Only a few years ago, students applying to universities could be found poring over piles of thick printed prospectuses, armed only with notepads and multi-colored highlighters. Today, a generation of digital natives are moving away from the traditionally paper-driven and counselor-led process, and turning to the online world for advice, support and inspiration for their applications.
The trigger for this change is not only the natural evolution of how we access knowledge and engage with the world, but a broken set of processes in the higher education preparation and application systems. And even though top graduates can receive high salaries, there are plenty of people who graduate without any job prospects at all, doomed to doing internship after internship, unpaid job after unpaid job, chore after chore. Such prospects may be one factor why student enrollments have fallen in recent years.
A Growing International Student Body
A survey of 6,000 students suggests the cause may be due to poor advice on what they should be studying, with 32% of respondents rating their schools’ careers advice as “weak”. In Europe, the situation may be more challenging when students are applying to study in countries they might never have lived in.
As borders become more porous and today’s high school students see the whole world as their oyster, it is vital that we find ways to support the international students. There is a compelling financial argument: International students contribute more than £7 billion to the UK economy, with the UK contributing to 12.6% of all international students, second to only the US. Eleven of the top 15 “most international universities,” according to Times Higher Education, are based in the European Union.
European universities are increasingly reducing tuition fees; Germany abolished them altogether, even for international students. These financial incentives mean there will be an increase in the number of students leaving their home countries for options abroad.
But here’s a sobering statistic: University dropout rates range between 16% and 19% in the UK, France and Norway, and spike as high as 31% in The Netherlands—numbers that warrant our attention.
Reducing Dropout Rates through Better Choices
How can the industry bridge this gap between high demand and poor support, particularly for the international student?
Research suggests that “fit” greatly influences whether a university student will stay the course. Professor Les Ebdon, Director of the Office for Fair Access, has argued that “a sense of belonging is critical to student success. If you feel you don’t belong either because of class or ethnicity, you’re more likely to drop out.”
If students aren’t finding the right “match”, and a lack of a sense of belonging is a culprit for drop-out rates, then it’s clear we need to reinvent how students are being guided to select and apply to universities. Fortunately, several edtech companies are positioned to address the needs of students who are far away from the universities they are applying to and need information and guidance about what kinds of options are on offer.
Dating sites like Match.com have already raised public awareness about the power of algorithms to link people with similar preferences, interests and priorities – and this same concept has been harnessed to help students to find the right fit for them from not only an academic point of view, but a holistic lifestyle, experience and social perspective.
An emerging class of edtech companies is streamlining the college preparation and application process online by creating solutions to the inefficiencies that have plagued teachers and students alike. A few examples include:
- Naviance, which provides an electronic transcript delivery service, data analytics about admission results, application portals and services that help match students and colleges
- BridgeU, which offers an university preparation software platform that uses intelligent algorithms and machine learning to empower students and secondary schools with both the knowledge and data-driven support to improve higher education decision-making
- Unifrog, which uses labor market information to recommend to UK students a diverse range of university courses and apprenticeship and job prospects
Engaging ‘Millennials’ Through a Better User Experience
Students today are growing up with technology tools capable of sharing information beyond our imagination. But the constant stream of knowledge may be distracting. The process of selecting a university, and preparing a compelling application through research and self-awareness, is something that requires attention, time and paperwork that not all 17-year-olds can persevere through. But taking the process out of the dark ages and into their comfort zone certainly helps.
Watch out, higher ed—following the disruption of learning management systems, content and curricula, the decision making process for or against a university itself is the next big field to get tackled by savvy (ed)tech entrepreneurs.