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College students in the U.S. say they enrolled in college to earn a higher wage after graduating and they want more support from their institution in career development, according to a new survey.

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The average American now has a lower opinion of the value of higher education, but what do current college students think about the value of a degree? A new report from ed-tech provider Anthology, “The Students’ Perspective: Valuable Insights for University Leaders,” asks students why they enrolled in college and what they expect to get out of their degree.

Anthology’s survey investigates the challenges that hurt students’ degree-attainment goals and opportunities for an institution to improve services to meet the needs of today’s learners.


Anthology conducted a survey in August 2023 of higher education leaders and students from 11 countries, with around 5,000 total respondents. This report looks at data from U.S. respondents, or 255 students and 251 university leaders.

A focus on careers: Just over half (51 percent) of students say they enrolled in higher education for higher earning potential, 45 percent are looking to access better job benefits and 40 percent say their field of study requires a degree. Around two in five students (39 percent) say they’re looking to explore potential career opportunities.

“Compared to other countries surveyed, U.S. students have the highest interest in exploring career options as a motivator for enrolling and are second only behind Singaporean students in a higher earning potential being a primary motivation,” the report says.

Similarly, students are motivated to complete their degrees to earn a higher income, with 59 percent of respondents saying this was their driving factor.

Some students couldn’t identify why they enrolled in college (4 percent), 6 percent were unsure of what else to do after graduating from high school and 13 percent attributed their enrollment to family and societal pressures.

Institutions can support students’ career pursuits while enrolled through:

  • Highlighting career services
  • Sharing how students can change their major
  • Providing career exploration in curricular settings

Retention challenges: To help students achieve their goals after graduation, college and university leaders need to understand the challenges students face while enrolled.

Stress is the greatest barrier to student success, with 44 percent of students saying they feel overwhelmed or anxious about their academic workload or expectations. In a similar vein, four in 10 students report managing their mental health and wellness as their most pressing challenge.

Time management (26 percent), finding like-minded peers or friends (25 percent), managing physical health (22 percent), and financial wellness (21 percent) are also common challenges.

The report encourages higher education practitioners to share mental health support resources with students and identify ways to reduce academic pressures on students.

Identifying solutions: The survey solicited both administrators’ and students’ opinions on measures the institution could take to improve degree-attainment rates.

Student respondents want greater selection in academic courses and degree programs, with one-third of students noting that a wider range of engaging and relevant curricula would improve completion. Only 14 percent of university leaders say offering a wider range of engaging and relevant courses and majors would help retention and degree completion.

Additional academic support services, like tutoring or mentoring, are also important to 30 percent of learners, and 27 percent of students want more career services and internship opportunities.

Campus leaders, on the other hand, believe prioritizing belonging (23 percent) and flexible scheduling (22 percent) are the most important actions to take to help students stay enrolled and complete. Among student respondents, around 24 percent want help feeling more connected to campus, and 15 percent want flexible scheduling options.

The disconnect between where campus leaders and students would invest in additional supports highlights a need for additional communication on available academic and career services provided, according to the report.

Despite the large number of students who said they were impacted by poor mental health or stress, only 18 percent of respondents say they want leaders to improve the accessibility and availability of mental health and counseling services.

Around 13 percent of students say their university is doing everything it can to encourage degree completion.

Clear communication: Students want more communication and personalized information from their university. Nine out of 10 respondents say they have access to a self-service portal where they can view academic progress, but only about four in 10 (38 percent) think this information is easy to consume.

When asked what kind of communication they would like, students prioritized: reminders about academic due dates (90 percent) and deadlines (87 percent), recommendations of courses to take based on career goals (89 percent) or based on prior grades (88 percent), and information on social events (82 percent).

Half of student respondents want communication via a personalized email (52 percent) and one-third prefer receiving texts (31 percent). Fewer learners prefer a phone call (30 percent) or general broadcast email (27 percent).

Tell us what your college or university has done to capture what supports students say would help with degree completion. Share here.

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