New Harris/Pearson Study Underscores the Need for Higher Education Institutions to Rethink Recruitment Strategies

Colleges have yet to adapt to their ever-changing student body.

In the past, higher education used a one-size-fits-all approach for assessing students as either traditional students who went straight to college from school or older students who attended the higher institution later in life. But that limited view doesn’t apply today, especially considering that the typical market of 18-year-old high school graduates is shrinking. While those students accounted for 36% of the U.S. population in 1964, today they make up 24% and by 2050 will be just 21% of the country.

In order to broaden their lens and better attend to the needs of heterogenous 21st-century learners, higher institutions need to understand what drives students today and tailor programs to their discoveries. To uncover how today’s students perceive higher education, The Harris Poll partnered with Pearson to survey 2,600 people aged 14-40. The findings from the study also show students’ motivations and how they want to learn. They offer a framework for institutions to reimagine their approach to recruiting and guiding students.

To deepen the insights from the study, US higher education expert Jeff Selingo goes on to describe five student personas developed as a result of the survey, as well as unique opportunities for colleges to build new learning roadmaps to help learners achieve their ambitions.

By thinking of learners as people rather than statistics, institutions can begin to develop new innovative ways of serving them. According to the report, “the colleges that survive and thrive in the future will be those that understand the diversity of their students’ needs—just as most companies segment their customer base—and offer a variety of pathways to a degree or just pick one and take a deep dive.”

Selingo’s five categories of learners, or “Future Learners,” in this report have varying drivers for advancing their education. Their diverse goals coupled with the changing demographics of the U.S. will require colleges and universities to rethink their approach to attracting and even keeping new students. Segmentation, as the report explains, is about making decisions that serve different diverse students and being more disciplined in determining the students best served by your institution.

Read the full Future Learners report.