Colleges are still struggling to connect with their students, survey finds

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Just 12% of students feel a strong sense of belonging at their institutions, according to survey results published Thursday by the software firm Salesforce.

During the shift to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, many student surveys — including a 2020 study from Digital Promise — indicated that students felt disconnected from their peers and their institutions. Salesforce’s new survey suggests those feelings of disconnection have persisted now that students are largely back on campus.

Saleforce’s Connected Student Report recommends that higher education institutions step up their efforts to engage and support students by providing a personalized experience to each student, from the day they get their acceptance letter.

The survey — which includes responses from more than 1,300 students and 1,300 higher education professionals globally — found just one-third of students reported having a great college experience. A bad first impression was found to be a strong indicator of students viewing their whole college experiences negatively. Just 2% of students who had a poor onboarding experience said they had a great college experience overall, compared with 70% of students who reported a very good or excellent onboarding experience reporting a great experience overall.

Eighty-three percent of students who reported a strong connection to their student or alumni community said they had easy access to online resources, services and apps. Of these students with strong connections to their institutions, 82% said their institutions had successfully pivoted to a more digital experience.

Organizing in-person events, strengthening support systems and connecting students to their peers through clubs and classes were among the ways in which students responding to the survey said that institutions could build more community. While 34% of students said they wanted more help managing their work-life balance in 2021, 40% reported needing more support in this year’s survey.

“There is an immense opportunity for higher education institutions to future-ready themselves and connect with students in new and exciting ways by building better connections, prioritizing wellbeing, and tailoring support to better prepare students for their academic journey and beyond,” Marie Lexague Rosecrans, chief marketing officer of education and nonprofits at Salesforce, said in a press release.

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