Main content

12 higher education trends to empower student success in 2018

Otmar Zewald Profile picture for user Otmar Zewald November 27, 2017
Student success is set to be a big focus for 2018 in higher education. Unit4's Otmar Zewald outlines 12 trends that will empower students to achieve more

Successful students in mortar boards with diplomas © Syda Productions -
Student success is currently one of the biggest priorities for all higher education institutions — and for good reason. The six-year graduation rate of undergraduate students in the United States who enrolled in the fall of 2009 and sought bachelor's degrees at four-years is only 59%.

Some of the reasons cited for students taking longer include taking irrelevant courses, transferring schools, being disengaged from social activities that connect students to the college community, and working overtime. Other factors, such as lower incomes or being first-generation students, also can play a role in delaying completion of a degree.

Rather than students taking all the blame however, perhaps the underlying issue points back to a lack of a post-secondary system that provides the support students need to achieve academic success.

There are several approaches that can enhance student success. Here are 12 areas of focus that will be front and center for US institutions in 2018.

1. Closer collaboration

Higher institutions will collaborate more closely to meet student success targets. Academic institutions are already putting this approach into action by collaborating with their competitors. For example, eleven public universities joined together to form the University Innovation Alliance in 2014. Its goal is to improve the graduation and retention rates among an estimated 400,000 US undergraduate students. As a result of its collaboration efforts, awarded degrees increased by 10%.

2. Enrollment targets best-fit students

Institutions will shift enrollment approaches to target best-fit students, even if enrollment counts suffer. This emerging student success tactic aims to increase the reach of higher education institutions to students that will exceed and thrive at the school. For example, this was the goal of Brevard College when it offered additional academic scholarships in the past five years. Although the school's enrollment dropped, it was able to enroll better-fit students. This shift of target enrollment approaches will continue through 2018.

3. Organizational structures evolve

Organizational structures will continue to evolve to support student success. Academic advising is one of the structures of higher education hierarchy that is projected to continue its evolution. For example, schools will increase specialized advising roles and experiment with new advising models to enhance student success.

4. Increased tech investments

In 2018, we’ll see a continued increase in tech investment to support student success. A 2016 Tyton Partners report revealed that 44% of over 900 colleges surveyed had increased spending on software for academic advising and planning over the course of three years.

5. Standard commercial software use

Schools have often opted for costly customized software to track performance and handle other administrative tasks. However, a growing trend towards the use of standard commercial software rather than custom development will emerge in 2018.

6. Integrated system approaches

Supporting students calls for changing approaches. Many institutions find that their legacy student information systems make it harder to adapt to new models, hampering admissions and advancement efforts. Shadow systems and siloed operations create an opaque information hub that discourages collaboration and undermines data integrity. And disconnected administrative systems make it difficult to craft budgets and control spending, and to quantify the ROI of human capital.

Growth strategies incorporating a new approach to core systems are starting to focus across the entire student lifecycle, which augurs the emergence of integrated system approaches in 2018.

7. Rise of data warehouse and analytics

In 2018, the use of data warehouse and analytics will increase. Predictive analytics is an area of analytics that more schools will utilize to find and retain students. For example, colleges will use big data to track prospective students in order to make better decisions regarding outreach for admissions.

8. Automation focus

Being able to reduce repetitive tasks and keep processes agile helps academic institutions to better support students. That's part of why a focus on automation in core systems to support early alerts and action plans for at-risk students will also emerge in 2018.

Academic advisors will be able to use technology that facilitates automation to identify at-risk students faster. This will help them gauge patterns that may impact a student's performance, to better provide a clear action plan for improving overall success.

9. Mobile and self-service student experiences

Tedious registration and application processes is a central pain point that academic institutions frequently tackle by providing students with better access to enhanced experiences online. Enhanced self-service portals help to further reduce these issues and expedite enrollment and subsequent interactions. There will be more focus on student portals, self-service and mobile app development to improve student experiences in 2018.

10. Increased use of CRM

Schools will also see an increased usage of CRM in 2018 to support student success initiatives. CRM technology allows schools to leverage deep profiles of students and alumni. This can present an opportunity for colleges to better reach alumni who have the capabilities to provide employment or mentorship opportunities for current students.

11. Growing AI awareness

Although the full power of artificial intelligence (AI) and bots are still a few years away, awareness is growing. This awareness is prompting post-secondary educational institutions to use AI-enabled tools to drive student success. For example, Georgia State students can register for classes and apply for financial aid using a chatbot.

12. Core SIS replacement trend

The year 2018 will also see an increase in organizations replacing their core SIS, which are still very old on average. This emerging trend will be driven by pressure to report student success outcomes. Academic institutions can leverage technologies that provide end-to-end solutions and replace legacy student information systems with a modern SIS to enhance student success.

Final thoughts

Improving student success in 2018 will call for an evolving approach to supporting students adequately. Leaders in the education community and among academic institutions must keep abreast of the emerging technology trends that will drive student success.

Research carried out by Unit4 among US institutions this year shows how higher education institutions are already evolving to support student success and close the student-college digital divide. It showed that student retention is the number one priority driving organizational change, technology and cloud investment, and new approaches to enrollment. 73% of respondents said that their institution's organizational structure has evolved significantly to better support student success initiatives in the last two years.

When asked if their institution has shifted its enrollment approaches to target best-fit students, 24% of respondents answered in the affirmative, even if enrollment counts suffer negatively. Overall, 40% of respondents expect student success to be the main driver for replacing their core student information system in the next two years.

This will be a big focus over the next few years as institutions look to truly close the student-college digital divide by embracing digital transformation. They will look for integrated modern cloud applications that support a mobile strategy, delivering new services and value to students and faculty.

A grey colored placeholder image