Get to Know Today’s Students: Sodexo’s 2022-2023 Student Lifestyle Survey

About the author : Jeni Golomb

Senior Vice President, North America Marketing

Published on : 8/18/22
  • Fall is one of the most exciting times in higher education as students head back to school and campus communities come alive with the frenzied activity of a new academic year. Many familiar aspects of this experience – the sense of opportunity, the chance to form new friendships, the exhilaration of pursuing interests and forging a path for the future – remain the same.

    Young people can be mercurial – as a mother of two teenage boys, I know this all too well. Because they’re still figuring out who they are and what matters most to them, their tastes and preferences change frequently. They often set trends and are eager to adopt new technologies. Students also tend to be passionate about their beliefs and will alter their behavior accordingly. Students’ preferences have always been in a constant state of evolution, but the pace of that evolution has accelerated recently. Coming of age amidst unprecedented global and national upheaval significantly impacted how today’s students see the world, and it profoundly affected their perceptions and expectations regarding college education.

    Many campuses are struggling to understand these seismic shifts and keep pace with the rapid changes to students’ needs and expectations. The first step must be understanding what students want now, even though it may differ from what they’ve prioritized and valued in the past.

    If students’ perceptions are changing faster than ever, how can colleges and universities proactively identify trends and develop programs and solutions that meet students’ needs?

    Sodexo has long been committed to understanding the ever-changing preferences and expectations of college students. As part of that commitment, we strive to identify and track shifting trends in campus life as reported firsthand by undergraduate students through the Sodexo Student Lifestyle Survey

    Sodexo’s 2022-23 Student Lifestyle Survey reveals insights around a broad range of topics, including what drives students’ decisions, how they select a college, what they expect on campus and how those expectations evolve over time. Understanding the nuanced needs of today’s students enables universities to provide programs and services that will ensure success.


    How Students Are Reacting to a Changing Reality

    The COVID-19 pandemic upended education in the U.S. almost overnight. Students experienced widespread school closures, and many wrestled with hybrid and remote learning for the first time. Although moving classes online and cancelling in-person events was vital to protecting public health, it dramatically altered students’ day-to-day lives. It also reshaped students’ values and perceptions in ways that continue to reverberate throughout higher education.

    The 2022-2023 Student Lifestyle Survey explores key findings that relate to how students are navigating the world today, what concerns they grapple with and what they want for the future.

    Mental health remains a major challenge. More than 60% of today’s students report having felt overwhelmed and anxious during their time at school, compared to 40% of students attending college in 2020. Among the third of students who have considered dropping out, 60% cite health and mental health problems as their top reason (in 2017 it was financial concerns). These issues directly contribute to declining retention rates and may have lifelong implications for students.

    Students are lonely and crave connection. Only 55% of students surveyed in 2022 are satisfied with their current social lives – a significant drop from the 69% of students indicating the same in 2020. Furthermore, 53% of current college students feel lonely, and 47% feel isolated. It’s vital to create opportunities for them to meet their peers and engage in the campus community organically.

    Students want to feel welcomed on campus. Creating the right campus environment is crucial to attracting students, with a whopping 82% of current college students stating that their enrollment decisions were based heavily on the perceived friendliness of a campus, which ranked alongside other top factors like affordability. In fact, students were far more likely to be swayed by the friendly atmosphere of a campus, even more than by a college’s reputation.

    Students are re-examining the value of higher education. Only 49% of students believe that their college offers value for money, and 81% of current college students say affordability/access to financial aid is the most important factor in choosing a college. The number of students enrolling in college immediately after high school graduation significantly and steadily declined from a high of 70% in 2016 to 63% in 2020, the most recent year for which the figure is available, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Growing costs and skepticism about the value of higher education are driving this change. As enrollments continue to decline and retention becomes increasingly challenging, it is essential to demonstrate the value of a college degree.

    Campus dining is a top driver of student engagement. The dining hall is the perfect place to foster a sense of community through events that promote engagement, socialization, value and convenience all at once. Students recognize the benefits of coming together over a shared meal, with 87% reporting that eating together is the most typical way that they socialize with friends.

    Colleges must do more. Fewer than half of students attending college in 2022 believe that their university would sufficiently support them through physical and mental health concerns. About half of students are unsatisfied with the number of outlets available for stress release, such as communal activities like sports, campus-wide social events and campus clubs. Investing in these programs and activities, as well as in resources to promote physical and mental health, may help colleges better support students.


    Working Together to Meet Students’ Needs

    The Sodexo Student Lifestyle Survey helps us understand student needs, identify changing demands and build insights that help our partner campuses evolve the campus community. We are passionate about collaborating with colleges and universities to leverage the right resources and develop solutions that meet the needs of current students and anticipate the trends of tomorrow.

    Download the Complete Report