4 Keys to Engaging the Modern Learner

4 Keys to Engaging the Modern Learner

The higher education ecosystem is going through a sea change. How institutions adapt to these shifts will set the stage for their futures.

Higher education has traditionally been an incredibly stable industry, but slow-moving trends that have been gaining steam for decades finally came to the forefront in 2020.

The enrollment cliff, once far enough away for comfort, sped up to meet us. Despite historic unemployment (which generally correlates to increases in postsecondary enrollment) through 2020, degree registrations fell 3% across the board and 16% among first-generation students. Overall, college enrollment rates have dropped 10% since 2010.

We’re seeing increasing numbers of colleges and universities closing and merging as well. Since 2016, more than 60 colleges and universities across the United States have closed. We seem to be well on our way to seeing out Clayton Christensen’s famous prediction that half of America’s colleges and universities would close or go bankrupt by 2032.

And it’s not like there’s declining demand for postsecondary education. Lumina’s StrongerNation report shows that the United States has only reached a 51.3% attainment rate, well short of the goal of 60% by 2025. A staggering 27.7 million Americans have had some college experience without earning a credential, and 37.8 million Americans who never progressed their education beyond their high school diploma (or GED).

That’s over 65 million Americans who higher education providers could engage with programming designed to support their labor market viability.

These numbers show us something very clear. Though there’s a need for higher education, program offerings don’t stand out to modern learners. Approaches to enrollment management aren’t aligned with the expectations of modern learners. Ultimately, institutions aren’t responding to modern learners.

So... who is the modern learner?

Meet the modern learner

Students today have distinct and specific higher education expectations. According to a recent survey, students list primary reasons for choosing education programs that likely were not prioritized even a few years ago:

1. Relevance: People want to know that the offering is related to their work and suited to their personal needs

2. Streamlining: People want education offerings to be flexible and convenient

3. Value: People are laser-focused on the ROI and cost of their education investment

4. Stackability: People want modular education that builds to future learning and training opportunities

But colleges and universities traditionally haven’t done a good job meeting these expectations. Fewer than 1 in 3 adults who don’t currently hold a postsecondary degree say they have a clear understanding of available career pathways, valuable labor market skills, or potential education programs’ connection to the labor market. And for those who have enrolled, only 35% of four-year degree students and only 47% of community college students think their institution is doing a great job connecting their education to their career.

This shift in demand has been proven out in last year’s enrollment dip.

“The market of customers willing to conform to the 20th century model your school is built on is rapidly shrinking,” wrote Rob Westervelt, vice president for strategy and innovation at Lindenwood University. “Colleges and universities need to have on-ramping strategies that make it easier for different learner groups to come in and out of their institutions, whether they are current high school students or middle-aged job seekers. Today’s marketplace is dynamic, and as we’ve learned during the pandemic, you cannot put all your eggs into one basket.”

Today's higher education consumer thinks and acts like a customer, and they’re voting with their feet. 68% of adults considering enrolling in education say they prefer non-degree pathways (compared to just 50% in 2019).

Delivering them the experience they expect demands a modern campus.

Creating a modern campus

At a modern campus—which can be either online, physical or a hybrid of the two—lifelong learners’ needs are anticipated and exceeded. Which also means their needs are understood!

We all know that today’s students want a higher education experience tailored to their needs and expectations, but what does that mean?

At its core, they want personalized digital engagements that clearly tie education opportunities to labor market outcomes. They want programming that’s flexibly scheduled and tied to in-demand skills and needs. And they want offerings that lead to a diverse mix of credentials that they can pursue over time—not just static degrees.

“The education marketplace is increasingly crowded with competitors and offerings—from degrees to non-credit credentials,” wrote Quentin Ruiz-Esparza, associate director of Online Duke at Duke University. “Universities can mitigate these obstacles by designing a seamless experience for learners.”

Delivering this level of seamlessness requires a shift in the institutional model of planning and launching programing, and in how students are served and engaged. These are problems solvable through leveraging next-generation EdTech tools and systems designed around massive personalization, curated content and instant delivery.

We are Modern Campus

Modern Campus empowers higher education institutions to engage modern learners for life.

We recognize that the higher education market is changing – that students have high expectations and that more is asked of postsecondary education providers than ever before.

So we built a platform designed to close what we call the “modern learner engagement gap”. Unlike homegrown and one-size-fits-all systems, higher education providers leveraging the Modern Campus platform can create student-first experiences, ensuring every digital touchpoint they have is a positive one. This frictionless-ness is driven home through pathways software that helps students connect every offering to skills, relevant credentials, and labor market outcomes.

Modern Campus is how forward-thinking colleges and universities unlock value from student relationships—improving both learners’ lives and institutional bottom-lines. What’s more, Modern Campus helps modern campuses transform short-term relationships into lifelong learning engagement.


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Last updated: March 1, 2021


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