Mar 30, 2023

6 Higher Education Trends to Know

by Digital Marketing Institute

Employability is a key factor students consider when looking at a course or higher ed institution. They want value from the education they invest time and money into and want to be more attractive to employers after graduation. 

As a result, higher education is changing. Today, the education sector needs to understand what students are looking for and what provides value. It’s also important to know how educators are adapting to make students more employable in a competitive and fast-moving marketplace. 

Let’s look at the big higher education trends our experts see, which include:

  • Education is a commodity
  • Personalization for students
  • Employers want qualifications & soft skills
  • Micro-internships are beneficial
  • Data analytics is the most in-demand skill
  • Research the market & respond

Let’s get started!

1) Education is a commodity

Commodification is now part of higher education. This was the case before the Covid pandemic and within the last 10 years, there’s been a significant increase. 

“What you're seeing today is more students that want to be number one. They're interested in the program of study that they're interested in. Do you or do you not have it which is the absolute first sign of commodification? Do you have what they want or not? If not, they'll move on,” says Charles Ramos, Vice President, Graduate & Online Enrolment Management at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. 

It’s now about realizing your program is a product. Do you have a product that aligns with the needs and demands of students but also those looking to recruit graduates? If you have those programs then the next question is, how can you position someone at a competitive advantage versus a peer who may be looking at the same program?

Ramos believes the education sector needs to get better at explaining its value proposition. “For years (the higher education sector) has not been very good at conveying value propositions. It tends to convey process and features rather than tying and explaining how those features convert to benefits and the market is keyed in on those benefits.”

2) Students demand personalization

No two students are the same. Each one has different needs, different ways of learning, and different circumstances. While some students may be able to study at their leisure, others could work full-time or have families to care for. That’s what makes personalization in education so important. 

“The world has become a place of one-to-one and we have this element of personalizing things. Institutions like us need to start fast-forwarding toward how to create that one-to-one relationship,” says Dave Keighron, Higher Education Innovator, Professor, and Entrepreneur at University Canada West

Technology could be part of the answer. Higher education could leverage a technology like artificial intelligence to drive personalization and help shape people’s learning. It’s also about creating flexibility and offering a hybrid model that fits in with people’s lifestyles. For example, Kreighton believes we shouldn't run away from technology such as Chat GPT, but instead run straight at it. 

Surveys are another channel to help tailor programs and see what students want. “If you offer an activity in the classroom and only get 60 percent engagement, then you're not meeting the values of those students. In my classes, I'm constantly throwing surveys back at the students to try and figure out where they're at and what value they are looking for.” 

“80% of higher education students look for a hybrid learning experience ” Charles Ramos

3) Employers want qualifications & soft skills

When it comes to new hires in a business, early career professionals or graduates need to present themselves as better rounded, particularly when it comes to digital skills and knowledge. 

According to Tom Kendall, Head of Digital Marketing at IBM for EMEA, today’s graduates are “a lot more up to date with the latest trends and have strong points of view. Also, the latest testing in innovation that we've been doing in IBM has been provided by our new hires.” 

This new skillset is combined with a focus on qualifications. Relevant certifications are crucial as businesses seek out people that can come into a business and help drive improvements or new ways of thinking. 

Kendall believes that certifications relevant to the digital marketing perspective help candidates to stand out. This then links into added skills such as experience with the latest tooling or analytical platforms e.g. Google Analytics or a CMS system like Marketo.

Plus soft skills are important such as an eagerness to learn and collaborate. “One thing I definitely look for is somebody who is confident and looking to innovate, to put new ideas forward-looking to test things,” concludes Kendall. 

Tip: Read ‘10 Digital Skills That Can Make Students Instantly Employable' for guidance on the skills students need. 

4) Micro-internships are beneficial

While learning in the classroom is one thing, what makes a graduate stand out is the ability to apply that knowledge when working for a business. 

So an institution may have a great system of problem-solving and this can be taught. But how does a higher education institution take those skills and apply them to help solve industry problems? 

“I work with a client from a small business and put students in front of them. I do live podcasts with businesses and have a conversation about some of the challenges they're facing,” explains Kreighton. “Then I line them with students from business case studies to exams to working on projects to help solve those customer's problems.” 

These micro internships see those individual students go out and take everything in their learning in the classroom or micro-credentials from DMI or another provider and take those in and put them into action. 

Kreighton believes “every course they should be working with a client or working with someone in that element. That allows them to apply it right away and test to see if it works.”

5) Data analytics is the most in-demand skill

The amazing thing about the online world is the amount of customer data it creates. The problem with the online world is that there’s so much data it can be hard to know what’s valuable and what’s not. 

For that reason, data analytics is one of the most sought-after skills by companies.

“Tech and data analytics are the biggies that stand out from conversations we have with corporations and organizations that they desperately need. Even as they look at their employee base, it's what they're looking at in terms of investing in upskilling.,” says Ramos. 

This gap or demand presents an opportunity for the higher education sector. This means that companies across industries need help in developing individuals. While this may be a different vertical for an educator it’s an opportunity to work with these organizations to develop something that’s aligned with their current needs. 

6) Know the market & respond

Flexibility is crucial for educational institutions according to our experts. There also needs to be foresight and a view to four or five years down the line, not just the current student intake. 

“You have to be having your finger on the pulse of the market. Otherwise, it's a huge blind spot. Do the market research to understand not just the prospective student market, but also employers and what their needs are," says Kendall. 

The job market moves fast and the demands of the digital world even faster, so businesses are always trying to stay ahead and anticipate the next big thing to ensure they have the talent around to leverage it. 

“Corporations are not going to want to wait six to seven months once there's an agreement around - you can help us with X, great, when can you start? If you say anything beyond six weeks, it's probably too late.”

The solution? “Be open to partnerships like DMI to fill in the gaps so that your institution doesn't have to be much more responsive,” Kendall concludes. 

Higher ed trends 2023 - Conclusion

It’s obvious from our experts talking on a recent webinar ‘Higher Education Trends to Watch Out For in 2023’ that there’s lots of opportunity for the sector. The current trends in higher education to be aware of and focus on are:

  • The commodification of education - the trend has increased over the past 10 years at undergrad and postgrad levels.  
  • Students are looking at the product (the program), and the outcome (how they can be positioned post-graduation). 
  • Students want authenticity, personalization, flexibility, and speed. 
  • Institutions need to create one-to-one relationships with students and leverage technology to provide support. 
  • Use surveys in the classroom to help understand what values/purposes the students are looking for and to increase engagement.
  • Early career professionals are more digitally rounded, up-to-date with trends, have strong points of view and contribute to the latest tests and innovations.
  • Marketing employers look for relevant certifications, experience with the latest analytics tools, platform knowledge, and key soft skills.
  • Institutions teach problem-solving skills, but they need to be able to teach how to apply these skills in the workplace. 
  • Tech and data analytics stand out in terms of what graduates should be aware of going into employment. 
  • Workplaces should work with higher education institutions to upskill and develop staff.
  • Professional development is key. 

Make your program attractive & valuable in 2023

Do you want to add value to your higher education programs in 2023? Partner with DMI to offer the most -up-date digital marketing curriculum informed by experts and in tune with the industry. Get in touch today to see how we can help you. 

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