4 Keys to Increasing Student Engagement in Today’s World

4 Keys to Increasing Student Engagement in Today’s World

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 through 2020—which generally correlates to increases in postsecondary enrollment—degree registrations fell 3% across the board and 13% among freshmen. 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, nearly 70 colleges and universities across the United States have closed. We seem to be well on our way to Clayton Christensen’s famous 2017 prediction that half of America’s colleges and universities would close or go bankrupt in 10-15 years.

And it’s not like there is declining demand for postsecondary education. Lumina’s StrongerNation report shows that the United States has only reached a 51.9% attainment rate, well short of the goal of 60% by 2025. A staggering 15.7% of Americans ages 25-64 have had some college experience without earning a credential, and 22% never progressed their education beyond their high school diploma (or GED).

That’s nearly 40% of Americans who could be engaged with higher education programming designed to support their labor market viability.

These numbers show us something very clear. Though there is a need for higher education, program offerings don’t stand out to modern learners. Approaches to enrollment management aren’t aligned with their expectations. Ultimately, institutions aren’t responding to modern learners and meeting student engagement needs.

So ... who is the modern learner?

Meet the modern learner.

Students today have specific higher education expectations. In a recent survey, students listed these primary reasons for choosing education programs:

  1. Relevant: Students want to know that the offering is related to their work and suited to their personal needs.
  2. Streamlined: Students want education offerings to be flexible and convenient.
  3. Valuable: Students are laser-focused on the cost and ROI of their education investment.
  4. Stackable: Students want modular education that builds into future learning and training opportunities.

Colleges and universities traditionally have not met these expectations. Fewer than one in three adults who don’t currently hold a degree say they have a clear understanding of available career pathways, valuable labor market skills, and details related to potential education programs. 

And for those who have enrolled, only 35% of four-year degree students and 47% of community college students think their institution is doing a great job connecting their education to their career.

This shift in demand was proved 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 of 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. In 2020, 68% of adults considering enrolling in education said they prefer non-degree pathways, compared to just 50% in 2019.

Delivering the experience these learners expect demands better student engagement with a modern campus.

Create a modern campus by increasing student engagement.

At a modern campus—whether it be online, physical or a hybrid of the two—lifelong learners’ needs are anticipated and exceeded. This 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, it means they want personalized digital engagements that clearly tie education opportunities to labor market outcomes. They want programming that is flexibly scheduled and tied to in-demand skills and needs. And they want offerings that provide a diverse mix of credentials 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 problems are solved through next-generation EdTech tools and systems designed around massive personalization, curated content and instant delivery.

We are Modern Campus.

Modern Campus empowers institutions to engage modern learners for life through increased student engagement initiatives.

We recognize that the higher education market is changing. Students have high expectations, and more is being 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 learners have is a positive one. 

This platform includes pathways software that helps students connect every offering to skills, relevant credentials, and labor market outcomes—creating a seamless, frictionless experience.

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


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Last updated: March 1, 2021


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