Higher education industry is implementing new business models

The 2021 Connected Student Report highlights the accelerated adoption of new business models and innovation in higher education.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

To gain a better understanding, on a global and regional level, of what's important to higher education students and what their challenges are with respect to learning, academic goals, and career goals, as well as staff perspectives on how to best communicate with, instruct, and prepare students, Salesforce partnered with Ipsos and The Chronicle of Higher Education to collect over 2,200 higher education student and administrators using an online quantitative survey. 

Here is the executive summary of the 2021 Connected Student Report

  1. Supporting students and staff wellbeing is critical - Concerns about student mental health and wellbeing had already led many institutions to offer more services, including ones that students could access online. The anxieties and calamities faced by students and faculty, and staff increased those worries, with 76% of students and 73% of staff reporting that maintaining their well-being remains a challenge. 
  2. Flexible learning and working options are here to stay - One major takeaway from the report is the need for learning options that fit within students' busy schedules. One in four students said that having more flexible courses and part-time offerings would help them succeed. 43% of students prefer hybrid courses.
  3. Student career pathways are top of mind - Financial challenges and anxiety about the future are common amongst students. Close to half of students (49%) say that future career prospects are most important when deciding to enroll in a college/university.
  4. Universities explore new business models - The COVID-19 era has led many institutions to make considerable adjustments to how they operate -- changes that represent opportunities for growth and increased efficiency. 45% of staff said their institutions are implementing new business models.
  5. Learners and institution success require innovation - Many institutions are experiencing a gap in trust. Nearly 6 in 10 students say the trust gap between students and institution leaders is due to a lack of consistent communications; about half of the staff agree. 45% of staff said their institutions are prioritizing investments in integration technology

2021 Connected Student Report, Salesforce.org 


Here is a deeper look into each of the key takeaways from the 2021 Connected Student Report

Supporting student and staff wellbeing is critical 

  • 34% of students said they need more help managing their course load.
  • 76% of staff said maintaining their work/life balance is a top challenge.
  • 40% of students said their institution can best support their wellbeing by offering more flexible learning options. 

Flexible Learning & Working Options Are Here to Stay

  • 54% of staff prefer hybrid courses.
  • Students expect 50% of their courses moving forward to be online.
  • 46% of staff anticipate more remote work in the near future.

Student career pathways are top of mind

  • 31% of students identified low career prospects as why they have a poor college/university experience.
  • 29% of students said they need more career resources from their college/university in order to be successful.
  • 50% of staff say their institutions are strengthening corporate partnerships in order to help students prepare for digital careers.

Universities Explore New Business Models

  • 48% of staff said their institutions are investing in new business models focused on more part-time learning options.
  • 33% of staff said their institutions are investing in new business models focused on executive education.
  • 29% of staff said their institutions are investing in new business models focused on credentialing/ micro-credentialing.

Learner & Institution Success Requires Innovation

  • 27% of staff say their institutions are hiring for a head of digital experience.
  • 53% of staff members say they will rely on social media to better engage with students in the coming fall semester.
  • 40% of staff said their institutions are prioritizing investments in real-time data analytics.

2021 Connected Student Report, Salesforce: Technology challenges and investment areas in higher education 

The 2021 Connected Student Report also highlighted solution line key findings: 

Recruitment and Admissions

  • Students say they would choose one university over another if it offered more help finding paid internship/ job opportunities (40%) or more flexible course options (36%).
  • 51% of recruitment and admissions staff anticipate an increase in social media engagement to target incoming students.
  • Coming out of the pandemic, only 7% of staff anticipate their institutions will continue to buy lists to attract prospective students, yet close to a quarter (24%) expect digital advertising to be a key tactic moving forward.

Student Experience 

  • Only 27% of students say they can easily sign up for an advising appointment at their college or university.
  • 26% of students say they have to sign in to two or more different platforms to find answers to their questions and access the resources they need to be successful every day.
  • 92% of staff say tailored student enrollment plans have successfully ensured accepted students enroll at their university or college.


  • Advancement staff anticipate video conferencing (39%), social media (38%) and email (38%) to be the most effective channels in securing major gifts coming out of the pandemic.
  • 55% of advancement staff anticipate more virtual events to engage alumni and constituents coming out of the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic times.
  • Of those students that don't feel connected to alumni, 34% said it's because their college or university does not provide an online community to interact with alumni.

Marketing and Communications

  • 59% of students attribute a leadership-student trust gap at their college or university to a lack of consistent communications; about half of the staff agree.
  • When asked how their university could improve their communications,42% of students said more personalization.
  • When asked how their university could improve their communications,39% of students said more reminders or alerts.

2021 Connected Student Report, Salesforce: Communication is key to establishing stakeholder trust 


9 in 10 students want institutions to communicate with them as often or more via email, personalized communications, and alerts. Around four in 10 say they'd like communications to be more personalized, while 25% say they'd like a more personalized college experience overall.


2021 Connected Student Report, Salesforce: Three ways universities can improve student communications 


Institution Operations 

  • 62% of staff say their institution is reevaluating their faculty/staff support & service model as a result of the pandemic.
  • Of those staff members that indicated they don't have enough support from their institution, 31% said it's because their college/university uses multiple technology systems. It's hard to get the data they need to do their jobs effectively.
  • When asked how their institution could better help staff, close to half said more online resources for technology support (44%) and an online portal to connect with other staff members (42%).

The pursuit of new business models in higher education is an important finding. According to the Chronicle: 

"COVID-19 may not have created any new reasons for colleges to change how they do business, but the pandemic rapidly accelerated the process. Just in the U.S., the loss of dining hall income, residential and student fees and, in many cases, tuition has likely cost institutions around $183 billion. Post-pandemic, institutions will need to do more than assure the safety of students and staff. They'll have to keep an eye on the bottom line as well. Findings show that many institutions are reworking their business plans to reflect this reality. Nearly half of staff surveyed globally say their institution is more likely (at 45%) than not (35%) to be implementing a new business model. 

Some institutions, such as Southern New Hampshire University, are creating new models that make on-campus learning more affordable, while Cambridge announced in May that it will roll out 50 online courses over the next five years, with an eye toward increasing learning opportunities. As institutions look ahead, many have made shoring up their value proposition for future workers more of a priority."


2021 Connected Student Report, Salesforce: New business model trends in higher education


The report highlighted these key findings: 

  • Nearly half of all institutions are implementing new business models due to the pandemic. 
  • 7 in 10 staff say their institutions are investing in new growth opportunities, chiefly more online learning options. 
  • About half of the total staff surveyed say those business model revisions involve the creation of more part-time learning options or shorter-term courses and programs -- changes that reflect more of a concern for non-traditional learners and other working students. 
  • Nearly 40% of staff surveyed say they are seeing more partnerships between corporations and higher education. 
  • About half say that their institutions are engaging employers to help recruit students by managing corporate relationships on a single platform or by tailoring marketing campaigns to corporate partners -- with France and the U.S. courting private companies at the highest rates. We know companies are key to solving the digital skills gap
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    2021 Connected Student Report, Salesforce: Staff predict more investments in technologies and engagement opportunities 

  • Institutions have continued to upgrade their technology during the pandemic. Slightly less than half of those on staff say that more people on campus are involved in making tech decisions, with more than half of those in the Netherlands and U.S. reporting the highest rates of collaborative tech decision making.
  • The digital competency of staff has become a priority for most institutions as well. More than 6 in 10 staff members say that the pandemic led their institution to re-evaluate their staff support and service models and invest in training that would allow faculty and staff to do their jobs virtually.
  • More than half of staff (52%) anticipate their institution will invest in classroom technology, while a slightly lesser number (46%) expect to see more money going toward research tech. A considerable number (44%) anticipate investments in faculty and staff learning and engagement opportunities.

2021 Connected Student Report, Salesforce: Higher Education is investing new technologies, leadership roles and staff services models 


New business model innovation is a top priority for higher education institutions. Whether it be new sources of revenue or new areas of investment, institutions are evaluating how to create value from anywhere and what internal shifts they need to make to catalyze these changes. Learning from anywhere, success from everywhere. 

To learn more about the 2021 Connected Student Report, you can visit here

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