To Elevate the Student Experience, Try Peering into the Future

To Elevate the Student Experience, Try Peering into the Future

January 10, 2023 | Jason Berman

Today’s college students want more. More than a degree. 

Yet, many within the higher education community are having a hard time pinpointing exactly what students want, need, or expect from their school experience.  

This doesn’t have to be a head scratcher. 

Here, we explore why the “unknown” can be a big problem for schools. In this blog we will share creative ways educational communities can get answers. That way you can innovate using “known” insights about students who have already graduated. 

Knowledge gaps are a problem. Probably the biggest unknown centers on the continued declines in college enrollment. It’s easy to blame the COVID-19 pandemic. However, blaming the pandemic could be a mistake given recent mind shifts on the value of a college degree. So, what’s changed from the student perspective and how can schools positively influence their college decisions? 

Here's another one: online learning versus on-campus learning. Which do students prefer, or is a hybrid model a better approach? How do the long-term outcomes of each mode differ? 

Student involvement is another. One study shows highly involved students are three-times more likely considered for jobs and 18 percent more career-ready compared to uninvolved students. So, what actions can schools take to boost student involvement and improve their outcomes? 

These unknowns relate to every-day issues impacting the student experience. This can range from academic rigor and financial aid to on-campus childcare, student housing, and everything in between.  

The point is, there are so many unknowns… so many questions, lost in the echo chamber. If schools want to deliver a better higher education experience and move in the same direction as their students—versus getting left behind—they can’t assume anything. To close these and other knowledge gaps, they need answers. 

Ask the hard questions. Earlier this year, Inside Higher Education published what comes close to a case study. The article focuses on Tennessee higher education and how the state is trying to problem-solve its way out of the low enrollment conundrum. 

Among several programs and measures the state has implemented, its higher education stakeholders are committed to coming together and asking hard questions. “How do we tweak the services we’re already offering? What can we do bigger and better now? How do we improve the communication and messaging for the services we do have available?”

According to a stakeholder quoted in the article, “Sometimes difficult situations cause you to think creatively, and the end result of that is innovation.”

Ability to innovate is the future of higher education. In a hyper-connected world where labor markets, economies, and social sentiment can make a 180-degree turn in a matter of days or weeks, schools need the ability to innovate. To creatively rethink old problems and tackle new ones. To deftly resolve in-play challenges and crises as they happen in real-time. To intelligently align with the changing wants and needs of students. 

What does that look like? From a practical standpoint, innovation might involve: 

  • Improving, expanding or creating entirely new academic offerings and programs. Think: adding a hands-on technology facility to further strengthen and differentiate an existing program.  
  • Bridging known and unknown gaps in student services and outcomes. This might include addressing short- and long-term minority inequities like access to education and income disparities. 
  • Building new partner relationships and student engagement paths with community employers. This could mean creating an aviation program in a logistics-heavy region with a high demand for pilots. 

So, how can schools acquire the forward-looking insights they need to innovate and elevate the student experience? By peering into the future.   

Look to those who've “been there, done that.” What better place to look for insight into the current student experience than from graduates who’ve already “been there, done that?” 

Not only have these “ex-students” participated in the higher education experience, but they are also putting their education to work. This includes achieving—or exceeding—post-graduate goals like:

  • buying homes
  • earning high-income salaries
  • leading companies
  • creating start-ups and nonprofits
  • starting families. 

Yet, in some cases, they’re also hitting stumbling blocks and returning to college. Changing careers. Exiting the workforce. Defaulting on student loans. 

This is where “Graduate Outcomes” data from Equifax becomes invaluable. Schools can expertly analyze and model countless features, attributes, indicators, and outcomes associated with the student experience by using unique economic capacity data on graduates—including detailed insights pertaining to their current:

  • affluence
  • wealth
  • income
  • credit
  • employment
  • debt
  • and property. 

These are known facts, far more accurate and authoritative than self-provided data acquired through graduate surveys, etc. 

Specifically, schools uncover hidden strengths and vulnerabilities in their academic offerings, student experiences, and outcomes by experimenting within a secure, cloud-based environment, mixing, and matching specific Graduate Outcome data sets with their existing student and graduate data. Whatever the curiosity, data scientists, research teams and other users within the schools can explore and expose unknown gaps and gain greater insight and clarity around known gaps. 

For example, a community college recently used Graduate Outcomes data to discover a distinct $5,000 pay equity gap between minority and non-minority graduates. Knowing this, it can now take steps to adjust its academic framework, student services, and community partnerships with employers to help bridge that gap.

This forward-looking data resource is a game-changer for the higher education community. With Graduate Outcomes data, schools finally have a data-backed tool that can help reduce the “unknowns.” This will provide true visibility into what’s working and what’s not in the student experience. In turn, this can empower schools to move forward with certainty—instead of working off assumptions—so they can better align themselves with the evolving wants and needs of their students. 

Explore how to access Graduate Outcomes via the Snowflake Data Cloud here. Or, learn how to connect to Graduate Outcomes directly from Equifax here. 

Jason Berman

Jason Berman

Business Development Advocate - Retail

Jason Berman is the Director of Higher Education at Equifax. In this role he is responsible for expanding and growing Graduate Outcomes using powerful Data and Analytics tools and brings a strong passion for empowering colleges and universities to use "Data for Good" and influence student outcomes. Jason brings more th[...]