Customer Experience in Crisis: Look to Higher Education For Lessons

Did you know that in the years 2016-2019, 86 colleges shut down or merged with other schools? Even worse, in the 2019-2020 school year 53 colleges closed permanently. Many students are unhappy with the standards of their university, especially when compared to the cost of education. When the pandemic hit the country, students were no longer able to excuse the financial burden of college when they were not happy with their overall experience. 

From 2019 to 2021, undergraduate enrollment fell by 7.8%, the largest 2 year drop the country has seen in the last 50 years. In 2022, there are more than 1 million fewer students who are enrolled in college than before the pandemic began. During the pandemic, 56% of US college students said they could no longer afford their tuition. Nearly 7% of students had already decided to unenroll in order to take on full-time employment or alternative, less expensive education options. This translated to nearly 500,000 undergraduates dropping out in the fall of 2021.

This sharp decrease in enrollment led to millions of dollars in lost tuition revenue for universities over the course of the pandemic. In fact, 74% of higher education professionals say their institution is facing financial constraints, with smaller schools more likely to struggle. With this lost revenue, universities are finding it more difficult to provide satisfactory programs, dining options, and living situations to their students. Students who were already cautious of enrolling in college due to financial reasons are now struggling to find reasons to enroll when they are expecting an unsatisfactory experience. 

With so many students unenrolling due to this financial burden, student loan relief was announced in August of 2022. Students who receive Pell Grants can be eligible to have $20,000 in debt canceled, and students who did not receive Pell Grants are eligible to have up to $10,000 canceled. Students can also have their monthly payments cut in half, and it has been announced that the cost of education will be lowered to continue encouraging enrollment in university. With more students now having access to the financial means to afford college, universities are expecting to see an uptick in enrollment. 

So how does this all relate to customer experience? If you think of today’s students as the customers, there are lessons to be gained from today’s student experience.

While loan forgiveness is a great step in saving colleges from shutting down in the future, it is still important for universities to foster good relationships with their applicants and enrolled students. 

Students are to universities as customers are to any business: they are paying money to receive services. In the case for students, they are paying their university to receive an education as well as room and board. Recent studies determined that the number of students who are dissatisfied with their university experience is on the rise, and this is also leading to the high number of students unenrolling.  If students’ needs are met, they are provided with an enriching learning environment, and they feel as though their administration listens to and cares about them, universities are more likely to see higher enrollment and a better retention of students overall. 

Sound familiar if you’re a customer experience professional? It should.

Many universities are still in danger of closing down even this year. Ensuring that more students can afford the costs of universities with loan forgiveness programs may help, but students will not apply if they are not satisfied with the conditions of a school. Universities can hold information sessions or send out surveys to their students in order to hear feedback and make necessary changes to ensure the happiness of their students. With satisfied students there is less risk for a university to have to close its doors, and education can continue to be a priority for the next generation.

Why Colleges Go Out of Business