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Top Priorities of Today’s Higher Education Students

Each year, more than 14 million students enroll in universities across the nation to expand on their career goals. Earning a bachelor’s degree, master’s, or doctorate can help anyone increase earning potential, gain job security, and expand occupational options.

But when it comes to educational experience, what are today’s students looking for in an advanced degree program, especially one that is online? What are the top factors that weigh in on the selection process? In this blog, we’ll dive into the top priorities of adult learners.



Top 3 General Priorities

Areas of study vary across industries—from teaching to business, to engineering and nursing—but some challenges seem to be universal to higher education students across all fields.


One of the biggest considerations for many students as they consider which university to attend is finances. In the past three decades, according to the College Board, the average cost to attend a public, four-year institution has more than tripled. The cost for private schools has more than doubled, and roughly 54 percent of students need to borrow funds through federal or private loans to cover educational expenses. At the end of the first quarter in 2019, the average student loan balance per borrower was $35,359.

It’s no wonder why competitive tuition, financial aid packages, and work-study programs are some of the main priorities for today’s university students.

Quality of Education

The number of master’s degrees conferred by universities is up by 66 percent since 2000, and those with ambitious career goals certainly take quality into account. This can range from university and program accreditation, to rankings, to research and developments.

Nonetheless, a recent Gallup survey reported that fewer than half of recent business and law degree-holders believe that their education adequately prepared them to meet their career goals. Because not all higher ed experiences are created equal, assessing program quality has become a focal point for today’s students in effort to receive the best ROI.

Cost/Benefit of Student Debt

Students who pursued graduate and professional degrees account for 40 percent of the $1.5 trillion worth of outstanding national student loan debt, according to the College Board. On average, those with graduate degrees owe three times more than an undergraduate.

Because the financial commitment is so vast for many higher-ed students, one prioritization is focusing on degrees that are safe pathways to well-paying career goals. Today’s students are seeking programs that will best equip them to enter their chosen field, pay off their student debt, and meet their career goals.



Priorities for Nursing Students

Nursing students face many of the same challenges when it comes to pursuing their career goals—not to mention, earning an advanced degree is becoming more of a requirement in the field.

Rising Demand for a BSN

Based on a 2017 survey conducted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (ACCN), 49 percent of healthcare employers are requiring new hires to have at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN).

More than 88 percent of employers now have a strong preference for nurses with a baccalaureate degree. A study published in Nursing Economics found that the percentage of nurses in acute care hospitals with BSNs is increasing while the employment of associate degree nurses is decreasing. That means that earning a BSN has quickly become a high priority for today’s nursing students.

Raising the Bar for Registered Nurses

In March 2019, the ACCN further acknowledged the necessity of a highly educated nursing workforce that can meet complex healthcare demands. They stated that registered nurses (RNs) should be prepared with a BSN or equivalent baccalaureate nursing degree from an accredited four-year college or university.

According to the ACCN, BSN coursework “enhances the student’s professional development, prepares the new nurse for a broader scope of practice, and provides the nurse with a better understanding of the cultural, political, economic, and social issues that affect patients and influence healthcare delivery.”

BSNs are also associated with positive patient outcomes. Research by the University of Michigan reported that a 10 percent increase in nurses with bachelor’s degrees was associated with lowering the odds of patient mortality by 10.9 percent.



Being Prepared to Meet Crucial Needs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that RN employment will rise about 15 percent between 2016 and 2026. While the ACCN reported a 3.7 percent enrollment increase in entry-level nursing programs in 2018, this still will not meet the need for nursing services across the country.

With a looming shortage of healthcare workers, it is more important than ever to enhance the educational preparation of the nursing workforce.

Extra Support Systems

Nursing students face traditional challenges such as study time, finances, and work-life balance. Some may even have extra family obligations, such as childcare, or caring for elderly parents. This can cause stress when combined with the intense course of study, making a strong support system one priority for today’s nursing students.

Financial Aid

As discussed, cost is a major factor influencing program choices — this is especially true for nursing students. The average nursing student loan debt varies depending on the degree, but can range anywhere from $19,928 for an ADN to $47,321 for a MSN. The median debt for MSN RNs is between $40,000 and $54,999, and some students can expect to owe more.

The National Student Nurses’ Association reports that more than 70 percent of nursing students use loans to help cover the cost, but there are a number of scholarships available as well.

Unfortunately, many students don’t apply for scholarships due to lack of time, or simply not knowing about these options, so a robust and well-communicated financial aid program is another high priority for students.



Benefits of Online Programs

In a recent survey, nursing was found to be the second most popular major among both undergraduate and graduate learners. Many of these students are turning to online programs to address their needs and priorities.They’re seeking options that are affordable, of quality, and offer flexibility.

Flexible Learning Options

According to Minority Nurse, advanced nursing students typically don’t have as much family support as traditional undergraduate students. They may also have to factor in childcare and transportation, so flexibility is a top priority.

Continuing to work full time is also a necessity for many nursing students. Heavy workloads and irregular schedules make online programs especially appealing for RNs looking to act on their career goals.

Programs offering 24/7 access to online coursework with no set log-in times are often in high demand among today’s busy students. This allows students to establish a routine and plug in class time around their current schedule.

Bridge Programs

For nurses who are already in the workforce, online bridge programs might be optimal to achieve their career goals. Currently, there are more than 750 RN-to-BSN programs nationwide, with over 600 offered at least partially online.

Some programs, like the RN-to-MSN, allow nurses to earn their BSNs while working towards a master’s degree. Nationwide, 219 such programs are currently available—a number that has more than tripled in the past 25 years and is still on the rise.

Clinical Placement Support

Many top nursing programs today offer clinical placement support for online students. This educational service is a huge draw for working nurses, who are already pressed in trying to find work-life-school balance.

Online nursing programs may help with locating clinical sites, ensuring that the site meets program requirements, and building relationships to match the student with a qualified preceptor—all of which takes valuable time. It’s no wonder why clinical placement support is a top priority for nursing students.



Meeting the Need

The Health Resources and Services Administration projects that within the next ten to 15 years, more than one million RNs will reach retirement age. These job openings—on top of current staffing shortages—create a wealth of opportunity for nursing students.

Universities can help meet the needs of today’s nurses with quality online programs that speak to these priorities.

Today’s nursing students are in the market for a rewarding online learning experience. At Global Health Education (GHE), we are here to help them find it.

Serving as a liaison between the world’s top universities, students, and employers, GHE can help your online programs grow by matching you with qualified student applicants, and more.

Learn about GHE’s services for university partners.