marketing team. She oversees trends research reports on higher education and nonprofit topics as well as qualitative research and knowledge management. Projects she manages run from a few weeks to over six months, with 3 to 50 stakeholders involved. Prior to her work in research, she managed the blog and oversaw the editing and publication of 250+ articles per year as well as e-books on AI for social good and more. She holds Agile Scrum Master and PMP certifications. *Opinions are my own and not the views of my employer*

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