As higher ed changes, leaders are striving to recruit and retain a new kind of college student who demands more from educational investments.

What’s the state of the American college student?

As higher ed changes, leaders are striving to recruit and retain students who demand more from their educational investments

The pandemic forever changed higher education, ushering in more flexible learning options while also shining a spotlight on rampant inequities across the U.S. education system.

Colleges and universities across the country are still feeling the effects, trying to weather the changes and rethink strategies to attract, recruit, enroll, and retain students who are now questioning the value of a college degree.

To understand this Gen Z shift in mindset, perception, and behavior, creative marketing agency Fuseideas partnered with market research firm Destination Analysts to release proprietary findings from The State of the American College Student–a 2-year-long study designed to understand and profile college students in America and to better serve higher education organizations in their marketing efforts.

The State of the American College Student is intended to help higher-ed leaders understand their most valuable target audience and better support those students. The project began in 2021 with an initial benchmark-setting survey of 2,000 prospective and current college students. In 2022, a second survey was conducted to provide industry insights and uncover key trends that could shape the future of higher education.

Some key findings of the survey include:

1. The emotional state of students is of utmost importance, as anxiety, feelings of overwhelm, and senses of loss have increased. Extremely high anxiety levels have decreased for college students and prospective college students compared to a year ago, and the overall share of those who have moderate to extremely high anxiety has increased.

2. Students are worried for the future, expressing concern about job security, work-life balance, and overall professional well-being, both while in school and post-graduation.

3. Stability tops the list of factors most important to students when seeking a company for employment. This is particularly the case for current college students, who were more likely to select stability as well as a culture of work-life balance compared to prospective college students. On the other hand, prospective college students were slightly more likely to look at health and safety of the workplace and strong growth in profits.

4. When asked about their long-term professional goals, job stability was ranked highest (66 percent) followed by achieving work/life balance (64 percent) and flexibility (59 percent). Current college students were more likely to seek professional growth opportunities at an organization and achieving work/life balance compared to prospective college students.

5. Students are more heavily influenced by “self-educators” who have diminished the value of a traditional college education, leaving many questioning the decision all-together. Just under half (45 percent) of students think that college is worth the cost, with 19 percent saying they do not think it is worth the cost. About one-third (36 percent) are unsure.

6. Interestingly, current college students are more likely (22 percent) to think it is not worth the cost compared to prospective students (19 percent). This could be a function of the former having already directly experienced the high cost of college (tuition, room and board, textbooks, etc.).

7. The in-person college experience grew in importance for prospective college students since the previous year. On the other hand, fewer current college students than the previous year consider the in-person experience to be important, but most students still value the in-person college experience overall (62 percent).

8. More than three out of four students believe that having a college degree will play an important role in their future professional success (79 percent). In comparison, fewer students feel that not having a degree is a disadvantage in the workforce (54 percent), but this sentiment has increased since 2021.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Laura Ascione

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