In brief

In brief

  • Listening to the wants, needs and intentions of students and parents allows institutions to make more informed decisions in these uncertain times.
  • We analyzed 80M+ social media posts from 27M+ authors representing a mix of large (15k+ students), public and private four-year institutions.
  • We looked at posts from February to September 2019 and February to September 2020 to compare trends across years.
  • This is an update to our June report and shows how the situation has evolved through summer and as students returned to school.

What we found

Following a drop in focus in the spring, conversation about higher ed has never been higher. Students are still talking about health and safety but are increasingly concerned with student experience. In fact, experience is now their number-one concern.

These conversations have swung to be more negative, with the number of posts expressing negative emotions increasing 70% from summer 2019 to summer 2020. What’s driving the negative sentiment? Our study identified two primary areas: concerns related to COVID and concerns related to the political climate and social and racial justice movements.

Despite some of the confusion and upheaval students experienced in coming back to school, they were overall supportive of the most common back-to-school measures that universities put in place. Students recognized these measures as integral to their ability to return to campus.

The whole situation continues to influence prospective students, who are grappling with additional anxiety during this application season. As in the spring, posts about applying to college are still down overall and are much more heavily focused on “value for money” than in previous years.

Universities and their actions will continue to be under a microscope as the school year progresses, with students focused on getting the value they feel they deserve from their education and experience.

Students prioritize experience over safety and education, putting pressure on universities to provide tools and services that stack up to in-person.

Jonathan Fry

Managing Director – Consulting, Education Lead

Samantha Fisher

Managing Director – Consulting, Public Service, Education


Public service for a new era
COVID-19 accelerating trends in higher education
Higher Ed: Flattening the enrollment curve

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