Top Challenges Facing U.S. Higher Education
Historically, colleges and universities have relied on traditional economic models to sustain them. For the majority of private institutions, that meant enrolling a stable number of tuition-paying students. In the case of public institutions, it meant receiving consistent state appropriations, in addition to tuition revenue. The pace of change in the economy has impacted the reliability of traditional models, putting pressure on institutions to readjust their strategies.
Below is a list of the top challenges confronting U.S. institutions:
- Overall Student Enrollment is on the Decline: In a survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup, only 34 percent of the institutions polled met their enrollment targets for the fall 2017 term by May 1 (declining from 37% in 2016 and 42% in 2015). In addition, 85 percent of senior admission staff reported that they are very concerned about reaching institutional enrollment targets.
- Financial Difficulties: Inside Higher Ed also surveyed 400 chief business officers in 2017 and reported that 71 percent agreed that higher education institutions are facing serious financial difficulties. This is an increase of 8 percent from 2016.
- Fewer High School Graduates: the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education data estimated that in 2017 there were approximately 80,000 fewer high school graduates than in the previous year, a decline of more than 2 percent. The sharpest declines were in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana.
- Decreased State Funding: Multi-year decreased state funding for public institutions and community colleges has resulted in decreased critical services for students, putting significant strain on institutions.
- Lower World Rankings: Decreased state funding for flagship universities is responsible, in part, for the United States slipping in world rankings. Times Higher Education's publication of the 14th annual World University Rankings of 1,000 institutions from 77 countries revealed that America's domination of the rankings has slipped. For the first time in the history of the report, no U.S. school ranked in the top two spots.
- Declining International Student Enrollments: according to estimates cited by ICEF Monitor, 28% of all international students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities in 2001, but by 2014, the percentage dropped to 22%. In addition, 40 percent of U.S. college and university deans expected declines in international student enrollments for the fall 2017 term.
To address these challenges, a number of institutions have reported that they will increase their focus on:
- Online Education: A survey of chief academic officers conducted by Inside Higher Ed revealed that 82 percent plan to grow their institution's online course offerings to expand access to adult and non-traditional students in the next year.
- International Student Recruitment: In an attempt to offset the decline in the number of U.S. high school graduates, an increasing number of admission officers plan to expand their international student recruitment programs.
- College Mergers and Acquisitions: Schools with little brand‐name recognition and low endowments may not be able to effectively navigate the impact of decreased domestic and international student enrollments and decreased state funding. Some institutions may choose to merge to save money, add depth or breadth to their operations, or supplement resources.
The challenges above suggest that higher education administrators will need to explore new technologies, business models, and strategies to reach new student populations. Read the full article from Enrollment Management Report about the current shifts in higher education driving new approaches within institutions.
For more higher education trends and approaches to change management, including strategies some CAOs are taking to increase institutional value, visit our Resources page.
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