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Improving the student experience and quality of life on college campuses

Sodexo’s Student Lifestyle Survey identifies and examines trends in key areas for undergraduate students
University Business, October 2017

Sodexo has provided dining and hospitality, student accommodations and facilities management services to the higher education community in the United States and around the world for nearly 50 years. As a strategic partner they focus on improving the student experience through integrated services that promote quality of life. Sodexo’s University Lifestyle Survey tracks the undergraduate student journey, providing valuable insights and identifying key trends in non-academic areas of university life. 

How can university leaders connect with students and parents in ways that will inspire them to apply to their school?

For universities, the age-old adage that you get only one chance to make a first impression does apply here. According to the survey, 43 percent of U.S. students make their decision on where to attend college based largely on their first impression of the campus. First-year students are also doing research digitally before they even set foot on campus. That close monitoring of the online presence makes a critical impression on first-year students. We found that 83 percent of students consider a friendly campus more important than a university’s reputation, and 62 percent consider the campus tour more influential than their parents’ advice. 

I think the takeaway for universities is the importance to be prescriptive about the look and feel of the campus, especially in campus tour season. The grounds need to be meticulously maintained, maintenance issues that can be easily seen must be addressed, cleaning is critical, and the university must coach people conducting tours to be really friendly and welcoming. 

The survey found that 86 percent of U.S. students study independently in their rooms. What can be done to encourage more collaboration and idea-sharing among U.S. students?

This is one of the most telling findings in the survey, and it should cause some concern. Collaboration is key to problem-solving in business or academia. Universities have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to increase collaboration and social engagement. I think providing areas where socialization and collaboration takes place is absolutely critical. It could be redesigning living and learning spaces, or rethinking how people gather in conventional places such as libraries. Also, universities need to  reconsider traditional gathering spaces by adding a third space, which is not really a living or learning area, but somewhere on campus that encourages social interaction, engagement and collaboration. 

What can university leaders do to better demonstrate the value of the college experience and prepare students for success after graduation?

One of the most interesting outcomes of the survey was how concerned U.S. students are regarding their future. They are not only apprehensive about mounting student loan debt and other forms of financial liability, but they also indicated growing concerns over securing a job after graduation and maintaining a good quality of life. University leaders need to reinforce the idea that working toward a degree is not a financial liability, it’s an investment in a student’s future. There are ways to add value: Ensuring access to student support services, quality dining facilities, consistent Wi-Fi and new technologies, clean laundry areas, transportation and gym access. Universities also need to be committed to areas that are important to their students such as environmental and social responsibility: food waste, water conservation and alternative energy. As a service provider and partner, we must offer the best possible student experience by working very closely with universities. This survey is going to be the first of a lot research we do around this.

Find the entire Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey at www.sodexo.com

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