Here are 8 ways to improve experiences for college students and employees

"In the coming year, experiences in education will matter more than ever," wrote Lee Perlis, global head of education at Qualtrics in the "2023 Education Experience Trends" report.

“Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, waning confidence, and declining enrollment, education leaders are facing monumental challenges.” Fortunately, higher education leaders can enter 2023 with ears ready to listen and words turned into action because that’s what students and families need the most.

Qualtrics, an experience management company, recently released its “2023 Education Experience Trends” report, which details the public’s perceptions of their colleges and universities and what steps institutions need to take to meet their needs in the year ahead.

“In the coming year, experiences in education will matter more than ever,” wrote Lee Perlis, global head of education at Qualtrics. “Whether it’s a student stepping foot on campus for the first time, or an educator deciding when to leave the industry—these experiences will become ever more crucial in delivering key outcomes across your institution in 2023. Experiences will determine whether students and staff choose your institution, or go elsewhere.”

Qualtrics asked more than 7,000 students, families and alumni and more than 2,500 employees about their college and university experiences in 2022. Here’s what students, alumni and families are asking of higher education institutions in 2023:

Listen to feedback

In 2022, the college experience did in fact improve for students, families and alumni, the report suggests. However, 70% of respondents agreed that their institution could improve in terms of listening to and acting on feedback.

“Improving experiences starts with an intentional listening strategy,” the report recommends. “From solicited feedback via survey, always-on feedback with digital intercepts, and unsolicited feedback from social listening capabilities, omni-channel feedback can help you tune into how your key stakeholders are feeling. While empathy starts with listening, it’s also about using that information to drive change.”

Build trust

There’s good news to share in this regard. Respondents said trust in their higher education grew compared to their trust in other industries. From 2022 to 2023 global trust in higher education grew 4% to 79%.

“Educational institutions should never stop investing in building public trust,” the report reads. “The increase in community trust year over year is impressive, but there is also evidence that trust varies between certain types of students (e.g., lower for students of color) and in specific areas (e.g., higher for digital mental health technology).”

Leverage institutional loyalty for brand reputation

Compared to 2022 data, alumni, students and families are more likely to recommend their college or university.

  • Likelihood in 2023: 77%
  • Likelihood in 2022: 72%

These groups of people are essential stakeholders for improving your institution’s brand reputation, the report suggests. One recommendation could be the sole deciding factor in a student choosing to enroll in your college or university.

“Create opportunities for alumni to engage with prospective students to share their experience with your institution and regularly engage with your local community.”

Prioritize community members

According to the data, satisfaction with colleges and universities has risen 3%by  compared to 2022 numbers, but there’s room for growth.

Perhaps it’s time to shift our thinking away from the idea that education is a commodity.

“The cost of education is continuing to rise and student and family expectations for educational institutions are growing,” the report reads. “Treating students, families, and alumni like customers puts them at the center of institutional decision-making, helping to ensure they are supported, find value, and are satisfied with their experience.”

In terms of employee satisfaction, they’re demanding changes in the workplace from improved work-life balance to better pay. As a result, institutions are forced to navigate through these complex issues at the risk of “top talent leaving the industry for more lucrative private sector opportunities.”

So what can be done? Let’s take a look at what they’re asking of their higher education institutions:

Align pay and performance

The number of employees who felt like their pay aligns with their performance actually decreased in 2023, according to the data. Only 39% of education employees believe their pay is “clearly linked” to their performance.

InForhis to improve, the report suggests, conversations and reviews surrounding performance must become more frequent. Additionally, administrators must ensure that their employees understand the raise and promotion process and support them in reaching their goals.

“This focus on employee satisfaction will also help institutions drive better outcomes for their students—as engaged staff are often more likely to have better interactions with students, families, and alumni—leading to better stakeholder experiences,” the report reads.

Act on employee feedback

Less than half of employees (44%) say they witnessed positive changes in response to surveys they were asked to complete. Additionally, even fewer were given the opportunity to review survey results from the previous year (41%).

“Don’t just collect feedback, demonstrate to employees how you’re using it to inform decision-making,” the report suggests. In cases where you receive feedback that you can’t immimmediatelyt on, communicate with your employees that their responses have been heard and online a long-term plan. Open communication is one of the best ways to build trust among employees.

Reward risk-takers

According to the report, respondents say they are encouraged to seek innovation but are not rewarded for it. Compared to other industries, education employees are less likely to be rewarded for their being a risk taker.

Manager rewards risk-taking to drive innovation

  • Education: 44%
  • Cross-industry average: 51%

“Continuing to create opportunities for educators and staff to take risks with creative ideas is critical for the advancement of education” the report reads. “However, risk-taking is also necessary to keep employees engaged and satisfied.”

Use professional growth to avoid burnout

At a time when education is tenser than ever, employees say they’re at increased risk of burnout:

  • 35% feel at risk of burnout
  • 28% say their efforts in the workplace have no impact
  • 43% feel emotionally drained
  • 36% simply don’t care about their work

“Professional growth can take many forms—from informal lunch and learns to advance certification and learning programs,” according to the report. “Solicit feedback from faculty and staff to determine what gaps exist and the best way to close those gaps. Working closely with staff to create an action plan will help build trust and buy-in.”

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Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a University Business staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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