2023 Higher Education Trend Watch

This report focuses on the workforce, cultural, and technological shifts for ten macro trends emerging in higher education in 2023. Across these three areas of shift, we report the major impacts and steps that institutions are taking in response to each trend. Some trends overlap with the 2022 Higher Education Trend Watch report.  However, while some topics and issues remain consistent, significant shifts have occurred across many of the trends for 2023.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education institutions shifted from emergency response to long-term adaptation and strategically planning for what's next. Many institutions have already implemented hybrid/remote work and learning arrangements, supported by a variety of innovative technologies and tools. Institutions are now focused on designing and implementing needed policies and initiatives, creating new positions, committees, and workgroups, and expanding and upgrading their technology. This focus on adapting and planning can also be seen in some additional trends this year, such as Focus on increasing institutional resilience and Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education.

While institutions are preparing in these ways for a sustainable future, leaders still need to consider and plan for significant challenges, including retention and recruitment (students, faculty, staff, and leaders), costs and budgets, varying and changing expectations and preferences when it comes to teaching, learning, and work modality, and broader cultural issues such as DEI, digital literacy, and the perceived value of higher education.

Respondents to the 2023 Top 10 IT Issues survey were provided not only with a list of 20 IT Issues but also with a list of 20 wider trends  emerging around the higher education landscape. For each of the emerging trends, we asked respondents to rate the level of impact on their institution's technology strategy, policies, and/or practice. The interactive table below summarizes the trend impacts as rated by the respondents and includes dropdown menus for exploring how the trends and their impacts differ across institutional sizes and types.

IT TRENDS RANKINGS

RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
3 (tie)Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
3 (tie)More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
5Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
6Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
7Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
8Focus on increasing institutional resilience
9Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity
10Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
3Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
4More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
5Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
6Closer alignment of higher education with workforce needs and skills based learning
7Declining public funding for higher education
8Growth in demand for nonaccredited training credentialing and certification programs
9Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity
10Focus on increasing institutional resilience
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
3Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
4More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
5Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity
6Focus on increasing institutional resilience
7 (tie)Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
7 (tie)More attention to well being and mental health
9Redesigned and repurposed public facilities and physical spaces
10Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Focus on increasing institutional resilience
3 (tie)Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
3 (tie)Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
3 (tie)More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
4 (tie)Declining public funding for higher education
4 (tie)Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
4 (tie)Closer alignment of higher education with workforce needs and skills based learning
4 (tie)Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics
4 (tie)Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
3Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
4 (tie)Declining public funding for higher education
4 (tie)More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
6Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
7Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
8Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
9Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity
10Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Focus on increasing institutional resilience
3 (tie)Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
3 (tie)More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
4 (tie)Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
4 (tie)Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
7Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
8Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
9Closer alignment of higher education with workforce needs and skills based learning
10Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
3 (tie)Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
3 (tie)Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
5More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
6Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
7Declining public funding for higher education
8Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
9 (tie)Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity
9 (tie)Focus on increasing institutional resilience
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
3More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
4Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
5Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
6Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics
7 (tie)Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
7 (tie)Focus on increasing institutional resilience
8 (tie)Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
8 (tie)Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
3More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
4Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
5Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
6Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
7 (tie)Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
7 (tie)Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics
7 (tie)More attention to well being and mental health
10Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
3Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
4Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
5More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
6Focus on increasing institutional resilience
7Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
8Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
9 (tie)Declining public funding for higher education
9 (tie)More attention to well being and mental health
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
3Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
4More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
5Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
6Focus on increasing institutional resilience
7Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics
8Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
9Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity
10Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2 (tie)Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
2 (tie)More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
4Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
5Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
6Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
7Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
8Focus on increasing institutional resilience
9Declining public funding for higher education
10Growth in demand for nonaccredited training credentialing and certification programs
RankTrend
1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
3Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
4Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
5More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
6Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
7 (tie)Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
7 (tie)Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity
9Declining public funding for higher education
10Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics
RankTrend
1 (tie)Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
1 (tie)Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
3More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
4Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
5Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
6 (tie)Declining public funding for higher education
6 (tie)Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
6 (tie)Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
9Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity
10Focus on increasing institutional resilience

In this section of the report, we take a closer look at the emerging higher education trends selected as most important by the survey respondents, with summaries of the planning and actions they're exploring or implementing at their institutions in response to each trend. Responses have been categorized along three primary areas of institutional shifts: workforce, culture, and technology.

How are institutions responding to Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy ?

Shifts in Workforce: Institutions are creating new teams, working groups, and positions that focus solely on cybersecurity issues. However, in the wake of the “Great Resignation” and due to the competitiveness of the current job market, institutions face challenges in recruiting and hiring staff. To equip their existing faculty, staff, administrators, and students with necessary cybersecurity skills and knowledge, institutional leaders are increasing their efforts in providing training and education.

Shifts in Culture: Institutions are conducting strategic planning and are implementing new initiatives and policies addressing cybersecurity issues. Some have begun campaigns to increase cybersecurity awareness, along with policies to comply with federal and state regulations or other security frameworks and programs (i.e., GDPR, NIST-CSF, GLBA). Institutions are also investing in cyber insurance and are ramping up their efforts in detecting and preventing security threats and attacks by implementing regular risk assessments, phishing tests, third-party consulting and monitoring, and audits. Respondents reported a growing need for planning and policies that specifically focus on data privacy and ethics and cybersecurity issues that are unique to work-from-home environments.

Shifts in Technology: Most institutions have expanded, upgraded, and adopted new technologies and security measures such as multi-factor authentication, password tools, threat detection, monitoring, ransomware protection software, and endpoint and Wi-Fi security. While respondents reported an increase in costs as institutions implement these technologies, institutional leaders are also more willing to devote an increased share of their budget toward these resources.

How are institutions responding to Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements ?

Shifts in Workforce: The increase in hybrid/remote work opportunities has created a highly competitive job market, and institutions that have not fully embraced this new norm are having difficulties filling positions—in terms of both retention and recruitment. Some institutions are hiring more fully remote staff in order to remain competitive in the job market. At many institutions, hybrid/remote work arrangements vary widely, based on position and department. Despite this, most IT departments and staff report having hybrid/remote work arrangements. Respondents at institutions with hybrid/remote work arrangements reported associated cost savings and increased employee productivity.

Shifts in Culture: Many institutions have implemented policies and HR practices supporting hybrid/remote arrangements. Some are still piloting and testing, while others are assessing and analyzing impacts and effectiveness and are moving forward with strategic planning. As institutions move forward with hybrid/remote arrangements, they face concerns such as creating and maintaining culture and engagement, reconfiguring tasks and events to fit a digital format, and addressing mental health and equity issues (i.e., how to ensure that decision-making regarding remote work and learning is both fair and equitable for all).

Shifts in Technology: Many institutions have adopted technology to support hybrid/remote work, including expanded cloud-based services, access to virtual private networks, Zoom and other meeting platforms, remote phone capabilities, equipment such as headsets and cameras, and a shift from desktops to laptops. Many institutions are also upgrading or reconfiguring workspaces to support a flexible, hybrid work culture (e.g., upgraded classrooms, conference rooms, shared workspaces).

How are institutions responding to Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions ?

Shifts in Workforce: The Great Resignation continues, with many institutions reporting significant turnover, especially in leadership roles. Recruitment is a big challenge for many institutions, with declining budgets and a very competitive job market. In response to the increasing number of retirements among upper-level positions, respondents observed that leadership positions are being filled by individuals with less knowledge and experience. Another consequence of resignations is a shift in the workload. Respondents reported having to take on the extra work of those who left, projects being stalled or canceled due to turnover, and an increase in contracting and outsourcing.

Shifts in Culture: Staff, administrators, faculty, and leaders are retiring or resigning because of burnout, unhealthy or unsupportive workplace cultures, and/or the ability to find more desirable work conditions elsewhere. People are leaving for better salaries, the opportunity to work remotely or hybrid, and better work/life balance. Few institutions are engaged in strategic planning that targets recruitment, retention, succession, and offboarding. Those institutions that are working on strategic planning in these areas are reviewing salaries, developing succession plans, identifying non-monetary incentives, and considering cultural changes such as offering hybrid/remote work arrangements.

Shifts in Technology: While respondents did not report any direct technological shifts due to the resignation of leaders and staff, they did report difficulties in retaining and hiring technology staff and leadership. Thus, moving forward, this challenge has the potential to lead to indirect effects on technological processes managed by the IT department—for example, technology that is more difficult to maintain and upgrade and delays with technological support due to understaffing and/or loss of institutional and departmental knowledge.

How are institutions responding to More calls for data-informed decision-making and reporting ?

Shifts in Workforce: Many institutions are adding new positions, teams, and cross-functional work groups and committees devoted to data analytics, though respondents reported difficulties in retaining and recruiting qualified individuals to support big data systems and analytics. Some institutions are redesigning existing positions to focus on data reporting and visualization needs, while others are merging existing teams and workgroups with those that intersect with data analytics (e.g., enterprise tech groups and data science and analytics groups). Some institutions have begun offering training on analytics (e.g., student success analytics) to their faculty and staff.

Shifts in Culture: There is increasing awareness of the value and need for data across all functional areas of the institution, including recruitment, retention, student success, budgeting and fiscal performance, and business operations. Institutional leaders are pushing for more data-informed decision-making, but the need remains for growth and improvement in the areas of data governance, cybersecurity issues, data literacy, and access (i.e., making data easy to report and interpret via dashboards).

Shifts in Technology: Institutions are adopting and/or upgrading their data infrastructure and tools (e.g., dashboarding platforms, warehouses, analytics programs, reporting and integration platforms, CRMs), while also utilizing more of the data from their existing technologies and platforms (e.g., LMSs, ERP systems). Due to increases in the awareness of data privacy and security issues, many of these institutions have adopted security systems and network monitoring solutions to allow for safer data collection.

How are institutions responding to Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning ?

Shifts in Workforce: Institutions have increased their number of fully online instructional design staff, in addition to adding leadership positions focused on online learning and instruction. Many institutions are providing more funding and training efforts so that faculty members can improve their instruction and course delivery.

Shifts in Culture: Despite the widespread adoption of hybrid and online learning, respondents reported conflicting preferences. For example, most students want these options, yet faculty and leadership have mixed preferences. With many institutions already having adopted hybrid and online courses for undergraduates, efforts are now shifting toward moving graduate programs to these formats. As institutions continue to offer hybrid and online programs, issues surrounding equity and accessibility, along with the ability to balance flexibility and the quality of the teaching and learning experience, are and continue to be in discussion.

Shifts in Technology: Many institutions have upgraded or renovated their classrooms and other learning spaces and will continue to do so (e.g., making spaces hybrid-capable with updated AV equipment and integration with Zoom). Some have implemented new student engagement platforms (e.g., CRM, online tutoring, advising, wellness tools) and/or adopted additional support technologies and tools (e.g., lecture-capture technology, plagiarism-detection tools, analytics tools and platforms, vertical market products). Institutions have largely shifted away from desktops in favor of laptops and have adopted or are in the process of considering different LMS options that work well with hybrid and online learning methods.

How are institutions responding to Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education ?

Shifts in Workforce: While many institutions are in the process of planning for and implementing digital transformation, respondents reported that the traditional Dx concept needs to be augmented with remote workforce management, effective hybrid workforce support, and new work ethics standards. Further, due to the Great Resignation and the state of the job market, retraining existing staff and filling new positions created as part of the Dx process remains a challenge.

Shifts in Culture: Digital transformation is necessary for institutions to survive and to sustain operations in the face of enrollment pressures, declining budgets, and changes in students' expectations. Institutions are increasingly focused on the Dx process for all functional areas of higher education—not just academics but also athletics, HR, finance, and administration. Institutions are working on strategic plans that incorporate digital transformation, though they face a number of challenges, including keeping up with fast-paced technology changes and stakeholder buy-in.

Shifts in Technology: Institutions have adopted new CRM tools for monitoring the student life cycle and advancement, as well as for managing collaborations, communication, and workflow. There has been widespread adoption of cloud-based services to facilitate hybrid/remote work and learning arrangements, and the focus now is more on accessibility, equity, and the challenges of getting equipment to all who need it. More institutions are adopting technologies to support the processes of digitizing, automating, and streamlining (e.g., digitized procurement and hiring processes, implementation of digital signatures, big data and storage tools, ERP tools).

How are institutions responding to Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining ?

Shifts in Workforce: Many institutions have frozen tuition and fees in an effort to keep costs at a minimum for students. In response to reduced budgets, coupled with declining enrollment numbers, institutions have put holds on increasing salaries and filling vacant positions and have started exploring programs like retirement incentives to help reduce human capital costs.

Shifts in Culture: Institutional leaders widely recognize the impact that rising costs have had on the perceived value of higher education, and they are focused on demonstrating the value proposition of their institutions by improving graduates' career outcomes and employability while also reducing costs and providing financial assistance. To demonstrate value, institutions are expanding career services programs and aligning academic programs with career, skill, and job market needs. To curb spending, institutions are limiting their budget growth and re-examining software contracts, pushing back on price increases, and/or dropping products. They are also exploring various financial assistance options (e.g., additional need-based support), increasing advancement and fundraising goals to help close the gap from public funding, ramping up FAFSA applications and affordability conversations, and revisioning their financial support models to offer only grant-based funding.

Shifts in Technology: With an increased emphasis on student workforce readiness, institutions are investing in technologies that are comparable to or better than those in students' future work environments. Advising platforms and academic planning technologies are helping maximize students' time and financial investment in their coursework, and some institutions are engaging in automating processes in the CRM and recruiting functions and creating team and process maps to support enrollment. IT units are also prioritizing efficiency by reviewing the impacts of ERP systems on institutional flexibility, avoiding duplicative solutions, repurposing technology circulation pools, and changing reserves policies and procedures.

How are institutions responding to Focus on increasing institutional resilience ?

Shifts in Workforce: Resiliency efforts in the workforce during the pandemic were singularly focused on budgetary concerns and the effects of faculty and staff turnover on the ability of institutions to operate effectively. Now, some institutions are viewing turnover as an opportunity to rebuild their operational strategy and are increasing cross-departmental flexibility among staff to reduce the impact of turnover. Others noted that the increase in workload and the decreased budgets—namely, the lack of salary increases and the reduction in backfilling vacancies—have taken a toll on faculty and staff.

Shifts in Culture: Many institutions are working on shifting campus culture to focus on agility and flexibility to meet rapidly changing needs. Business continuity is an important aspect of this work, as institutions are translating the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic into revised disaster recovery and process continuity plans to ensure they are ready to pivot to an on-campus or virtual environment at any given moment. They are also increasing cross-unit collaboration and cross-training and identifying business models to tap new markets and students. Financial recovery planning is critical as well, and institutions are updating their health care benefits to rebuild savings and shore up finances, consolidating courses, and exploring alternative revenue streams and earning options outside of traditional educational programs.

Shifts in Technology: Aligned with institutional efforts to increase agility and flexibility, IT units are building institutional resilience by repurposing funds to modernize data centers and disaster recovery facilities, utilizing a cloud-first approach to build resilience capabilities in security and disaster recovery, instituting new backup systems, and continuing end-of-life equipment replacement grounded in sustainability through automated and scheduled updates and replacements.

How are institutions responding to Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity ?

Shifts in Workforce: IT units are proactively engaging with their HR teams to refine job descriptions and encourage more diverse candidate pools, develop rubrics for resumé reviews, and include job search advocates on search committees. Staff development and support programs are providing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training, staff affinity groups, and new career pathways and training opportunities for under-represented populations within the institution. Several institutions have also created positions to directly support DEI awareness and culture.

Shifts in Culture: From listening sessions to campus-wide virtual reality experiences, institutions are taking steps to understand and address the discrimination and inequity concerns of students, faculty, and staff. To help ensure that institutional leaders are proactively anticipating and responding to these concerns, DEI efforts are being strategically embedded into institutional policies and are shaping institutional practices such as the following: more inclusive language and alt-text in all documentation; department-level DEI plans; dedicated DEI student groups and faculty/staff working groups; DEI academic programs, lectures, and courses; and DEI offices (e.g., Office of Diversity, Office of Community and Belonging) and leadership roles (e.g., Chief Diversity Officer, Vice Provost for DEI, Vice President of DEI and Belonging, department-level DEI Directors).

Shifts in Technology: A number of institutions are working with their IT units to support DEI efforts. IT units are engaged in projects such as pronoun collection to allow self-selection of preferred pronouns that are automatically populated in downstream systems and instructional rosters, platform development to gather data and reports on DEI initiatives, and analytics solutions for disaggregating student metrics. Institutions are also considering digital equity and minimum technology requirements in their technology planning to increase resources and support for all students.

How are institutions responding to Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics ?

Shifts in Workforce: Institutional leaders are facing challenges in upskilling existing staff, within and outside of the IT department, and in hiring qualified candidates to help improve workforce data literacy and skills. Institutions are offering staff development opportunities (e.g., a "Data Innovators” certificate) that focus on appropriate collection and management of data and best practices for using data to extract insights and support decision-making. To help support and lead these efforts, institutions have created positions such as Director of Data Analytics and Vice President for Enterprise Analytics. They are also including more prominent and consistent language about desired data analytics skills in relevant job descriptions and postings.

Shifts in Culture: To keep up with the growth in big data and analytics, institutions are developing new courses, strategically aligning data governance with Dx plans, and building capacity to sustain these efforts. Many institutions have begun planning or are already offering interdisciplinary courses and short-term academies related to data literacy and skills to ensure that all students are exposed to data science. Others are incorporating content into required first-year courses, covering topics from information and digital literacy to data analytics and privacy. To broaden and deepen the integration of data governance efforts with their Dx strategy, institutions are creating related communities of practice, pursuing transparency with data privacy dashboards, and partnering with their institutional research teams to increase institutional knowledge of analytics.

Shifts in Technology: With data and analytics siloed or poorly structured at many institutions, and without a centralized and robust set of tools, the requests for data that support specific strategic initiatives and measures are being stalled. A number of IT units, however, are ramping up their support for data delivery and consumption by expanding the role of business intelligence teams, implementing data lakehouse environments, deploying self-service data-analysis portals and platforms, and improving data aggregation, management, and business process automation.

Although the next steps for each institution must be carefully charted out according to its own context, mission, resources, and needs, the following EDUCAUSE resources and professional learning opportunities can provide leaders and practitioners with general guidance to get started, strategies to consider, and peer communities to contact.

  • For support with increasing data security and protection against privacy threats, the EDUCAUSE Library provides a variety of resources on data security and data privacy .
  • To learn more about the changing workforce in higher education , visit the EDUCAUSE Showcase "Workforce: Evolve or Become Extinct" and "The Workforce Shakeup" QuickPoll, which cover issues such as budget cuts, worker attrition, recruitment, and widespread burnout . For additional information on the restructuring of the technology workforce, visit The Technology Workforce in Higher Education, 2022 , research hub.
  • For additional information on hybrid/remote work arrangements , see David Weil's EDUCAUSE Review article "A Dx Roadmap for Leading the New Hybrid IT Workforce." The EDUCAUSE Dx model provides a useful framework for thinking through the leadership changes needed to support the new hybrid workforce. EDUCAUSE also has a variety of resources on working remotely .
  • For support in adopting hybrid/remote learning models , consider registering for the EDUCAUSE Digital Learning Innovators Institute (March 13–May 5, 2023) and Digital Learning Leaders Institute (May 8–July 21, 2023). For additional information, see the 2022 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report: Teaching and Learning Edition. EDUCAUSE also has a variety of resources on digital learning .
  • For professional learning support in data literacy and skills needed to keep up with growth in big data and analytics , consider registering for a Data Literacy Institute being offered by EDUCAUSE next year (January 23–March 17, 2023, and June 5–July 28, 2023). Each institute is designed to provide participants with a comprehensive view into the information life cycle and hands-on practice with each step from data creation to leading change through data storytelling and data governance. To understand your institution's current capabilities in advancing analytics initiatives, complete the Analytics Institutional Self-Assessment. To learn more about making data-informed decisions , visit EDUCAUSE Library resources on analytics , data administration and management , data literacy , data governance , and data curation , and explore the Analytics channel in EDUCAUSE Review .
  • To learn more about digital transformation (Dx) , consider registering for the EDUCAUSE webinar "Supporting Transformational Change with Design Strategy Tools" (February 9, 2023). In this webinar, Phyllis Treige, chief experience officer at UC Santa Cruz, will discuss her experience and strategies in designing and supporting institutional transformational change and will share practical and easy-to-use methodologies. You can also visit the EDUCAUSE Dx Journey and the Dx channel in EDUCAUSE Review for more information and resources for charting your institution's Dx journey.
  • To learn more about the current state of resilience at institutions , see "EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results: Institutional and IT Resilience" ( EDUCAUSE Review ). To learn more about increasing institutional resilience, read Stephanie Moore's EDUCAUSE Review article "Reclaiming Resilience: Building Better Systems of Care," which discusses how to build support systems within higher education institutions, starting with a framework that identifies barriers to and enablers of organizational processes .
  • To learn more about equity and discrimination, visit The EDUCAUSE Guide to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The guide provides action steps to put diversity, equity, and inclusion principles into practice, as well as learning and engagement opportunities to deepen your understanding of the principles. See also the DEI Resources in the EDUCAUSE Library and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) channel in EDUCAUSE Review.
  • To learn more about funding and the rising costs of higher education, visit the EDUCAUSE resources on budget issues in higher education IT and IT funding and spending in higher education. The 2022 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report: Teaching and Learning Edition also includes a discussion on current economic trends in higher education.

Visit the IT Issues web page for additional resources.

© 2022 Ashley Caron and Nicole Muscanell. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.

Citation for this work Ashley Caron and Nicole Muscanell. 2023 Higher Education Trend Watch. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE, October 31, 2022.

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EDUCAUSE is a higher education technology association and the largest community of IT leaders and professionals committed to advancing higher education. Technology, IT roles and responsibilities, and higher education are dynamically changing. Formed in 1998, EDUCAUSE supports those who lead, manage, and use information technology to anticipate and adapt to these changes, advancing strategic IT decision-making at every level within higher education. EDUCAUSE is a global nonprofit organization whose members include US and international higher education institutions, corporations, not-for-profit organizations, and K–12 institutions. With a community of more than 99,000 individuals at member organizations located around the world, EDUCAUSE encourages diversity in perspective, opinion, and representation. For more information, please visit educause.edu.

Reimagining higher education in the United States

Higher education in the United States is at an inflection point. The core mission of the university—instruction, research, and service—has not changed. Nor has the need for advanced education to prepare individuals for a fulfilling life and to drive the knowledge economy. For individuals, the economic benefit of earning a college degree remains clear. College graduates are on average wealthier, healthier, and happier over a lifetime. 1 William R. Emmons, Ana H. Kent, and Lowell R. Ricketts, “Is college still worth it? The new calculus of falling returns,” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, 2019, Volume 101, Number 4, pp. 297–329, stlouisfed.org.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, however, the higher-education sector faced significant challenges. Consider student completion: only 60 percent of all those who started college actually earned a degree within six years in 2017 (the latest year for which data is available). The figures are even worse for Black (39.9 percent) and Hispanic (54.4 percent) students. Other troubling disparities persist. In student enrollment, for example, 69 percent of white high-school graduates enroll in college, compared with 59 percent of Black high-schoolers and 61 percent of Hispanics. Furthermore, the level of student debt is rising, while repayment rates plummet, creating a potentially unsustainable burden for many students.

The pandemic is intensifying these challenges and creating new ones. Students and their families are struggling with the impact of campus shutdowns and questioning whether it is worth it to pay for an on-campus experience when much of the instruction is being done remotely. Under these circumstances, the risk of outcome inequities—from completion to employment to lifetime earnings—could worsen. For example, evidence suggests that lower-income students are 55 percent more likely than their higher-income peers to delay graduation 2 Esteban Aucejo et al.,“The impact of COVID-19 on student experiences and expectations: Evidence from a survey,” Journal of Public Economics , August 2020, sciencedirect.com. due to the COVID-19 crisis. Underpinning all of these challenges is a business model at its breaking point, as institutions face falling revenues and rising health-and-safety costs.

In short, the coronavirus has confirmed the case for fast and fundamental change. It has also demonstrated that change is possible. When the pandemic hit, many US colleges and universities moved quickly to remote learning and other delivery models, launched affordability initiatives, and found creative ways to support their students. Now is the time to build on these lessons to reimagine the next five to ten years and beyond.

With that in mind, we pose five questions for US higher-education leaders to address as they look to the future. For each question, we describe the current conventional wisdom and then make the case for challenging it—to the benefit of students, faculty, staff, institutions, and society.

What makes our university distinctive?

The conventional wisdom: To successfully attract students and maintain competitive national rankings, colleges and universities must be well rounded.

National-ranking systems emphasize admissions selectivity, small class sizes, per-student spending, and standardized test scores. Focusing on this narrow set of variables can incentivize institutions to make strategic and operational choices that may boost their rankings without necessarily improving their core educational missions. It may also lead to greater homogenization in the higher-education landscape.

Instead, there may be more benefit to creating thoughtful differentiation, building on the institution’s existing strengths, resources, and local context. The question to ask is: “What should my institution be known for?” There are many ways to differentiate, including student mix and outcomes, faculty development, research capabilities, facilities, and community impact. Doing so may serve institutions and their students better than the conventional wisdom for three reasons.

First, identifying and prioritizing what makes an institution distinctive can be a competitive advantage that attracts committed students and faculty. Second, specializing—doing fewer things better—could improve outcomes. And third, creating a distinctive profile can be a source of resilience, enabling institutions to survive after a crisis.

Such differentiation will be critical given the trends that are challenging the higher-education sector. One trend is the coming “demographic cliff”—the number of high-school graduates in the United States will peak at around 3.6 million students in 2026 and then decline to 3.3 million students by 2030. Another is the drop, since 2016, in international-student enrollment, an important source of revenues for many colleges. The COVID-19 crisis could well accelerate this decline. A third trend is the competition for research funding. In terms of the percentage of GDP and of budget allocation, federal investment in R&D has fallen steadily since the 1960s (although it has risen in absolute terms, and in the past two decades, nonfederal investment has grown, too). Moreover, about 35 percent of federal funding went to just 22 schools in 2018. Given these constraints, leaders need to ask how research can serve their institutions and identify where they stand the best chance of attracting faculty and funding.

By defining their areas of distinction and then directing resources to support them, higher-education institutions can set themselves apart—making them stronger and enabling them to deliver high-quality programs and outcomes.

How can we build a diverse and inclusive institution?

The conventional wisdom: Current efforts are likely to fulfill diversity and inclusion (D&I) goals in a reasonable time frame.

Higher-education institutions have been at the forefront of recognizing, and taking steps to foster, D&I. Many feature chief diversity officers, D&I curriculum requirements, and training sessions on implicit bias, as part of the growing diversity infrastructure. Even so, there are sizeable gaps. College enrollment and completion rates for Black and Hispanic students are much lower than for their white or Asian counterparts. Another area to address is the student experience itself. According to a 2019 study, Black, Hispanic, and first-generation students report a lower sense of belonging at four-year schools (but not at two-year schools). 3 Shannon T. Brady et al., “College students’ sense of belonging: A national perspective,” Educational Researcher , 2020, Volume 49, Number 2, pp. 134–37, sagepub.com.

Faculty composition is even less representative. In 2017, only 6 percent of full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions were Black and 6 percent were Hispanic, compared with 14 percent and 18 percent of the US population, respectively. Women make up only 33 percent of full-time professors.

Doing more of the same, then, is not enough, and time is of the essence because of changing student demographics. Between the 2012–13 and the 2031–32 academic years, the proportion of high-school graduates who identify as Asian and Hispanic will grow to 31 percent, from 24 percent, of all students.

There is evidence from the business sector that prioritizing D&I as a core value is sound management. McKinsey research has consistently found that  businesses with top-quartile diversity on executive teams were likelier to have superior results; in the latest results from the 2019 study, companies with top-quartile ethnic and gender diversity were 36 percent and 25 percent, respectively, more likely to have above-average profitability. While the analogy between executive teams and higher education administrations is not precise, it is likely that campuses, like the C-suite, would benefit from a more diverse leadership composition.

Current higher-education D&I efforts are necessary yet insufficient, particularly given how the COVID-19 crisis is disproportionately impacting the lives, livelihoods, and education of Black and Hispanic Americans. Leaders must, therefore, act with a sense of urgency, seeking opportunities to strengthen D&I across their institutions—from redesigning student recruitment to updating faculty-performance measurement to account for the significant roles that under-represented faculty often play in mentoring to the social and academic experiences to postgraduate success. To do so may require new strategic initiatives and accountability measures, such as sharing the breakdown of tenure appointments by ethnicity and creating programs to encourage opportunities for intergroup dialogue and promote cross-race understanding. 4 This constitutes McKinsey’s view on best practices and optimized environments. Legal restrictions, however, could affect universities’ ability to adopt them; they should consult their legal counsel to understand any implications created by the recent “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping,” September 22, 2020, whitehouse.gov.

What services are necessary to create a high-quality student experience? And what aren’t?

The conventional wisdom: In addition to learning, higher-education institutions must be responsive to a wide range of student wants and needs.

The core mission of colleges and universities is instruction, research, and service. In recent decades, though, many have engaged in the so-called student-amenities arms race, with expansive offerings in areas such as entertainment, gourmet dining, and wellness. Higher-education institutions want to deliver an enjoyable experience, and of course some student services are essential, especially those related to physical and mental health. But it is notable that since at least 2010, the costs for student services have risen much faster than costs for instruction and research (Exhibit 1). While this spending does include some core services, this trend may no longer be sustainable for many institutions.

Spending on student services has been growing four times as fast as spending on instruction.

Chart summary.

Although more than half of total spending at four-year universities was invested in research and instruction, growth over ten years since 2007 showed 0.3% less was spent on research and only 0.5% more on instruction. Meanwhile, 8.5% of the total was invested in student services 4 , the largest area of growth in spending per student (2.1%) over ten years.

Ten-year growth percentage by spending area followed by the percentage of total spending at the end of the ten-year period.
Research Public service Instruction Institutional support Academic support Student services Other
per full-time student at four-year public and private nonprofit universities, 2007–08 to 2017–18, % -0.3 0.0 0.5 1.0 1.4 2.1 0
Proportion of total spending in 2017–2018, % 15.5 4.5 39.4 13.1 11.5 8.5 7.5

1 Adjusted for inflation.

2 Includes expenses for the day-to-day operational support of the institution. Includes expenses for general administrative services, central executive-level activities concerned with management and long-range planning, legal and fiscal operations, space management, employee personnel and records, logistical services such as purchasing and printing, and public relations and development.

3 Includes expenses for activities and services that support the institution's primary missions of instruction, research, and public service.

4 Includes expenses for admissions, registrar activities, and activities whose primary purpose is to contribute to students' emotional and physical well-being and to their intellectual, cultural, and social development outside the context of the formal instructional program. Examples include student activities, cultural events, student newspapers, intramural athletics, student organizations, supplemental instruction outside the normal administration, and student records.

Source: College Scorecard; Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis (CPI); National Center for Education Statistics Trend Generator

McKinsey & Company

One of the most difficult things to do on a college campus is to stop doing something. That said, some institutions have shown how to make such tradeoffs. Spelman College, for example, announced in 2012 that it would drop competitive intercollegiate sports in favor of expanding campus-wide health and fitness programs. This exact tradeoff is being faced again, and some institutions are making the difficult choice to trim athletics; most notably, in July 2020, Stanford announced it will permanently cut 11 athletics programs.

While students surely appreciate things like luxury gyms and other services, there is a need to distinguish between what students like and what is necessary to serve the core education mission. Given the budget stresses of the COVID-19 crisis, higher-education institutions may want to consider providing fewer, better ancillary services, while keeping the broader well being of their students in mind.

What delivery channels and models should we use to fulfill our core educational mission?

The conventional wisdom: The best college experiences and educational outcomes are delivered in person, on a residential campus.

The quad, the ivy, the lecture hall, the dorm, the tailgate parties: these are some of the well-known totems of the quintessential college experience. These images are ingrained; they are also part of the reason why many (and maybe most) traditional four-year, higher-education institutions were slow to adopt new methods and technologies, such as remote instruction and competency-based learning that have the potential to advance student success while also lowering costs.

Global private investment in learning-technology companies has been growing fast, from $2 billion in 2012 to $19 billion in 2019. Areas such as online-learning management systems and innovations such as virtual-lab applications and immersive story learning are beginning to spread. And the COVID-19 crisis hustled even reluctant students and institutions into action. In 2018, only about 35 percent of undergraduates took a distance-education course. This year, that figure is close to 100 percent, as the pandemic forced the adoption of remote learning.

In 2018, only about 35 percent of undergraduates took a distance-education course. This year, that figure is close to 100 percent.

Institutional acceptance of the online delivery model also may be increasing. According to a poll of 2,000 US faculty members by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup in October 2019 5 Doug Lederman, “Professors’ slow, steady acceptance of online learning: A survey,” Inside Higher Education, October 30, 2019, insidehighered.com. —that is, well before the COVID-19 crisis—39 percent fully supported the increased use of education technologies, up from 29 percent in 2017. And a national survey of more than 4,000 faculty members earlier this year 6 “Time for class: COVID-19 edition,” Tyton Partners, July 2020, everylearnereverywhere.org. found that 45 percent had a better opinion of remote learning since the pandemic began; fewer than one in five (17 percent) had a more negative perception.

Remote and online learning are here to stay. The need is to determine what combination of remote and in-person learning delivers the highest educational quality and equity. As institutions refine this hybrid model, they have a once-in-a-generation chance to reconfigure their use of physical and virtual space. They may be able to reduce the number of large lecture halls, for example, and convert them into flexible working pods or performance spaces. Or they could reimagine the academic calendar, offering instruction into the summer months.

What is our business model?

The conventional wisdom: The current higher-education business model, which relies heavily on ongoing tuition increases, can be sustained.

For decades, the financial model of US colleges and universities rested on two revenue streams. Student tuition and fees were the most important; the rest came from a mix of different sources, such as athletics, research grants, endowments, and government appropriations, that varied greatly. Both revenue streams are now under stress. These unprecedented times require a reimagined business model that protects the core educational mission and financial viability of the institution, while limiting economic burdens on students.

As mentioned, athletics, research grants, and other revenue sources are sputtering in the pandemic. But the bigger stress is on tuition and fees, which comprise at least half of revenues for about 55 percent of four-year private nonprofit institutions in the United States; meanwhile they account for more than a third of revenues for about 30 percent of public institutions. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, administrators realized that they had limited scope to increase tuition; now it has become even more difficult to do so.

Two issues threaten the traditional tuition-reliant financial model. First, there is affordability. To offer financial aid, institutions manage a complicated pricing system in which higher-income and international students effectively subsidize needier ones. This lack of price transparency feeds into the perception of the increasing costs—and unaffordability—of college. In fact, from 2007–17, net costs rose only 4 percent , reversing the trend of previous decades. Yet the perception of unaffordability means that some young people might be discouraged from trying to attend: they see the high sticker prices and assume that they are priced out.

Second, there are also questions around the value of higher education when debt levels and repayment rates are considered. Median student debt levels have climbed by 45 percent since 2006, while repayment rates have dropped by 24 percent since 2009 (Exhibit 2). The situation appears to be worsening; in 2016, only 6 percent of students  were at colleges where students left with moderate debt and managed high repayment rates, compared with 54 percent in 2009. The situation is even worse for students who incur debt but don’t graduate and, therefore, don’t benefit from the income-raising advantage of a degree.

The COVID-19 crisis could accelerate these trends. In our April 2020 student survey , 45 percent of prospective students cited cost as extremely important in selecting a college, 44 percent of students who switched schools between January and April did so to save money, and 30 percent reported that the COVID-19 crisis was likely to have a strong or extremely strong impact on their ability to afford college.

Another important factor is to ensure students realize an economic return on their investment in higher education; without that assurance, young people will not be willing to enroll in the first place, or finish. Colleges are under pressure to ensure that students don’t just graduate with a degree, but with a pathway to sustainable employment that secures a reasonable standard of living.

Given these financial constraints, it is not surprising to see consolidation. Since 2000, there have been about 100 higher-education mergers in the United States, 7 John Hanc, “For some colleges, the best move is to merge,” October 10, 2019, New York Times , nytimes.com. and more are likely. The Pennsylvania State University system, 8 Jan Murphy, “Pa. state system of higher education exploring costs of combining some universities,” July 16, 2020, Patriot-News , pennlive.com. for example, is considering restructuring the different institutions in the system. Properties, buildings, and talent from less-affluent campuses may well become available. An interesting example comes from Connecticut, where three schools are buying the assets of the University of Bridgeport 9 Goldie Blumenstyk, “The edge: As colleges’ finances get shakier, what lessons does this ‘sorta’ merger offer?”, July 8, 2020, Chronicle of Higher Education , chronicle.com. ; the latter’s academic programs will continue for the time being, while other operations, such as the library and security, are shared.

The opportunity—indeed, the necessity—is to reimagine higher education financials so that students do not find themselves mired in debt. There is little room to increase tuition, and there are also challenges to other revenue sources, such as athletics and research funding; education leaders must therefore ask how they can reevaluate their spending and/or reallocate existing resources.

Colleges and universities must reimagine their business models and consider new ways to operate—either on a standalone basis or through partnerships that accomplish the same goals, at lower cost.

How do we challenge the conventional wisdom?

Higher-education leaders face a complex situation, negotiating how to manage the COVID-19 crisis in a context of economic, demographic, and technological challenges. At the same time, universities have a reputation for making decisions slowly. “It’s easier to change the course of history,” the saying goes, “than it is to change the history course.” The deliberate, and deliberative, nature of university governance has many benefits, but it can also be a hindrance to decisive action. That said, many university leaders have reacted creatively and swiftly to meet the challenge of protecting their communities’ health while delivering on their educational mission.

Three mechanisms can help universities to sustain this momentum: planning, stakeholder engagement, and board governance:

  • Plan ahead. Responding to a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic requires leaders to take decisive short-term actions. But they also need to dedicate time to develop longer-term strategic thinking. One way to do so is to create plan-ahead teams  that include people identified as future leaders. The team should be tasked with developing scenarios, recommending actions, and identifying trigger points for escalation to the university’s board and administrative leadership.
  • Stakeholder engagement. Universities should engage early and often with important stakeholder groups—including faculty, staff, students, and parents—when making critical strategic decisions. Leaders must be transparent about decision-making processes, establish clear timelines, and meet them. By embedding engagement into decision making, rather than as an afterthought, the shared governance culture of higher education can be respected, while still allowing universities to act quickly.
  • Board governance. In moments of crisis, boards can play a critical role. But that role must not slip into micro-management. Board members should evaluate their operating model—the board’s size, structure, and decision rights—to ensure they provide the necessary governance without interfering with administrators.

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that universities will need to adapt. “The inertia of a massive university is formidable,” noted Harvard President Charles W. Eliot in his inaugural address. “A good past is positively dangerous, if it makes us content with the present, and so unprepared for the future.”

President Eliot made those remarks in 1869. The time to prepare for a new future is now.

André Dua is a senior partner in McKinsey’s Miami office; Jonathan Law  is a senior partner in the New York office; Ted Rounsaville is a senior expert in the Washington, DC, office; and Nadia Viswanath is a consultant in the San Francisco office.

The authors wish to thank Arthur Bianchi and Kathleen Zhu for their contributions to this article, as well as the hundreds of university leaders who shared their experiences and perspectives with us.

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Adapting to Change: The Top Higher Education Trends for 2024

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5 higher education trends to watch for in 2024.

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After a tumultuous 2023, here are five higher education trends to expect in 2024.

With the countdown to the new year now over, attention turns to what major developments might be in store for higher education in 2024.

The past year was a generally difficult one for American colleges and universities . Dozens of institutions struggled to manage serious budget deficits; campus strife intensified over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza; several prominent university presidents were forced to resign; state legislatures ramped up their attacks on curricular and diversity initiatives; and a small enrollment rebound was offset by a significant decline in the number of new freshmen, raising concerns the long downturn in college attendance is likely to continue.

What will be the major higher education issues in 2024? Will it be a better year for colleges and universities, or another year marked by turmoil and controversy? Here are five trends to watch.

The Changing Admissions Landscape

As a recent Inside Higher Education article predicts, college admissions policies and practices will be where a lot of action takes place in 2024. Look for more legal challenges to race-conscious considerations in the awarding of financial aid and other admissions practices as follow-ons to last year’s Supreme Court decision banning the practice at selective colleges. And on the flip side, more institutions will try to maintain a commitment to student diversity with new enrollment strategies that comply with the Court’s ruling.

In response to the ongoing criticism of legacy admissions, expect additional colleges to end their practice of giving an admissions advantage to the children of alumni, joining dozens of other institutions that have stopped using legacy preferences in recent years.

Direct or guaranteed admission programs will increase as colleges search for ways to boost enrollments and reach students who might otherwise not be inclined to consider college. Institutions also are likely to add or enlarge college preparation and bridge programs to persuade more students to enroll.

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All of this will play out against the backdrop of an overhauled Free Application for Federal Student Aid. While the long-awaited simplification of the FAFSA should help more low-income students receive federal Pell Grants, it will add another complication to a college admission/enrollment management staff members who already are feeling overburdened.

More Legislative Oversight

In the past five years, most higher education legislative activity has taken place in the states, with Republican-controlled statehouses attempting to constrain faculty tenure; end diversity, equity and inclusion programs; dictate curricula; and prohibit participation of trans students in intercollegiate athletics. Look for more of the same this year.

Now, in the wake of the U.S. House of Representatives hearing on antisemitism on campus, in which the presidents of MIT, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania were widely perceived to have testified ineptly, Congress is gearing up to wage an aggressive federal campaign against higher education, particularly elite institutions.

Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) has introduced a bill that would prevent universities from receiving any federal funding if they compel students to write DEI statements. Using rhetoric that’s become common among conservative legislators, Crenshaw said in a statement, “We can see the utter moral bankruptcy in higher education with the spread of antisemitism on college campuses. Make no mistake — the DEI bureaucracy is directly responsible for a toxic campus culture that separates everyone into oppressor vs oppressed.”

House Republicans have promised to hold more hearings on what they perceive to be multiple problems at America’s leading universities. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) recently voiced what’s been the silent part up till now, telling a meeting of business leaders that December’s hearings were just the first step in a long-term strategy to defund elite schools.

“The second step is the investigation, the subpoenas, gathering all of the documents and the records from these universities to prove the point,” Banks said in a private Zoom call, according to CNBC . “That they’re not just allowing this behavior to occur, they’re fostering it and creating an unsafe environment for Jewish students on their campus because of it.”

“And once we prove it, third, that’s when we defund these universities by cracking down on not backing their student loans, taxing their endowments and forcing the administration to actually conduct civil rights investigations,” he added.

While threats like these are not likely to find their way into law, they reflect the blood-in-the-water attitude increasingly prevalent among many lawmakers who are eager to extend their anti-higher education efforts.

Artificial Intelligence Expands

AI will continue to transform almost every aspect of daily life, and higher education will be no exception. Once preoccupied with how generative AI tools like ChatGPT would lead to an epidemic of student cheating, college faculty are now turning their attention to how AI can be used to improve teaching and personalize student learning.

Researchers are increasingly deploying AI to facilitate their investigations, and administrators are applying AI technology to a host of tasks in areas such as recruiting and admissions, student support services, retention efforts, and information technology.

The nonprofit Complete College America is forming a Council on Equitable AI in Higher Education that will represent a diverse group of higher ed stakeholders and consult with large technology companies to develop the potential of “using AI to equalize and scale access to a college degree and the accompanying individual, economic, and societal benefits.”

The explosion of AI in healthcare, climate change initiatives, energy, finance and banking and other industries will lead to more institutions offering increasingly sophisticated courses, as well as undergraduate and graduate degrees in machine learning, big data and AI.

Universities will also hire more faculty with expertise in AI as they compete for federal AI funding in fields like medicine, cybersecurity, agriculture, climate change, law enforcement, mental health, material sciences, law and finance. Support for AI research is not cheap, and the build-out of its capacity will be one more area where well-resourced institutions will enjoy a pronounced advantage over their less wealthy peers.

Curricular Innovations

As more employers question the relevance of the college degree and turn away from it as an entry-level job requirement, colleges will experiment with curricular alternatives designed to enhance the baccalaureate degree’s appeal for both students and hiring managers.

Look for renewed interest in three-year undergraduate degrees. Unlike prior attempts to shorten the time it takes to earn a college degree, a new approach – the “College in 3 Exchange” – aims to not simply squeeze 120 credit hours into three years. Instead, it involves fundamentally changing the undergraduate curriculum so the total number of required credit hours is substantially reduced, sometimes to as few as 90 credit hours.

Begun in 2021, the exchange already has 17 institutions on board, designing specific undergraduate degree programs that can be completed in three years. Some options — like those at Brigham Young University-Idaho and the American Public University System — have already gained accreditors’ approval.

Colleges will also look for more ways to enrich traditional undergraduate majors with skills-oriented courses and training — sometimes in the form of supplements like industry-approved certificates, and sometimes through experiences like internships and capstone assignments that substitute for formal coursework requirements.

With surveys showing the public’s opinion of online education is improving , institutions are sure to add more programs to their online inventory. That growth is most likely at the graduate level where working-age adults constitute a sizable audience and where colleges can often offer programs that yield net revenue.

Campus Budget Woes Continue

There’s no end in sight for the deep budget deficits plaguing dozens of colleges ever since the pandemic. Throughout 2023, hardly a week went by without news of colleges ending academic programs, terminating faculty or slashing spending as they tried to close large gaps between revenues and expenses.

This year will likely see more of the same, with enrollment losses, escalating costs, and declining revenues continuing to exact their toll. And like last year, the financial crises won’t be confined only to small private colleges, regional public universities and two-year schools. Large, brand-name institutions will feel the crunch as well, exacerbated in some instances by private donor rebellions like those suffered by several universities at the end of 2023.

More colleges will face their financial brink in 2024, leading to an increase in consolidations, closures and declarations of financial exigency , all part of the most serious financial challenge higher education has experienced in decades.

Michael T. Nietzel

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Top 6 trends in higher education

Subscribe to the center for universal education bulletin, emal dusst and emal dusst private equity professional - sterling partners @emal_dusst rebecca winthrop rebecca winthrop director - center for universal education , senior fellow - global economy and development @rebeccawinthrop.

January 10, 2019

Around the world, tuition at universities is rising at a much faster rate than inflation and challenging students’ return on investment. Reduced government funding and higher operating costs are driving the need for change at universities. The mismatch in employer needs and employee skills is leaving over seven million jobs unfilled in the U.S.

These trends are opening the way for new approaches in higher education. Innovations in how post-secondary education are delivered, financed, and recognized are driven by a range of actors—from large public universities like Arizona State University to elite private institutions like MIT to the many relatively new education companies entering the sector like Make School, Coursera , and Trilogy Education .

But to understand why these new approaches are emerging, we need to first look at what is driving them. While there are many factors influencing the direction of post-secondary education around the world, three are particularly noteworthy for influencing recent innovation: reduced return on investment for students, reduced government spending, and significant skills mis-matches between graduates’ abilities and jobs available.

What’s driving innovation in higher education

One way students can evaluate whether to invest in higher education is through potential wage premiums—namely if what students would earn with their education is higher than what they would earn without it. An important element in understanding the return on investment of higher education is the cost of the degree.

The average wage premium in the EU and U.S. for those with a tertiary education is approximately 60 to 75 percent more than they could earn without the degree, while it is around 150 percent in some middle-income countries like Brazil and Chile. In the U.S., tuition prices have skyrocketed and the cost of an undergraduate degree is 13 times higher than it was 40 years ago. Tuition and fees have increased over 1,000 percent since the late 1970s and the increase in the cost of food and housing was less than a third of that.

Another aspect influencing recent innovations is the increase in tuition and fees, which stems from a mix of factors including reduced government funding and increased spending on amenities to attract students. In the U.S., for example, states cut funding deeply after the recession hit—spending 16 percent less per student in 2018 than in 2008. Universities are responding with cost cuts and seeking alternative revenue sources. For example, Purdue University has reduced its in-state student intake by approximately 4,000 over the last ten years—while increasing its out-of-state and international student intake by about 5,000—as these students pay higher tuition largely without the need of financial aid.

In addition to reduced funding, rising costs, and decreasing wage premiums in places like the U.S. and U.K., there is also the worry that what students learn at university will not necessarily give them the skills needed for the jobs available. This skills mis-match is particularly acute in fields like computer science where real-world practice easily outpaces academic curricula. By 2020, one million computer science-related jobs will go unfilled, and many computer science programs at universities are outdated. In the words of one Make School college student attending its innovative tech program after taking computer science classes from the elite public university where he received a B.A., “my university courses taught me all about the theory of computer science, but I couldn’t actually code.”

There are currently seven million job openings and over 6.3 million job seekers in the U.S., and the acceleration of the digital economy and the rise of automation is only exacerbating this worker shortage. Of the job openings mentioned, 1.2 million or 17 percent are in the healthcare sector , highlighting a continued shortage of nurses in the U.S. According to a recent study by McKinsey , this sector is the only one in which “the need for physical and manual skills will grow in the years leading to 2030.”

These major shifts in higher education are opening opportunities for new approaches and new actors to help support post-secondary learning and skill development. There are six trends that are particularly notable.

1. Online education has become an increasingly accepted option, especially when “stackable” into degrees. Enrollment in online courses has more than quadrupled in the last 15 years in the U.S. While not as explosive in other countries, online options are gaining traction around the world. Given the increased cost of higher education, online programs are offering not just increased flexibility, but also a major reduction in cost. Coursera offers a fully online master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in computer and information technology for one-third the cost of the on-campus version. Several programs are also allowing students to “test” degrees by taking courses that can eventually be “stacked” into a degree, thus lowering their risk. MIT now offers a supply chain management degree with a portion of the curriculum online through edX before students enter the on-campus program. Arizona State University allows students to take the first year online as part of the Global Freshman Academy . In both programs, students complete a portion of the degree online and then apply for the on-campus, full degree at a fraction of the price.

2. Competency-based education (CBE) lowers costs and reduces completion time for students. There is an increase in CBE, which allows students to apply their work and life experience to their education. These degree programs tend to be less expensive, self-paced, and more career-oriented. If students—either through workplace training, outside reading, or purely life experience—happen to have the competence and knowledge required for a particular subject, they can take the test and get credit without having to take a class. Title IV funding (financial aid) is available for some of these programs, which includes the University of Wisconsin and Southern New Hampshire University, a sign that the U.S. Department of Education recognizes their importance. In previous discussions, the global strategy company Parthenon estimated that more than 600 institutions are either exploring or have launched CBE programs, with double-digit growth expected annually from 2013 to 2020. It is too early to predict the efficacy of these programs, but their popularity with students and employers continues to rise.

3. Income Share Agreements (ISAs) help students reduce the risk associated with student loans. In the U.S., the private sector is improving the student loan dilemma for students with ISAs. Countries like Australia have government-run agreements—where students don’t pay back their loans until they get a job and meet certain income thresholds—but currently, private companies provide ISA options in the U.S. Vemo Education works with universities and skills-providers to establish these agreements. Institutions can also make direct offerings, such as at the previously mentioned Make School, which provides a newly accredited applied computer science degree designed to take two to three years. This requires students to pay back 20 percent of their income for the first five years of employment, and if they don’t find a job, they aren’t responsible for payments. Institutions share the risk with the students, and in this particular program, are held accountable for student outcomes.

4. Online Program Manager (OPM) organizations benefit both universities and nontraditional, working-adult students. OPMs help traditional universities build and maintain their online degree or program offerings, while opening new and flexible options to nontraditional students. Generally, through a revenue share model, the university provides the content, while the OPM primarily puts it online and leads the marketing efforts. The leader in this market is 2U , which, for example, partners with the University of North Carolina to deliver an online master’s degree in public health. Another smaller but fast-growing player in this market, which according to Eduventures , is expected to reach $2.5 billion by 2020, is Coursera, which works with the University of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and HEC Paris, among others. Companies like Trilogy Education partner with top universities to deliver in-person skills training on-campus in fields such as coding and cybersecurity. Other companies like Orbis Education partner with universities to help bridge the healthcare provider shortage through a hybrid approach to pre-licensure healthcare programs, while ExecOnline partners with top business schools to deliver executive leadership courses online.

5. Enterprise training companies are filling the skills gap by working directly with employers. Given the massive mismatch in employer needs and worker skills, there are many companies working with corporations to ensure employees are rightfully skilled. Trilogy Education not only partners with universities, as mentioned above, but also leverages its network of partners and its platform to help companies bridge their own tech-talent gaps in both hiring and training. One of the more successful models has been Pluralsight , which is an online platform for IT and software developer training. Its focused, industry-updated content, and close ties to employers are key success factors. A unique model to address this mismatch is Revature’s platform, which utilizes university partnerships and close collaboration with employers to deliver a program where students pay their tuition over a two-year period after they are employed.

6. Pathway programs facilitate increasing transnational education, which serves as an additional revenue stream for universities. The brightest students around the world that can afford to study abroad are increasingly embarking on journeys overseas, primarily to the U.S., U.K., and Australia. According to Studyportals , the number of internationally mobile students is expected to increase from 4.5 million in 2015 to nearly seven million in 2030. International students are increasingly attractive to universities, as they allow expanded reach and programs offered at different price points. Students from China, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea account for more than 50 percent of students who go abroad to earn their degree, with China as the largest source . The U.S. has seen a recent decline in its growth of international students, which some link to stricter immigration policies, but student flows are expected to increase globally. Pathway programs, which are a small but fast-growing segment of the transnational education market, help foreign students get admission into U.S. institutions through bridging academic entry standards. Companies such as the U.K.-based Study Group and U.S.-based Shorelight partner with universities to set up these programs and use revenue share models, providing an additional revenue source for universities. Most of these programs are in countries that have been traditional draws for higher education like the U.S., but some are now also in countries like China that traditionally send many students overseas.

There will undoubtedly be on-going opportunities for new approaches and actors to innovate in higher education as the sector continues to face high costs, decreasing returns on investment, and skills mis-matches. Watching these six trends and how they develop over time will be interesting. It is unlikely that they will reverse course anytime soon.

Emal Dusst, a Robert S. Brookings Society member, serves on several education-related boards, including Coursera (observer) and American University of Afghanistan. Dusst was vice president, strategy and chief of staff to the CEO at Laureate Education, a B Corp and the largest international network of degree-granting higher education institutions. Dusst has a Bachelor’s in economics from UCLA and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. As a Robert S. Brookings Society member, Dusst provides financial support to the Brookings Institution. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the authors and the content adheres to Brookings’s commitment to quality, independence, and impact.

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3 Higher Education Trends to Prepare for the Unknown in 2024

  • February 16, 2024
  • Topic: Academic Program Development , Higher Ed Trends , Higher Education , Student Success
  • Resource type: Insights Blog

Despite great challenges this academic year , here are three higher education trends that can improve your institution’s  long-term outlook.

The higher education landscape in 2024 may feel like a minefield to many . Long – standing challenges such as affordability, public skepticism, and evolving student support needs amplify tensions under the weight of political opposition and legislative uncertainties .  Yet u ndeterred by t hese stressors, many college and universit y leaders are embracing creative problem – solving to illuminate a path toward sustainable improvement this academic year.   Hanover researchers see many institutions persevering by doubling student support and retention efforts, emphasizing higher education’s intrinsic value in the labor market, and seizing a new focus on institutional agility. L earn how to l everage t hese trends on your campus to manage flux in 2024.  

Higher Education Trend #1: Navigating Student Support Options to Promote Retention 

What students need and expect from colleges and universities today is different than in previous decades. Many institutions recognize the importance of not only recruiting students of non-traditional and historically marginalized demographics, but also retaining them. Political motivations continue to complicate these retention initiatives. For example, some states and regions are experiencing undue political interference in their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives or curriculum that regards theories based on gender/sex, race, or other identities.   

Navigating this and other retention-related challenges is ultimately a campus-wide issue , and data analysis remains one of the best tools to fuel any retention improvement initiative. Leaders can leverage this higher education trend by breaking down institutional silos to create cohesion between enrollment and retention efforts. This allows institutions to more efficiently identify opportunity gaps early and help create more equitable outcomes. Using data to anticipate diverse and non-traditional support needs can help students of non-dominant or marginalized backgrounds feel more confident in remaining at your institution.    

Improving retention rates involves highlighting common ground and using data to proactively prepare to accommodate students who benefit the most from your support services:   

  • Form an institution-wide retention taskforce to assess existing services and interventions, establish a strategic retention plan, and monitor performance indicators. Successful strategies often include implementing mandatory advising check points or courses and early-warning systems or best practices.   
  • Analyze student success and retention data to understand student-level characteristics and behaviors driving year-to-year student retention and on-time graduation using predictive modeling.   
  • Foster a campus culture that normalizes getting help, educates students about what various services can do for them, and encourages participation within accessible, flexible, culturally responsive programming.   

  Tune into our pre recorded webinar to learn more about Using Data to Prevent and Recover Stop-out College Students .   

Trend #2: fostering career readiness opportunities to capture student interest    .

Despite persistent public skepticism of the value of higher education, there is hope. Higher education still offers valuable means for the next generation to attain fulfilling careers. In fact, nearly 80% of adults 25-30 with a bachelor’s degree agree their work fits well with their talents and interests. So, how can institutions capture student interest in spite of doubts?    

In an ever more competitive environment, higher education institutions are gaining students’ attention by connecting their interests to degrees and certificates that can promise a strong return on investment. Use these tips to strengthen students’ career readiness at your institution:     

  • Revamp career advising, such as by embedding coaches or learning communities within academic programs.  
  • Accelerate program pathways to bundle credentials that advance career preparation such as teaching certifications or EMS and nursing credentials.   
  • Provide fresh and innovative experiential learning and research opportunities at the undergraduate level to act as resume builders.   

  Learn more about higher education trends and promising career connections with our infographic , Top 10 Degrees on the Rise .   

Trend #3: modeling nimble leadership for sustainable growth   .

As institutions adjust to new fiscal realities, many are nimbly leaning into innovation and organizational change to achieve long-term institutional sustainability and success. Such adjustments, however, should come with careful consideration as any organizational changes that include budget reductions, layoffs, or mergers will affect campus morale, instruction quality, and work culture.   

Building a budget and organizational strategy that fits your unique circumstances is a balancing act. No one solution will account for all concerns and consequences. Instead, institutional leaders should explore and evaluate a variety of financial models and alternative revenue possibilities to determine appropriate fit and feasibility. When assessing ideas, consider factors such as profitability, mission fit, initial capital requirements, administrative load, and complexity.   

Consider the following tips to help build a financial and organizational solution that works best for your institution:   

  • Establish a task force or working group to conduct an audit to identify institutional strengths, resources, and underutilized facilities that could potentially be leveraged to bring in new revenue.   
  • The group can make recommendations to create additional revenue opportunities or optimize existing programs or practices.   
  • When possible, incorporate organizational restructuring needs into the strategic planning process to maximize buy-in from faculty and staff and allow for restructuring efforts to be defined as a shared responsibility.  
  • If an institution is considering rightsizing or reorganizing, gathering input from the campus community is paramount. Convene a working group as early as possible to discuss the need for action and develop a collaborative plan.  

Before making any major decisions to add, sunset, or restructure academic programs, learn more about Best Practices for Your Higher Education Academic Portfolio Review.    

With many considerations and uncertainties about the future state of higher education , it’s easy to get bogged down by worrisome headlines. College and u niversity leaders, however, still have time to act and advocate for the long-term health of their institution. Now more than ever, leaders must make the most ou t of the most powerful tool readily available: data. A research- and data- driven approach to institutional planning allows administrative teams to gain invaluable decision-making power over important issues , such as student support, academic programming , as well as the best path to sustainable operations . To promote the long-term health of your institution, thoughtfully plan your next steps forward with the help of research and data analysis .  

Learn more about how colleges and universities across the nation plan to overcome higher education challenges in the new academic year with our full report, 2024 Trends in Higher Education .

Don't let the headlines get you down. Promote student success with these higher education trends.

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Trends in Higher Education

Get up-to-date information on the cost of college in the U.S. and the financial aid that can help students pay for college.

College Board’s Trends in Higher Education reports provide accurate, timely, and actionable information on financial aid, college tuition, and other expenses associated with attending college in the U.S. The Research department publishes three main reports: 

Trends in College Pricing

This report includes information about the costs associated with one year of undergraduate study in the U.S. and how those costs have changed over time at different institutions.

Trends in Student Aid

This report details how much financial aid students get to help them pay for college. It also highlights where that aid comes from and how the amount and distribution of aid has changed over time.

Education Pays

The Education Pays report highlights the benefits of higher education and looks at patterns among U.S. adults with different levels of education.

Additional Publications

The Research department at College Board also publishes additional reports and briefs focused on the financial realities of attending college.

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19 Higher Education Trends for 2024: Latest Forecasts To Watch Out For

Why FO is free

A diploma isn’t just a piece of paper that signifies the end of a student’s journey. Instead, it provides a gateway for fresh graduates to land a successful career in the corporate world, which entails higher income, more advancement opportunities, and better employment benefits . With a competitive job market affected by the pandemic, they can also learn the skills they need to strike out on their own and make their own opportunities.

This underlines the importance of understanding this generation’s key trends in higher education. After all, the higher education sector is sharing the burden of producing work-ready graduates and defining a large part of today’s workforce.

As the higher education landscape continues to evolve and take on a more transformative path, we’ll take a look at some of the most crucial education trends that are redefining education at this level. Below, you’ll see some of the global trends in higher education that you must keep tabs on.

key higher education trends

Trends in Higher Education Table of Contents

  • Affordability of College Tuition
  • Discount Fees by Private Institutions
  • Shifting Campus Demographics
  • Accommodating Nontraditional Students
  • Online Education
  • International Student Recruitment
  • Online Program Management Providers
  • Corporate-Institution Partnerships
  • Student Loans
  • Increase in Capital Campaigns
  • Learning Management Systems (LMS)
  • Competency-Based Education
  • MicroMasters Programs
  • Salary of College Professors
  • Most to Least Popular Courses
  • Higher Education by Country
  • College and University Governance
  • College Closures and Mergers
  • Bill Gates on Higher Education

One glance at the employment rates of college graduates is enough to tell you that higher education attainment is one of the major deciding factors for employers hiring new employees. It’s simply a given that graduates have better job prospects than their undergrad counterparts.

A study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed that the employment rate among people with bachelor’s or higher degrees peaked at 87%. On the other hand, employment rates for high school graduates fell to 74% (NCES, 2020). This is the underlying reason why there are 2.3 million people obtaining college degrees in a span of a year (CollegeStats).

employment rate

With higher education attainment having such a substantial impact on employment prospects, more students are recognizing the need to finish a bachelor’s degree. While this explains why students continue to pursue higher education, experts point out a decline in the education quality that students get from colleges and universities.

But that doesn’t mean the higher education sector is numb to the danger signs found in particular aspects of education—college affordability, changing student profiles, the effectiveness of teaching approaches, and disruptions brought about by the pandemic. In this post, we compiled the modern trends in education that you should look out for.

1. Affordability of College Tuition

Cost is a huge factor that matters to many students who want to pursue higher education. And given the increase in demand and lack of state of funding, the cost of tuition and fees keep increasing at breakneck speed. These days, higher education institutions are charging more than twice the cost in 2008. In the states of Alabama and Arizona, for instance, tuition at public universities and colleges increased by more than 60%.

Aside from this, students have to mind the cost of boarding rooms, food, books, and other additional fees while enrolled in a college degree. For those that rely on online learning, they will have to prepare a budget for fast internet connection as well as a computer to use at home. In effect, the increasing higher education costs render most students either dropping out of college or not pursuing a degree at all.

It seems, however, that for 2021 and the next few years, college costs are dropping, with the year-over-year tuition declining by 5% for private schools and by 4% for public schools (US News, 2020). For the school year 2020-2021, tuition at private schools can cost $35,087 while it costs $9,687 for public schools (in-state).

Cost of College Education Trend Highlights

  • Year-over-year tuition costs dropped by 5% at private colleges and about 4% at public colleges.
  • For the school year 2020-2021, tuition at private schools can cost $35,087 while it costs $9,687 for public schools (in-state)

2. Discount Fees by Private Institutions

The National Association of College and University Business Officers, or NACUBO, revealed that incoming freshmen were offered discounts of higher than 50% by private colleges and universities for the school year 2017–18 (Inside Higher Ed, 2019). In the following school year, it even rose up to 52%. Private institutions used this as a strategy so that students can consider attending their schools. Amid the pandemic, some private colleges have also decided to place a freeze on costs or even slash tuition fees for the school year 2021-2022 to help struggling families (CNBC, 2020)

Instead of reducing the overall tuition, private institutions offer tuition fee discounts. Moreover, a psychology consultant found that 40% of students and their families would choose a school with discounted tuition over another college with lower tuition costs

This could be because higher prices are interpreted as an indication of quality. Concerning college trends in spending, many assume that the higher tuition price, the better education quality.

US spending on students

Discount in Education Trend Highlights

  • Private institutions offer discounts on college tuition and fees.
  • Discounted fees help colleges and universities retain or recruit new students.

3. Shifting Campus Demographics

More high school graduates attend colleges and universities without being held back by full-time work or family obligations. As a result, student profiles changed drastically. The pipeline of traditional students aged 18 to 22 has now become flat or decreased in higher education. And with this, student preferences and behavior have also changed. According to Generation Z statistics , the current generation is overtaking the number of Millenials on campuses.

Gen Z students are divided into several races and ethnic minorities, making their population more diverse. Furthermore, Gen Z students are more focused on their education. In fact, about 59% of high school graduates aged 18 to 20 are in college, most of them reporting that they feel a college degree is important.

With the rise of online learning in 2021, data suggests that students are both younger and older than the previous year. In a survey, 47% of school administrators said that age was the most significant trend that they have observed in online student demographics. 25% of school administrators said that they saw more adult non-traditional learners while 20% observed an increase in younger learners (BestColleges, 2020).

Thus, education leaders now take into account these changes in the demographics and exert efforts to tailor the existing educational system to the new generation’s needs.

How Generation Z Male and Female Value Education

Based on a 10-point scale.

Female in 4-year college

Male in 4-year college

Female in 2-year college

Male in 2-year college

Female not in college

Male not in college

Source: UPCEA Generation Z and Millenial Survey

Campus Demographics Trend Highlights

  • Gen Z students are outnumbering Millenials in campus demographics.
  • The population of Gen Z students is more diverse, comprising of several races and ethnic minorities.
  • With the change in student demographics also came a shift in student preferences and behavior.

4. Accommodating Non-Traditional Students

Nontraditional students make up almost 75% of the nearly 20 million students currently enrolled in post-secondary education (NCES, 2020). More alarming than this is that 7 in 10 full-time college students also work to make ends meet (Georgetown University, 2018), This led to institutions using more diverse course content delivery methods.

The trends in higher education enrollment see a decline in traditional student enrollees. Hence, the sector continues to recruit more non-traditional students.

To accommodate the educational needs of nontraditional students, institutions gear towards a flexible learning ecosystem. This includes online platforms, such as LMS software providers , that allow flexible learning management. Such systems also accelerate course completion by offering additional courses.

working students

Accommodating Non-Traditional Students Trend Highlights

  • Almost 75% of the nearly 20 million students enrolled in higher education are nontraditional students.
  • About 59% of nontraditional students have full-time jobs.

5. Online Education

Online education is one of the fastest-growing areas in education technology trends. From 33.1% in 2017, the percentage of all college students who took at least one online class rose to 34.7% the following year. Meanwhile, in the fall of 2020, 97% of college students reported switching to online instruction altogether (Education Data, 2020). With its steady, growing rates, online education remains the main driver of growth in post-secondary enrollments.

Data from various sources reveal that students show a more favorable response to online education. It brings to the table various benefits that cannot be achieved in a traditional classroom setting. For one, it gives students more flexible options, allowing them to take the courses while managing other responsibilities.

These digital learning trends in the higher education sector also signals a good time for learning management systems to expand their market to universities and college institutions.

Because of the recent student demand, there is more emphasis on online learning programs. Online education saw a growth of 15.4% in 2018, up from 14.7% in 2016, Moreover, it is predicted to increase at a CAGR of 9.23%, reaching $319.167 billion by 2025 (Research and Markets, 2020).  Recently as well, administrators at Purdue University within the transdisciplinary studies in the technology program launched a competency-based online class. Professors used recording and video conferencing tools to record online lectures that students can access anytime.

With face-to-face classes posing health risks, the rise of online learning is expected to continue while the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. The shift to online learning will also make learning institutions optimize their websites to be more mobile-friendly and to provide a good user experience overall. With students not constricted to enrolling in a particular geography, schools are redesigning their courses to be easily searchable to remain competitive (Annertech, 2020).

VR is also expected to provide immersive digital experiences as a workaround for social distancing restrictions such as conducting campus tours, open houses, and graduation ceremonies (Annertech, 2020).

Source: Internet World Stats via Statista (2020)

Online Education Trend Highlights

  • In 2018, online education saw a growth of 15.4%. (Inside Higher Ed, 2018)
  • The online education market is expected to reach $319.167 by 2025 (Research and Markets, 2020).
  • Recent student demand puts more emphasis on the growth of online education.
  • There are remarkable advancements in the quality of online education.

6. International Student Recruitment

International enrollments are not looking so good for the higher education sector as well. Different institution surveys found that there’s a decline in new international enrollments for two years in a row. Despite the higher education sector’s efforts in attracting international students, new enrollment rates fell at 5.5% at the graduate level, 6.3% at the undergraduate level, and 9.7% at the non-degree level. Furthermore, due to the pandemic, overall international student enrollment rate has dropped by 16% in 2020 (IIE, 2020).

Educational leaders point to the social and political environment in the US as partly the reason for this decline. The more restrictive policies on US visas and the administration’s take on immigration are making it a challenge for higher ed institutions to recruit more international students. With the newest policy in place, international students could easily accrue an unlawful presence in the US and be prohibited from re-entering the US for a period of 3 to 10 years. In addition to these issues, many students have also opted out of studying abroad to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19.

To battle the declining number of student enrollees, universities and colleges recruit international students more aggressively. Leveraging international student activities can help raise new revenues. Recruiting more international students and encouraging partnerships with universities abroad also raise the stature of colleges and universities to global audiences.

In addition, the recruitment of international students leads to a diversified student body. It allows new cultural contexts that can, when integrated with the current curriculum, better prepare students to compete in a globalized economy.

Source: IIE

International Student Recruitment Trend Highlights

  • International recruitment of students contributes to a more diversified student body.
  • However, with the ongoing pandemic, international student enrolment has plummeted by 16% in 2020 (IIE, 2020).
  • News curriculums are designed to better prepare students for the global economy.

7. Online Program Management Providers

The growth of elearning software paved a new path for online program management organizations or OPMs. Universities and their corporate partners develop online courses. Meanwhile, OPMs provide the platform for students to take the classes.

Renowned universities like Harvard, Yale, NYU, and Georgetown provide online degrees through OPM providers. According to an OPM report (Huffpost, 2019) OPMs typically take 60% or more cut in tuition. As forecast, the market for OPMs and related services will soon hit almost $8 billion by 2020.

online learning in the US

OPM Provider Trend Highlights

  • Renowned universities now provide online degrees through OPMs.
  • By 2020, the market for OPMs could hit almost $8 billion. (CNBC, 2019)

8. Corporate-Institution Partnerships

Institutions are now working with corporations to ensure that employee skills match their jobs. These enterprise training companies partner with universities and leverage their vast networks to help companies bridge the tech-talent gap in their workforce.

Although the uses of HR solutions include enhancing career development, higher education still serves as a better training ground for students. The likes of Pluralsight and Revature encourage university partnerships and collaboration with employers. They provide students and companies with the right programs to match their skills and needs.

Pluralsight, an online platform for software and IT developer training, utilizes its industry-updated content. With its close ties with employers, the corporation ensures success in the match. Revature, on the other hand, provides a program where students can pay back their tuition within two years after employment. This way, the needs of both students and employers are addressed through a collaborative learning management process .

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Corporate-School Partnership Trend Highlights

  • Institutions work with corporations to address the mismatch between employer needs and worker skills.
  • Enterprise training companies provide students with industry-specific educational programs.

9. Student Loans

Accumulating student loans continue to be a worrying part of college education. As higher education costs become more expensive, student loan debts climbed to an all-time high of $1.7 trillion in 2020 (Educationdata.org, 2021). Moreover, loan balances tend to be different for each state, with some states having higher unpaid balances more than others. Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island emerged as the states with the highest amount of student loan balance at $38,510, $36,854, and $36,250 respectively.

According to a report by Student Loan Hero, about 69% of the graduating class in 2018 used private and/or federal loans (Student Loan Hero, 2019). And that’s not counting the additional 14% of loans that parents of college students took to fund their children’s higher education. Overall, students ended up with an average of $29,800 in debt after graduation, while their parents were left with about $35,600.

Student loan statistics in 2020 show that 44.7 million Americans currently have student loan debts, with an average amount of $32,731 (Forbes, 2020). This state of student loans in the US is further aggravated by the COVID-19pandemic, with 81% of full-time higher education students reporting they are facing more financial difficulties (Student Loan Hero, 2020).

Moreover, the public student loan forgiveness, or PSLF, has improved since its launch in 2007. The program is for government and qualifying nonprofit employees with federal student loans. In this program, the remaining loan balance will be forgiven tax-free after eligible borrowers have made 120 loan payments.

But this is only possible if the borrowers are under an income-driven repayment plan. Based on the most recent data from Federal Student Aid, 1,216 people have received loan forgiveness (Nerd Wallet, 2021).

student loan

Student Loan Trend Highlights

  • Americans owed approximately $1.5 trillion in student loans. (Pew Research Institute, 2019)
  • 7.63% of the total outstanding US student loans are private loans. (Nerd Wallet, 2020)
  • About 1,216 people received loan forgiveness from the public student loan forgiveness. (Federal Student Aid)

10. Increase in Capital Campaigns

The decline in state funding led to higher education’s aggravated efforts in raising capital funds. In recent years, the higher education sector saw an increased focus on capital campaigning. As state funds became scarce, education leaders and policymakers train their sights on private donors.

Today, capital campaigning in the higher education sector is more ambitious than ever. For instance, the University of Michigan raised $5 billion in its fundraising campaign, which was led by 1,600 fundraising volunteers and 550 development staff members.

On a similar note, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is aiming to raise $3 billion, while the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s fundraising goal is $4.25 billion. Meanwhile, the University of Washington has a $5 billion campaign underway.

Capital Campaign Trend Highlights

  • Higher education institutions are taking major strides into raising capital funds.
  • As state funding continues to decline, colleges and universities turn to private donors for alternative sources.

11. Learning Management Systems

Learning management systems for schools created a more efficient system in higher education. Educators and administrators now use LMS to better develop and distribute course content. These applications are also handy in tracking student progress. Although LMS solutions mostly cater to corporations, there are now LMS platforms specific for higher education. Various LMS systems are available in the market today. Here are some examples of LMS solutions used for higher education.

Most Popular LMS Software

  • TalentLMS.  This is a cloud-based LMS that simplifies how users conduct online seminars and courses. In TalentLMS reviews , the product has been lauded for its course authoring, exam engine, and registration management modules.
  • SAP Litmos.  A leading LMS platform, SAP Litmos provides customizable learning paths, progress tracking, and management controls. Read more about its other features here in one of our in-depth SAP Litmos reviews .
  • Docebo. In various Docebo reviews , you’ll find that it is a leading elearning solution provider with many comprehensive features. Core capabilities include a course catalog, enrollment procedures, and certificates.
  • iSpring Learn LMS. This system is a straightforward and easy-to-use platform for LMS hosting, according to several iSpring Learn LMS reviews . Its features include completion tracking, training metrics, and Smart Groups.
  • LearnUpon.  A web-based LMS that helps educational institutions and businesses keep track of learning and knowledge building. Numerous LearnUpon reviews praise the platform for its comprehensive features including gamification and automated certifications.

Learning Management Systems Trend Highlights

  • The higher education system uses LMS platforms to easily deliver course contents to students.
  • LMS solutions are widely used by corporations. However, there are specific platforms that best suit the higher education sector.

12. Competency-Based Education

The emerging trend of using CBE curricula in the higher education sector offers a new value proposition for many institutions. By using a syllabus that specifically targets competencies, students need to master all courses or programs to advance from one unit to another. It offers a wide range of benefits, such as improved completion rates and easier access to the programs, for nontraditional learners.

In a recent survey by the American Institutes for Research, 51% of institutions have reported adopting CBE while 23% have reported being interested in CBE, with 15% expressing no interest. Moreover, about 11% of institutions are found to be offering at least one full CBE program. In combination, there were 588 programs currently offered by these institutions, with 492 of these undergraduate programs and 96 graduate programs.

These numbers confirm an increase in the number of CBE programs offered in colleges and universities. It’s a popular vote for an approach to align student knowledge and skills, design programs based on employer needs, and personalize courses based on the student’s learning pace.

Competency-Based Education Trend Highlights

  • Studies reveal an increase in the number of CBE programs.
  • In 2019, about 51% of institutions are already using CBE curriculum. (Postsecondary CBE, 2019)

13. MicroMasters Programs

A MicroMasters program is a graduate-level course that top universities offer exclusively via online portals. In essence, these programs are equal to master’s degree programs and geared toward specific studies and career topics. A wide range of colleges and universities have already started offering these programs, including the University of Pennsylvania, Boston University, Georgia Tech, MIT, and the University System of Maryland.

Taking up a MicroMasters degree typically costs between $600 to $1,500. These courses are offered fully online either as self-paced or instructor-led. And since MicroMasters programs are offered by the top universities, the programs are recognized by some of the top companies in the world.

In 2018, the total number of students who registered in MicroMasters programs at edX surged to 1.7 million, and the number of programs offered rose from 1 to 46 in the same year.

MicroMasters Programs Trend Highlights

  • Top universities now offer MicroMasters program for students who wish to take their educational attainment to the master’s degree level.
  • University of Pennsylvania, Boston University, Georgia Tech, and MIT offer students MicroMasters programs.

14. Salary of College Professors

According to Salary.com, the average salary of college professors in the US is $152,327 ( Salary.com , 2021) . For most popular college professor positions, salary ranges between $72,448 and $232,206.

But to earn a position in the academic field, it takes at least eight years of post-doctoral education and work experience. Moreover, instructors with several years of non-academic professional experience have greater chances of being university professors.

It’s for these reasons that the highest-paid professors are mostly found in prestigious private universities like Columbia, Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard (AAUP, 2020). These professors are commanding continuous career and educational growth in the academic field.

Source: American Association of University Professors Faculty Compensation Survey

College Profession Salary Trend Highlights

  • Most of the highest-paid professors are teaching at prestigious private universities.
  • As of January 2021, the average salary of college professors is $152,327. (Salary.com, 2021)

15. Most to Least Popular Courses

A college degree leads to more opportunities career-wise. Thus, for many students, choosing a course in college takes a lot of preparation and consideration. According to the US Department of Education, the top factors affecting students’ college course choice include academic quality, having the desired program of study, and job placement (NCES, 2018).

Most popular college majors in 2019 for students following lucrative career goals (Kiplinger, 2019):

  • Electrical engineering
  • Computer engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Civil engineering
  • Email templates
  • Biomedical engineering
  • Computer science
  • Construction management
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Petroleum engineering

16. Higher Education by Country

Teaching skills, principles, and rules of education influence a country’s higher education performance. In addition, evaluation skills and appropriate educational materials make a difference in a country’s education quality. Thankfully, many countries have made huge strides in this respect.

Each country invests in its education system in the hopes that more graduates will soon move their economies to greater heights. According to QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings, the US tops the list of countries providing the best higher education quality. Meanwhile, the UK and Australia rank second and third places, respectively. This is based on system strength, access, flagship institution, and economic context.

best universities

Top countries delivering the best higher education quality and systems:

  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • Netherlands
  • South Korea

17. College and University Governance

The year 2019 in the higher education sector has been filled with headlines of presidential departures. In one instance, four university presidents left their respective institutions in a single week.

As the years went by, the average tenure of college presidents decreased. From seven years in the past, it has now become five years or even less. This is because of the increasing demands and stressors that college presidents need to deal with. These include state funding, declining enrollment, and changing student demographics.

Meanwhile, according to data published by the American Council on Education in 2017, college presidents served an average of  6.5 years in the office. This is relatively lower compared to the 7-year average in 2011 and 8.5-year average in 2006.

Sorce: American Council on Education

University Governance Trend Highlights

  • 2017 data reveals that presidents served an average of  6.5 years in the office. (American Council on Education)
  • The average tenure of college presidents has drastically decreased.
  • In a single week in June 2019, four university presidents left their respective posts.

18. College Closures and Mergers

The number of higher education institutions shutting down continues to trend upwards. Despite the underlined importance of higher education attainment, there are several factors that keep threatening the financial health of smaller institutions. In New England and the Midwest, a number of colleges and universities have already shut their doors in the previous year. Pre-pandemic studies have predicted that about 15 more private colleges were to close down in 2020 but with the current state of COVID-19, this figure is said to be much higher.

In one Ernst & Young report, small colleges were found to be more vulnerable to critical, strategic challenges than institutions that had over 1,000 enrollments. Decline in enrollment, increased regulation, tight budgets, and lack of state funding are some of the factors contributing to closures of colleges and campuses all over the world.

As an effort to battle the risk of closures, policymakers look into establishing or strengthening the financial monitoring system of their institutions.

College Closures and Mergers Trend Highlights

  • Smaller colleges and universities continue to face the threat of closing down.
  • Experts predict that more institutions this year are bound to close or merge with bigger institutions.

19. Bill Gates on Higher Education

Since the year 2000, Bill Gates has been investing in education. He and his wife believed that they could do something about the disparity between post-secondary success and achievements among students of color and low-income students. This led to the establishment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation started a commission to determine the value of a college degree or certificate.  Correspondingly, the Postsecondary Value Commission aims to provide a measurement tool to determine the economic payoff of certain degrees.

In addition, the commission will consider various factors affecting higher education. These include economic factors and post-college earnings, as well as the differences in earnings by degree type, student debt, and economic mobility.

Bill Gates on Education Trend Highlights

  • The Gates Foundation recently started the Postsecondary Value Commission to determine the value of a college degree.
  • The Postsecondary Value Commission uses measurement tools to determine the economic payoff of college degrees.

Monitoring the Trends in Higher Education

The current trends in higher education give us a partial view of what the future has in store for those aspiring to further their education at this level. Some issues need addressing, and actions must be performed for better outcomes. For instance, technological advancements paved the way for learning management system platforms to address some of the changing demands of the education sector. Developments like this provide more avenues for students and learners to advance their professions.

What’s more pressing is how education quality today stands to influence the future workforce. As it is, more corporations are already taking active measures to address employee skill mismatch. By working with educational institutions, corporations provide industry-specific courses to produce highly skilled graduates. This thoughtful matching of courses and industry needs ensures that graduates need not worry about landing jobs for what they spent hours studying for. This ensures that the new wave of employees is rightfully skilled for their jobs and prepares them for a tight job market that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. And in case you need a hand in preparing new employees, you can read our guide to efficient employee onboarding .

Key Insights

  • Higher Education Impact on Employment : A bachelor’s degree significantly improves job prospects, with an employment rate of 87% for degree holders compared to 74% for high school graduates.
  • Affordability of Tuition : Tuition costs have been rising, with public university costs increasing by more than 60% in some states. However, there has been a recent decline, with tuition dropping by 5% at private schools and 4% at public schools for the 2020-2021 academic year.
  • Tuition Fee Discounts : Private institutions offer significant tuition discounts, sometimes over 50%, to attract students. This strategy has been particularly important during the pandemic.
  • Changing Campus Demographics : The traditional student demographic is shifting, with more nontraditional students (those older than 22 or with significant work/family obligations) enrolling in higher education.
  • Rise of Online Education : Online education has grown rapidly, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 97% of college students switching to online instruction in 2020.
  • International Student Recruitment Decline : International student enrollment has declined due to political, social, and pandemic-related factors, with a 16% drop in 2020.
  • Corporate-Institution Partnerships : Universities are increasingly partnering with corporations to ensure that academic programs align with industry needs and to bridge the tech-talent gap.
  • Student Loan Crisis : Student loan debt continues to rise, reaching $1.7 trillion in 2020, with significant disparities in debt levels across states.
  • Capital Campaigns : Declining state funding has led higher education institutions to focus more on raising funds through capital campaigns.
  • Learning Management Systems (LMS) : LMS platforms are becoming essential tools in higher education for content delivery and student progress tracking.
  • Competency-Based Education (CBE) : There is a growing trend toward CBE programs, which focus on students mastering specific skills before advancing.
  • MicroMasters Programs : These graduate-level courses offered online by top universities are becoming popular due to their focus on specific career skills and affordability.
  • Salary of College Professors : The average salary for college professors in the US is $152,327, with the highest-paid positions at prestigious private universities.
  • Popular College Courses : Engineering and technology-related majors are among the most popular and lucrative choices for college students.
  • Governance and Tenure : The average tenure of college presidents is decreasing, currently at about 6.5 years, due to increasing job demands.
  • College Closures and Mergers : Smaller institutions face financial pressures leading to closures or mergers with larger institutions.
  • Bill Gates on Higher Education : The Gates Foundation is actively involved in higher education, aiming to measure and improve the value of college degrees.
  • What is the current state of college tuition costs? Tuition costs have been rising steadily, with public university tuition increasing by more than 60% in some states. However, there has been a recent decrease, with a 5% drop at private schools and a 4% drop at public schools for the 2020-2021 academic year.
  • How are private institutions attracting students despite high tuition fees? Private colleges and universities are offering significant tuition fee discounts, sometimes exceeding 50%, to attract new students. This strategy has been especially important during the pandemic, with some institutions freezing or reducing tuition fees to support struggling families.
  • What demographic changes are occurring on college campuses? The traditional student demographic is shifting, with more nontraditional students enrolling. These students are often older than 22, have significant work or family obligations, and their preferences and behaviors differ from traditional students.
  • How has online education evolved recently? Online education has seen rapid growth, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the fall of 2020, 97% of college students switched to online instruction. This trend is expected to continue, with increasing demand for flexible and accessible learning options.
  • Why has international student enrollment declined? International student enrollment has declined due to political and social factors, restrictive visa policies, and the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, international student enrollment dropped by 16%.
  • What role do corporate-institution partnerships play in higher education? Universities are partnering with corporations to align academic programs with industry needs. These partnerships help address the tech-talent gap and ensure that graduates possess the skills required by employers.
  • What is the current situation with student loan debt? Student loan debt in the US has reached $1.7 trillion, with significant disparities in debt levels across different states. The average debt per borrower is $32,731, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated financial difficulties for many students.
  • How are higher education institutions raising funds amid declining state funding? Colleges and universities are increasingly focusing on capital campaigns to raise funds from private donors. Institutions are setting ambitious fundraising goals to support their operations and initiatives.
  • What is Competency-Based Education (CBE), and why is it gaining popularity? CBE programs focus on students mastering specific skills before advancing. This approach offers benefits such as improved completion rates and personalized learning. Many institutions are adopting CBE to better align student skills with employer needs.
  • What are MicroMasters programs, and why are they significant? MicroMasters programs are graduate-level courses offered online by top universities. They focus on specific career skills and are more affordable than traditional master’s degree programs. These programs are recognized by top companies and are gaining popularity among students.

References:

  • 2019 state of the field: Postsecondary CBE in the US. (2019). Postsecondary Competency Based Education .
  • 2019-20 faculty compensation survey results. (2020). AAUP .
  • 2020 online education trends report. (2020). BestColleges.com .
  • American council on education. (n.d.). American Council on Education .
  • Carey, K. (2019, April 1). The corporations devouring American colleges. HuffPost Highline .
  • Carnevale, A. P., & Smith, N. (2018). Balancing work & learning: Implications for low-income students. CEW Georgetown .
  • Characteristics of postsecondary students. (2020, April). National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) .
  • Cilluffo, A. (2019, August 13). 5 facts about student loans. Pew Research Center .
  • College by the numbers. (n.d.). CollegeStats.org .
  • College professor salaries by education, experience, location and more. (2021, February 26). Salary.com .
  • Dickler, J. (2021, January 14). Amid the Covid crisis, this college is cutting tuition in half next year. CNBC .
  • Distance learning statistics [2020]: Online education trends. (2020, April 12). EducationData .
  • Factors that influence student college choice. (2018, November). National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) .
  • Fall international enrollments snapshot reports. (2020, November). Institute of International Education (IIE) .
  • Fast facts: Employment rates of college students. (2020). NCES .
  • Friedman, Z. (2020, February 3). Student loan debt statistics in 2020: A record $1.6 trillion. Forbes .
  • Getting ready for college can be easier than you think. (n.d.). Federal Student Aid .
  • Helhoski, A. (2021, January 26). Public service loan forgiveness: What it is, how it works. NerdWallet .
  • Helhoski, A., & Lane, R. (2020, November 18). 2020 student loan debt statistics. NerdWallet .
  • Lederman, D. (2018, November 7). New data: Online enrollments grow, and share of overall enrollment grows faster. Inside Higher Ed .
  • My Finance Academy. (2019, October 4). Student loans: Stop stressing, start planning. PNC Insights .
  • Powell, F., & Kerr, E. (2020, September 14). See the average college tuition in 2020-2021. US News & World Report .
  • Power, S. (2020, August 26). Digital trends in higher education. Annertech .
  • Rapacon, S. (2019, March 29). 25 best college majors for a lucrative career. Kiplinger .
  • Research & Markets Ltd. (2020). Global online education market – Forecasts from 2020 to 2025. Research and Markets .
  • Reuters. (2019, July 26). Pearson revival on track as shift to digital pays off. CNBC .
  • Student Loan Hero. (2020, April 15). 4 out of 5 college students face financial Troubles due to coronavirus pandemic. Cision .
  • Total student loan debt [2021]: Federal vs private (by year). (2021, March 18). EducationData .
  • Valbrun, M. (2019, May 10). NACUBO report shows tuition-discounting trend continuing unabated. Inside Higher Ed .

Nestor Gilbert

By Nestor Gilbert

Nestor Gilbert is a senior B2B and SaaS analyst and a core contributor at FinancesOnline for over 5 years. With his experience in software development and extensive knowledge of SaaS management, he writes mostly about emerging B2B technologies and their impact on the current business landscape. However, he also provides in-depth reviews on a wide range of software solutions to help businesses find suitable options for them. Through his work, he aims to help companies develop a more tech-forward approach to their operations and overcome their SaaS-related challenges.

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3 state policy trends that will shape higher ed in 2024

Lawmakers have set their sights on restricting diversity, equity and inclusion and eliminating degree requirements for government jobs.

Laura Spitalniak's headshot

Higher education has become central to conversations about diversity, debt, hiring and the workforce. This year, colleges can expect a flurry of state bills and executive orders that will address these topics and potentially reshape how the sector does business.

That spans from policies aiming to boost college attainment to calls to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on college campuses. While some of these moves have traditionally targeted public colleges, political influence in higher education is spreading, and leaders from private institutions now say they are facing similar external pressures .

Below, we're rounding up three state policy trends that colleges will be grappling with in 2024.

Attacks on DEI in higher ed

In 2023, Florida and Texas banned DEI efforts at public colleges entirely. Lawmakers who supported those policies are part of a conservative-led movement that assert DEI programs have grown beyond their original scope and cause division among students and employees.

This year, colleges nationwide can expect to see continued political attacks against their DEI programs.

Utah lawmakers, for instance, recently passed one of the most wide-ranging bans against DEI at public colleges in the country. The bill is now awaiting Republican Gov. Spencer Cox’s signature.  

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Legislature is weighing at least two proposals that would dramatically reshape the state's DEI landscape.

One would ban almost all public college DEI programs and prohibit colleges from having scholarship eligibility based on sex or race.

A second bill would forbid public colleges from promoting so-called “divisive concepts” in mandatory training . Examples of such topics include that anyone of a specific race or sex is inherently privileged or that the state of Kentucky is fundamentally racist or sexist.

The bills each have support from Republican leaders in their respective chambers. If they widely draw support from conservative lawmakers, they stand a good chance of becoming law — the statehouse’s Republicans carry a veto-proof majority over Kentucky's Democratic governor.

Many policies leave wiggle room for DEI required by federal law or accreditation standards. But they often feature broad language that can leave college employees unsure of what they can and can’t do under the law. 

In Oklahoma, for instance, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered public colleges to review all DEI programs and jobs and eliminate those not necessary for accreditation and compliance. Institutions are expected to report back to the Legislature on their findings by May.  

But the three-page executive order left college leaders in the state with radically different interpretations. While Oklahoma State University said it would require no significant changes upon an initial review, the University of Oklahoma said the order was forcing it to cut all of its diversity offices. Civil rights groups pushed back against the University of Oklahoma’s interpretation and urged the institution to preserve its DEI programs.  

Meanwhile, some college leaders have attempted to stay ahead of potential legislative changes. For example, the University of Texas System paused the creation of new DEI policies four months before the state banned such programs entirely.

FAFSA graduation requirements

At least two states — Nebraska a nd Oklahoma — will begin requiring high school seniors to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in the 2024-25 school year.

In total, roughly a dozen states have made the form a graduation requirement, beginning with Louisiana in the 2017-18 school year. Last year, Louisiana’s high school seniors had one of the highest FAFSA completion rates by the end of June, 67.3% compared to a little over half of students nationwide.

Advocates for FAFSA mandates say the requirement helps high school students — even those who don’t intend on going to college — know what financial aid options are available. Research has shown that filling out the form is a strong indicator of whether a student enrolls in postsecondary education.

Already this year, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced she will push for legislation requiring high school seniors to complete the FAFSA or apply for state-administered scholarships through the New York State Dream Act application.  

In Pennsylvania, a similar proposal passed the state Senate and is awaiting a vote in the House. Just over half of the state's 12th graders completed the FAFSA last year by early June.

Leaders from Pennsylvania's public college systems voiced support for the bill last year, with Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education,  saying the state was leaving money on the table. 

Data from the National College Attainment Network backs up that claim. The nonprofit found that the high school students graduating in 2022 missed out on roughly $3.6 billion in Pell Grants because they did not fill out the FAFSA.

The increased attention to the FAFSA comes amid the U.S. Department of Education's release of its simplified version.

The previous version of the FAFSA was infamously difficult to complete, requiring over 100 questions. The new form could take less than 10 minutes and requires students to answer as few as 18 questions, according to the Education Department .

But technical glitches hindered the initial rollout , which came three months later than usual. 

A higher FAFSA completion rate could also change how states spend and distribute local grants , as they often rely on federal financial aid data when doling out those awards, according to research from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.  The new FAFSA is expected to increase the number of students eligible for Pell Grants, and it could strain state budgets if combined with more students filling out the form.

Rollback of degree requirements for state jobs

In 2023, a wave of states rescinded rules requiring government job candidates to have four-year college degrees.

Maryland kicked off the movement the year prior, when then-Gov. Larry Hogan dropped four-year degree requirements from thousands of state jobs. The Republican billed the "first in the nation" move as a way of recruiting qualified candidates who had alternative examples of experience, such as apprenticeships and boot camps. 

The trend has picked up momentum since and is expected to continue in a tight labor market. State leaders often cite the need for a wider talent pool, and some, like Utah's Republican governor , have railed against the prioritization of degrees in the hiring process.

Last year, several states — including Minnesota , Virginia and Pennsylvania — also dropped degree requirements for most state jobs. In total, at least 16 states have dropped degree requirements as of October.

The changes came as Americans are increasingly skeptical about the value of a college degree . The dual influences could steer young people away from higher education as the sector braces for a decline in traditional-age students.

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Student success: 12 higher ed trends for 2024

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higher education policy trends

You're already a steward of student success, but to stay at the top of your game it's crucial to keep track of emerging trends shaping student success in colleges and universities. In this blog post, we'll explore 12 higher education student success trends to watch out for in 2024 and their implications for students, educators, and institutions.

1. Hybrid learning

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of hybrid learning models, combining in-person instruction with online components. In 2024, hybrid learning continues to be a prevalent trend, offering students flexibility and accessibility while maintaining the benefits of face-to-face interaction. Educational institutions are investing in technology infrastructure and instructional design to optimize hybrid learning experiences, ensuring seamless transitions between virtual and physical learning environments.

2. Emphasis on equity and inclusion

There is a growing awareness of systemic barriers and disparities within academia. Many institutions are coming to terms with just how much ground they must make up to provide a more equitable and inclusive learning experience . As a response, institutions are implementing inclusive pedagogies, diversifying faculty and staff, and providing targeted support services to promote equitable access and success for all students, regardless of ability, background, or identity. Utilizing student success software is one way that colleges and universities can prioritize student outreach to ensure they are helping all students achieve academic success.

3. Data-backed decision making

Data analytics is playing an increasingly significant role in higher education, guiding decision-making processes at institutional and individual levels. In 2024, institutions are leveraging data to track student progress, identify at-risk populations, and personalize interventions to support student success. Predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms help educators identify patterns and trends, enabling proactive interventions to improve retention and graduation rates.

4. Career readiness and employability

The alignment between higher education and the workforce is a top priority in 2024, with institutions placing a greater emphasis on career readiness and employability. Employers seek graduates who possess not only academic knowledge but also practical skills and competencies relevant to their fields. To meet this demand, colleges and universities are integrating career development initiatives, experiential learning opportunities, and industry partnerships into their curricula, ensuring that students are well-prepared for the job market upon graduation. Institutions are also taking advantage of labor market statistics to evaluate program effectiveness to ensure they are providing the best education possible.

5. Digital literacy and technological fluency

In an increasingly digital world, digital literacy and technological fluency are essential skills for student success in higher education and beyond. In 2024, we observe a heightened focus on integrating technology into the curriculum and equipping students with the skills to navigate digital tools effectively. From coding and data analysis to cybersecurity and information literacy, institutions are prioritizing digital literacy initiatives to empower students with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the digital age.

6. Focus on mental health

The mental health and well-being of students are paramount concerns in higher education, particularly in light of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2024, institutions are prioritizing mental health support services, promoting wellness initiatives, and fostering a culture of compassion and understanding. From counseling services and peer support groups to mindfulness programs and stress management workshops, colleges and universities are investing in resources to support the holistic well-being of their students .

7. Flexible credentialing and lifelong learning

The traditional model of higher education is transforming, with an increasing emphasis on flexible credentialing and lifelong learning opportunities. In 2024, we see a proliferation of alternative credentials, micro-credentials, and stackable certificates that allow students to customize their educational pathways and acquire skills incrementally. Lifelong learning initiatives, including continuing education programs and professional development opportunities, cater to learners at all stages of their careers, promoting continuous upskilling and adaptability in a rapidly changing world.

8. Community engagement and social impact

Higher education institutions are increasingly embracing their roles as drivers of social change and community development. This year there is a growing emphasis on community engagement, service learning, and social impact initiatives that enable students to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world challenges. Through partnerships with local organizations, civic engagement projects, and sustainability initiatives, colleges and universities empower students to become active participants in addressing pressing societal issues and making a positive difference in their communities.

9. Experiential learning and internships

In 2024, there's a heightened emphasis on experiential learning and internships as integral components of the higher education experience. Recognizing that hands-on experiences are invaluable for skill development and career preparation, institutions are fostering partnerships with businesses and organizations to provide students with real-world exposure. Whether through internships, co-op programs, or project-based courses, students gain practical insights, build professional networks, and enhance their employability.

10. Gamification of education

The incorporation of gaming elements into education, known as gamification, is gaining traction as a strategy to enhance student engagement and motivation. In 2024, we see educators leveraging gamified elements, such as badges, points, and interactive simulations, to make learning more immersive and enjoyable. This approach not only captivates students but also promotes a sense of achievement and progress, transforming the learning experience into a dynamic and interactive journey.

11. Adaptive learning technologies

Adaptive learning technologies, powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, are reshaping how content is delivered and personalized for individual students. In 2024, these technologies analyze students' learning patterns, adapt instructional content in real time, and provide targeted feedback. This personalized approach caters to diverse learning styles and ensures that each student receives the support they need to succeed. Institutions are integrating adaptive learning platforms into their curricula, revolutionizing the traditional classroom experience.

12. Tracking the entire student lifecycle

In 2024 there will be more focus on holistic student success. While boosting enrollment and retention is important, these metrics can be improved by being proactive earlier in the student’s journey. This year many institutions will focus on student success solutions that can support the entire student life cycle — from prospect, to enrollee, to graduate. 

The right solution can track student engagement from the first interaction, like meeting at a prospective student day, through the student’s enrollment (and beyond!). Monitoring prospective student interactions creates more personalized recruitment, which in turn boosts enrollment. When that student is actively enrolled, you can use the same system to track their academic performance. This creates the opportunity for more thoughtful engagement if the student begins to struggle because the student’s entire academic story will be recorded in the same place. Post-graduation, the student’s data helps in assessing career service effectiveness and fostering alumni relations for networking and fundraising. At your fingertips, you can easily see a summary of all of the student’s activity — how they found out about your institution, what program they were initially enrolled in, when they enrolled, their academic performance, extracurricular activities they participated in, their graduation date, and more! Overall, using a robust student success solution helps institutions provide targeted support, enhance student engagement, and adapt to evolving needs, contributing to a more effective and responsive educational environment.

Improve student success on your campus with Watermark

It can be challenging to identify the exact moment a student veers off track. To help you improve student success on your campus, Watermark created a student success solution powered by predictive analytics to prioritize student outreach and engage students before it's too late. Want to support student success on your campus throughout the entire academic lifecycle? Watch our demo of Watermark Student Success & Engagement so you can see firsthand how it can help you improve student outcomes on your campus!

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Financial Aid Research

Current research, trends in student aid.

Trends in Student Aid provides detailed information on the amounts and types of financial assistance available to students at various income levels who enroll in various types of institutions.

  • Go to Research

Trends in College Pricing

Trends in College Pricing provides detailed information on college costs, including historical data on prices charged and estimates of the net prices students actually pay after taking grant aid into consideration.

Education Pays

The Education Pays report highlights the benefits of higher education and looks at patterns among U.S. adults with different levels of education.

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World University Rankings 2024

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024 include 1,906 universities across 108 countries and regions.

The table is based on our new WUR 3.0 methodology , which includes 18 carefully calibrated performance indicators that measure an institution’s performance across five areas: teaching, research environment, research quality, industry, and international outlook.

This year’s ranking analysed more than 134 million citations across 16.5 million research publications and included survey responses from 68,402 scholars globally. Overall, we collected 411,789 datapoints from more than 2,673 institutions that submitted data.

Trusted worldwide by students, teachers, governments and industry experts, the 2024 league table reveals how the global higher education landscape is shifting.

View the World University Rankings 2024 methodology

The University of Oxford tops the ranking for the eighth year in a row, but others in the top five have seen shifts in their ranks. Stanford University moves up to second place, pushing Harvard University down to fourth.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) climbs up two places to third this year. The University of Cambridge slips to fifth place, after being in joint third place last year.

The highest new entry is Italy’s Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, ranked in the 301-350 bracket. However, the majority of the institutions joining the ranking for the first time this year are in Asia.

The US is the most-represented country overall, with 169 institutions, and also the most-represented in the top 200 (56). With 91 institutions, India is now the fourth most-represented nation, overtaking China (86).

Four countries enter the ranking for the first time – all of them in Europe. The addition of Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Armenia is in contrast to last year’s trend when all the new entrants were from Africa.

Stanford University leads the teaching pillar, while the universities of Oxford and Cambridge come top for research environment. The research quality pillar, which is the newly renamed citations pillar, sees MIT in first place.

The University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates scores highest in international outlook, while 28 institutions receive a top score of 100 for the industry pillar.

In addition to the 1,904 ranked institutions, a further 769 universities are listed with “reporter” status, meaning that they provided data but did not meet our eligibility criteria to receive a rank, and agreed to be displayed as a reporter in the final table.

Read our analysis of the World University Rankings 2024 results

Download a copy of the World University Rankings 2024 digital report

To raise your university’s global profile with Times Higher Education , contact [email protected]

To unlock the data behind THE’s rankings and access a range of analytical and benchmarking tools, click here

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  • World University Rankings 2024: a broader look at research quality
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  • World University Rankings 2024: Indonesia top for student-staff ratio
  • World University Rankings 2024: trends in industry
  • World University Rankings 2024: UK doubles down on global links
  • The shape of rankings to come
  • World University Rankings 2024: 20 years tracking global higher education
  • Talking leadership: David Garza on enticing top scholars to Mexico
  • HKUST head: universities must ignite the sparks of innovation
  • Talking leadership: Erik Renström on industry partnerships
  • NYU president: global engagement is a form of alchemy
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higher education policy trends

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  4. 7 Leading DaaS Trends and Benefits in Higher Education

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COMMENTS

  1. 4 trends that will shape the future of higher education

    Below are four higher education trends we see taking shape in 2022. 1. Learning from everywhere. There is recognition that as schools and universities all over the world had to abruptly pivot to online teaching, learning outcomes suffered across the education spectrum. However, the experiment with online teaching did force a reexamination of ...

  2. 2024 Higher Education Trend Watch

    Trend. 1. Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy. 2 (tie) Demand for continued hybrid and remote work arrangements. 2 (tie) Increased focus on improving hybrid and online learning. 3. More calls for data-informed decision-making and reporting.

  3. What education policy experts are watching for in 2022

    Stephanie Cellini — Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Brown Center on Education Policy: In 2022, I will be following several debates over federal higher-education policy that could bring sweeping ...

  4. Higher education's outlook for 2024

    The rapid pace of change in higher education shows no sign of slowing in 2024. For one, colleges nationwide are bracing for widespread demographic challenges as the pool of traditional-age students shrinks. Already, public and private colleges alike have been struggling with budgetary and enrollment challenges, forcing some to shed programs and ...

  5. 2023 Higher Education Trend Watch

    This report focuses on the workforce, cultural, and technological shifts for ten macro trends emerging in higher education in 2023. Across these three areas of shift, we report the major impacts and steps that institutions are taking in response to each trend. Some trends overlap with the 2022 Higher Education Trend Watch report.

  6. 11 Top Trends in Higher Education: 2024 Data, Insights & Predictions

    Trends in Higher Education Table of Contents. Diversity in Higher Education Students and Faculty. Increase in Non-Traditional Students. Mental Health Awareness. Embracing Artificial Intelligence for Learning. Online Learning is More Prevalent. Virtual Reality for Education. More Focus on Closing the Skills Gap.

  7. Reimagining higher education in the United States

    Such differentiation will be critical given the trends that are challenging the higher-education sector. One trend is the coming "demographic cliff"—the number of high-school graduates in the United States will peak at around 3.6 million students in 2026 and then decline to 3.3 million students by 2030.

  8. Adapting to Change: The Top Higher Education Trends for 2024

    As the global landscape of higher education continues to evolve, educators, institutions, and learners find themselves at the intersection of technological advancements, changing societal needs, and pedagogical innovations.The year 2024 promises to be a transformative period, with several trends shaping the future of higher education. In this comprehensive exploration, we delve into the top ...

  9. The Higher Education Trends Report 2024

    How debates around free speech, legacy admissions, and mega donors will affect colleges this year. "At the root of this year's trends are existential questions facing college leaders: Who's ...

  10. 7 higher education trends to watch in 2023

    Higher Education News. Student loan forgiveness keeps center stage. U.S. higher ed may have gained the widest attention in 2022 for President Joe Biden's plan to wipe away broad amounts of student loan debt for individual borrowers earning up to $125,000.. Each borrower was set to receive up to $10,000 in debt forgiveness — $20,000 if they got a federal Pell Grant in college.

  11. 5 Higher Education Trends To Watch For In 2024

    After a tumultuous 2023, here are five higher education trends to expect in 2024. getty. With the countdown to the new year now over, attention turns to what major developments might be in store ...

  12. Top 6 trends in higher education

    There are six trends that are particularly notable. 1. Online education has become an increasingly accepted option, especially when "stackable" into degrees. Enrollment in online courses has ...

  13. 3 Higher Education Trends to Prepare for the Unknown in 2024

    Trend #2: Fostering Career Readiness Opportunities to Capture Student Interest. Despite persistent public skepticism of the value of higher education, there is hope. Higher education still offers valuable means for the next generation to attain fulfilling careers. In fact, nearly 80% of adults 25-30 with a bachelor's degree agree their work ...

  14. Trends in Higher Education

    Get up-to-date information on the cost of college in the U.S. and the financial aid that can help students pay for college. College Board's Trends in Higher Education reports provide accurate, timely, and actionable information on financial aid, college tuition, and other expenses associated with attending college in the U.S. The Research ...

  15. 19 Higher Education Trends for 2024: Latest Forecasts To Watch Out For

    Cost of College Education Trend Highlights. Year-over-year tuition costs dropped by 5% at private colleges and about 4% at public colleges. For the school year 2020-2021, tuition at private schools can cost $35,087 while it costs $9,687 for public schools (in-state) 2. Discount Fees by Private Institutions.

  16. 3 state policy trends that will shape higher ed in 2024

    FAFSA graduation requirements. At least two states — Nebraska and Oklahoma — will begin requiring high school seniors to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in the 2024-25 school year. In total, roughly a dozen states have made the form a graduation requirement, beginning with Louisiana in the 2017-18 school year.

  17. 2023 Higher Education Trends Report: White Paper

    2023 Higher Education Trends Report: White Paper. Presents an outline of trends and opportunities that face the higher education sector today, regardless of geography, institutional type (research, teaching, public, private), or brand. ... The contents of this Web site do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the U.S. Department of ...

  18. 12 higher ed trends for 2024

    In this blog post, we'll explore 12 higher education student success trends to watch out for in 2024 and their implications for students, educators, and institutions. 1. Hybrid learning. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of hybrid learning models, combining in-person instruction with online components.

  19. Financial Aid Research

    Education Pays. The Education Pays report highlights the benefits of higher education and looks at patterns among U.S. adults with different levels of education. Go to Research. Review the latest trends and research in financial aid, college pricing, and the benefits of higher education.

  20. World University Rankings 2024

    The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024 include 1,906 universities across 108 countries and regions. The table is based on our new WUR 3.0 methodology, which includes 18 carefully calibrated performance indicators that measure an institution's performance across five areas: teaching, research environment, research quality, industry, and international outlook.

  21. How New Salary Overtime Regulations Could Impact Higher Ed

    In April 2024, the US Department of Labor finalized a rule on overtime benefits that will likely have significant short-term consequences for higher education staff. Colleges and universities were previously exempt from providing overtime pay to employees salaried at or above $35,568. The revised rule increases this threshold to $58,656 and ...

  22. Evolving Concepts, Trends, and Challenges in the ...

    Internationalization as a concept and strategic agenda is a relatively new but broad and varied phenomenon, driven by a dynamic combination of political, economic, socio-cultural and academic rationales and stakeholders. This article addresses the following points: What are the historical dimensions of internationalization? What are the key factors in international higher education that are ...

  23. Diversity and Diversification of Higher Education: Trends ...

    Most current discussions of diversity within higher education systems focus on comparing and contrasting universities located at different positions in the vertical rankings hierarchy. This paper innovates by identifying trends and patterns in horizontal diversification—i. e., diversity of types of study programs, educational concepts, and specializations—and ultimately reaches the ...

  24. Changing Trends in Public Demand for Higher Education in Today's Russia

    The paper investigates the existing trends in public demand and how they influence financial security and restructuring processes in the Russian higher education system. The study enabled to reveal transformation of the professional education market, its transition from expansion to contraction.

  25. U.S. Embassy Moscow Statement

    Education & Culture. Study in the U.S.A. Learn more about quality higher-education opportunities in the U.S. that you will not find anywhere else in the world. Find Opportunities ... News, Policy, Press Releases, U.S. & Russia. Suggested for You. Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Release of the 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report; Message for U ...

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    The dollar index ( DXY00) Tuesday rose by +0.13%. Hawkish comments today from Fed Governor Bowman boosted the dollar when she said she sees a number of upside risks to the inflation outlook, and ...

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    A letter to readers from Editor in Chief Emma Tucker on the trial of Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been wrongfully detained in Russia for over a year.

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    Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich appeared in a Russian court Wednesday to face a false accusation of espionage in a secret trial, as a senior Kremlin official told reporters that ...