Year in Review: 10 stories that defined 2017

The EAB Daily Briefing team looked back at the news to compile the most unique and important trends of the year. Here are the 10 stories that shaped 2017:

1: The year college recruitment went high-tech

College enrollment and admissions staff are getting savvier about using technology to connect with, engage, and learn more about prospective students. Some colleges are digitizing campus tours for students who are unable to make the trip in person. Others are nudging students in the right direction with reminders and tips throughout the application process via text message. Roughly 77% of young people use Snapchat daily, and colleges are following them to the platform to create a friendly "front door" to campus for prospective students. Some schools even developed branded emoji.

Learn more: How to use social media to connect with underrepresented prospective students

2: The year of the circular table

Campuses are starting to look more futuristic—even sidewalks are getting upgrades. The trend for facilities innovation this year was giving students more room for hands-on, collaborative learning. We saw this in classrooms, where futuristic design is focused less on high-tech gadgets and more on humbler tools like circular tables. The trend is also spilling over into residence halls, which are being redesigned to nudge students out of their rooms and into communal spaces.

Finally, the collaboration trend shaped the ongoing overhaul of academic libraries—for example, newly installed makerspaces give students a place to work together on projects and inventions. To make room for these additions, some libraries are taking an "Amazon-like" approach to storing books offsite and delivering them quickly to campus when requested.

Your field guide to active learning classrooms

3: The year millennials became coworkers

Depending on your definition, millennials are roughly 20 to 40 years old today, which means they're more likely to be your coworkers than your traditional students. This year's news reflected that shift with a bigger focus than ever on what millennials want from a job and the best ways to retain and engage them.

Many millennials entered the workforce around the time of the Great Recession, which explains much of the behavior that can frustrate their employers. They've developed a reputation for job-hopping, but research shows they're merely trying to get back on track in their careers by relentlessly pursuing better salary, career advancement, and professional development.

4: The year a new generation entered the classroom

Replacing millennials on campus comes a new generation, who are nothing like their predecessors, according to one Gen Z-aged expert. The defining characteristic of this generation is the modern technology they've grown up with—they're the first true digital natives and they've never experienced a world without smartphones. Gen Z is also less likely to make clear distinctions between the digital and physical world; for them, videoconferencing is the same as meeting in person.

However, all that technology use has taken a toll on their mental health, according to research. Young people have grown up using social media to compare themselves with their peers—and constantly perceiving themselves to be falling short.

What Gen Z wants from college, in their own words

5: The year President Trump took office

After last year's surprising election, President Trump was inaugurated this year. Right from the start, the Trump administration showed its appetite for shaking things up. One week into his term, Trump signed a travel order that led to short-term chaos as officials determined how to implement the order (which is still working its way through several legal challenges).

Over the next few months, the shakeups continued with a budget proposal that suggested cutting billions from education funding, an Education Department statement that drew Public Service Loan Forgiveness into question, and an announcement that Trump planned to end DACA. We're wrapping up the year with a tax bill that has major implications for higher ed and renewed enthusiasm for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

6: The year student activism escalated

Meanwhile, the wave of student activism that began a few years ago has only gotten stronger. Each of the new administration's policy proposals ignited its own round of protests, on top of continued activism related to speakers, architecture, and building names. The activism may be driven in part by a lack of understanding about the First Amendment on the part of both left- and right-leaning students, according to a survey released this year.

But administrators are keeping up with the escalation in student activism by establishing processes for responding to protests. This year, we heard about new ways to make decisions about free speech issues, determine whether to rename that building, and ensure student safety on campus.

10 tools to help you engage with and respond to student activists

7: The year rural students became a top priority

Last year's presidential election shone a spotlight on the 14% of Americans who live in rural areas. "All of a sudden, rural is on everyone's mind," said one university official, capturing the trend perfectly. Rural students tend to be well-prepared for college, and colleges are looking to recruit the previously underserved population in part to help diversify campuses and fill enrollment gaps.

But a number of barriers remain between colleges and rural students. Many rural students lack reliable internet access, creating challenges on both sides of the applying-recruiting process, and rural communities tend to more skeptical about the value of higher education.

8: The year we prepared our students to compete with robots

As economists predict that nearly a third of U.S. workers will be replaced by robots, higher ed and industry leaders alike are reevaluating the training students will need to succeed in year 2030. Surveys of talent officers suggest that the candidates who will remain competitive across the next wave of automation are the ones who can creatively and thoughtfully engage with technology. Many colleges are already cultivating this skill set in digital literacy programs that teach students both technical and soft skills.

Unfortunately, about a third of industry leaders said they had "no confidence" that education and job training will evolve quickly enough to meet labor market demands. College leaders, however, stand firm in their belief that a holistic education will prepare students to thrive—even in an uncertain job market.

9: The year of the first-gen student

About one in five first-year students identify as the first in their family to attend college. This student segment will likely grow in the coming years, as nearly 60% of admissions directors plan to increase first-gen student recruitment.

First-generation students bring valuable strengths to campus—but many lack the resources and knowledge to persist through graduation. To help first-gen students navigate the "hidden curriculum," colleges are building faculty and peer support networks and decoding higher ed jargon. To prepare these students for the job market, one school even hosted a professional networking conference to connect first-generation students with their alumni counterparts.

Propelling first-generation students towards the finish line may also benefit the communities these students call home; more than half of first-generation students say they'd like to give back to their communities after they graduate.

Read more: Two ways to help first-gen students navigate your college's hidden curriculum

10: The year colleges illuminated a liberal arts path to career success

Nearly three-quarters of today's first-year students consider making more money a very important reason to attend college. For students with money on their mind, most salary rankings suggest that STEM and business are the only paths to high earnings.

But in 2017, colleges zeroed in on fields that tend to (unfairly) earn a reputation for being "less relevant": the liberal arts. To improve career outcomes for humanities students, colleges are finding creative ways to integrate professional development into the curriculum and to help these students articulate their unique arsenal of digital skills. At the same time, many executives are turning their eye towards humanities-trained employees who have soft skills like critical thinking and communication that can't easily be automated.

Help students translate their academic experiences into resumes


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