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What Do Students Want From a College Education? 

  • 5 Min Read

Mental health, career readiness and teaching with tech are three themes impacting the desires of future generations of higher ed students.


These days, going to college isn’t just about making new friends and embracing the experience. Most students—whether they’re high school grads or working professionals returning to school—have an agenda of what they expect institutions to deliver. 

We’ve identified three overarching themes when it comes to what students expect from a college education: 

  • Considering the whole student: Students are more than just learners. They’re people who often balance many responsibilities. When it comes to everything from their jobs to helping their family and more, students expect their institutions to support them across the board, not just when it comes to their studies. 
  • Career expectations: Incoming students are looking for a college that can get them where they want to be working after graduation. Students are laser focused on earning an income after college and using their time in school to gain the right people skills and job experience to do so. 
  • Cutting-edge tech: Technology continues to advance at a steady pace, and many students—especially Gen Zs who’ve grown up in the age of the internet—expect to have experience working with and learning about the latest tech while in school. 
Graphic of themes used to explore new generation of students.

Let’s dive deeper into each theme to see how higher education institutions can better target students based on what they’re expecting from their education. 

Whole Student Approach 

Student: a scholar or learner; “one who attends school.” While the dictionary definition of a student is straightforward and flat, we know students are unique individuals with many facets, quirks and needs.  

This is especially true when considering the mental health of students. Colleges and universities are exciting and fun but can also become overwhelming and difficult. That’s why it’s important for institutions to understand the people who make up their student body.  

Student support should include academic and financial support as well as extracurricular activities, but should be rounded out with the right mental health support. Research done by the University of Michigan in 2020 showed the existence of mental illness, with 39% of college students surveyed having experience depression and 34% having struggled with anxiety. 

Some examples of services that can help aid the whole student include: 

  • financial aid  
  • mental health supports  
  • career guidance 
  • tutoring services 

Meeting enrollment objectives is a big motivator for postsecondary institutions, but students are more than just people who pay tuition. If learners aren’t properly supported, retention numbers will start to drop, and—more importantly—students won’t be receiving the foundation they need to succeed. 

Reshaping the Value of Higher Education

Discover how the higher education landscape is changing by further exploring the mental state of students, career-focused education and teaching with tech in this blog post.

Read now

Career Expectations 

Another element students want from their college education is the ability to jump into a career after graduation. 

Research by Tallo found that 36% of high school and college student respondents said finding an institution that would lead to a good career that paid nicely was top priority when looking at colleges. 

How can institutions help students get ready for life after school? There’s no one-size-fits-all approach but there are some helpful ways to help grads get ready for careers. 

  • Work-integrated learning: Internships and co-ops where students gain real-world experience in the field they want to work in after graduation are key. Students can not only network with potential employers but can also test theories learned in classes. On top of this, they have the chance to gain important people skills needed to get hired after graduation. 
  • Career services: Giving students a strong foundation of skills—resume writing, interviewing, etc.—is another way to prep students for career success. Career counselors are a valuable resource to connect students with companies that are a good fit for their skill sets and goals. 
  • Business partnerships: Another newer option for institutions involves partnering with businesses to allow students to work while earning their degrees. These partnerships provide students with in-depth work experience in relevant placements, putting their knowledge to the test. In some cases—such as with Dev Degree or the Lassonde School of Engineering work-based degree—students can even get paid while studying. 

Cutting-Edge Technology 

Having access to tech in the classroom is another item on the checklist of what students are looking for from a college education.  

It’s clear that online and blended learning models have taken hold in higher education. This means institutions need to make sure they’re delivering quality education in an online format. 

Effectively using video for both instructors and learners, encouraging collaboration through discussion boards, and having a user-friendly learning management system are some ways to make sure online classrooms are as effective as learning in person. 

One tech feature that is gaining some momentum in higher ed is virtual reality. It’s a technology that students are excited about and one that can also yield better outcomes for learners. Virtual reality can help better engage students and let them see their field of study in a way they never have before. 

Graphic of virtual reality headset.

There are also rumblings of artificial intelligence being used to spice up higher ed. D2L Brightspace uses AI to automatically transcribe uploaded videos. AI also comes into play for Video Assignments, where a student’s video can be automatically assessed for clarity of speech, the use of filler keywords and their speaking rate. 

It’s important for institutions to stay on top of tech trends. Before diving into a new kind of tech, make sure to do a thorough assessment of available options to make sure it’s the right institutional fit. 

Tailoring the College Education to Students 

In the past, it wasn’t uncommon to hear about high school grads being “college ready.” With the changing attitudes toward higher education and shifting expectations, it’s crucial for colleges to instead become student ready.  

Institutions need to stay up to date with what their target learners are expecting to gain from their education and adapt their offerings to suit their desired outcomes.  

For a more in-depth look at how perceptions of the higher ed landscape are changing, check out our post “Reshaping the Value of Higher Education.”

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Table of Contents
  1. Whole Student Approach 
  2. Career Expectations 
  3. Cutting-Edge Technology 
  4. Tailoring the College Education to Students