COVID-19 rapidly accelerated change in higher education. As universities and colleges plan for the next phase of the pandemic, they face difficulties attracting and retaining students. To address these challenges, global leaders in higher education are enabling student-centric digital experiences. Few could have imagined that it would take a virus to transform higher education radically.
During the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread financial losses were forecast due to a lack of on-campus activity (World Economic Forum, 2020). Decision-makers grappled with how best to harness technology to deliver digital learning. In a matter of months, universities and colleges completed digital transformation initiatives that would typically take years.
Coronavirus response demonstrated that change is possible.
As we enter into the next phase of the pandemic, universities and colleges will need to continue to transform to address underlying challenges in higher education:
- Fewer enrolments;
- Student retention;
- Funding shortfalls.
In recent years students have faced the pressures of a struggling economy, a tough job market, and, more recently, the far-reaching ramifications of a global pandemic. For those fortunate to pursue higher education, what students expect from higher education has transformed beyond recognition.
Students expect a return on investment for their education (McKinsey, 2020). Institutions struggling to keep pace with expectations have experienced a significant drop in student enrolments. In 2019 there were 2 million fewer enrolments across higher education (National Student Clearinghouse Research Centre, 2019).
Today, many institutions are unable to meet the digital needs of students. Almost half of universities or colleges don’t have a clear strategy (Salesforce, 2019) for student success. It’s no surprise, then, that just 50% of on-campus students feel a sense of belonging and satisfaction with their student experience (Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 2019).
A similar number, 48% of 18 to 29-year-olds say they are online almost all of the time (Pew, 2019). Digital natives expect digital experiences that both match and compliment the on-campus experiences that they’ve paid for. Facebook, Uber, and Amazon have set the standard for digital engagement.
As a result, students have higher expectations of the digital experiences currently offered by many universities and colleges. Students want to focus on their studies, and they want a campus experience that meets their needs. A personalized, intuitive, and easy to navigate digital experience that provides an ‘always on’ service is critical. However, meeting these expectations is a challenge for institutions that must prioritize already scarce resources.
Since 2008, government investment in higher education has reduced by $9 billion (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2017). In response, universities have reduced classes on offer and increased costs (National Centre for Education Statistics, 2018). Focus has turned to operational efficiencies (Omdia, 2020) – managing commercial agreements, increasing student fees (National Centre for Education Statistics, 2019), and controlling costs.
As funding gaps increase, resources are allocated to students, not institutions. The challenges facing higher education intuitions have never been so stark. To tackle declining enrolment and retention rates and meet modern students' needs, universities and colleges need to reimagine the student experience. Survival is at stake.
The role of technology
While technology is just part of the solution; it can create crucial links to connect and optimize online and offline experiences – on campus, at home, or abroad. 62% of administrators and faculty advisers agree that technology can enhance their advice and student support efforts, a critical factor in retention (Tyton Partners, 2020).
Leading institutions are creating Connected Campus experiences that harness personalized digital tools for course selection and enrolment, provide visibility of academic progress, and deliver timely, relevant campus information that supports student success. Student-centric digital experiences will underpin the future of education.
Coronavirus has ushered in a new era for education, proving that rapid change is possible. With an uncertain outlook ahead, universities and colleges have a once in a generation opportunity to create experiences that connect, empower, and support students.
With over 20 years of global experience in higher education, Squiz helps universities and colleges recruit, engage, and retain students, employees, and alumni. Our open digital experience platform integrates with existing systems to create operational efficiencies.