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Sub-Saharan Africa as an Emerging Market for Millennial Students

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The World Bank projects that regional GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa will grow more than 5% annually between 2014 and 2016, ensuring that it remains among the fastest growing regions in the world. While students from Sub-Saharan Africa in the U.S. make up less than 4% of the total international student body in the country, it remains an important market for U.S. higher education institutions (HEIs) looking to diversify their international student community.

The latest report from WES Research & Advisory Services, Bridging the Digital Divide: Segmenting and Recruiting International Millennial Students, highlights Millennial students’ proclivity for technology during their college-search processes, indicating that HEIs need to adapt to students’ technological usage in order to recruit more effectively. This recommendation also applies to Sub-Saharan Africa, where mobile devices have emerged as the main medium for accessing the internet, and use of mobile devices during the college search and application process is above the average. Our survey results showed that:

  • Sixty-five percent of Millennial students from Sub-Saharan Africa reported that they check their emails several times a day, compared to 59% of all survey respondents.
  • Fifty-seven percent of Sub-Saharan African students have used a smartphone during the U.S. college/university search and application process as compared to 56% of all respondents; 27% used a tablet as compared to 26% of the total.
  • Almost all (98%) of those who have used a mobile device during the U.S. college/university search and application process used it to search for information on a university’s programs. Seventy-six percent of them used it to communicate with admissions staff over email and more than half of them (52%) used it to complete and submit a university application.

Using our segmentation framework – based on academic preparedness and financial resources – we found that Sub-Saharan African students differ substantially from overall respondents in terms of which segment they fit into. With the rise of the middle class in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially among oil exporting countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, more than two-fifths of master’s students from this region are Highfliers (students with high financial resources and high academic preparedness) as compared to 28% of overall master’s students, indicating that Sub-Saharan Africa is a promising location for international recruitment among institutions seeking to recruit Highfliers at the master’s level.

On the other hand, Sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the most inequitable regions in the world in terms of wealth distribution, which explains why Strivers (students with low financial resources and high academic preparedness) make up a high percentage of all students and suggests that many who are interested in studying abroad are likely to face challenges in affording the associated costs.


Bachelor’s students from Sub-Saharan Africa are most interested in information about tuition and cost of living (48%) and financial aid and scholarship opportunities (42%) as two of their top three information needs. Master’s students cited tuition and cost of living (46%) and application requirements (43%) as two of their top three information needs more often than reputation (36%) and career prospects (36%), the most frequent selections for overall master’s applicants, both at 43%. This finding implies that institutions wishing to expand their recruitment efforts into Sub-Saharan Africa should stress affordability and understand some of the challenges these students may have during the application process.

In conclusion, HEIs should be aware of and prepare for the emerging market in Sub-Saharan Africa.


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