8 Higher Education Trends You Need to Be Ready for in 2019

January 17, 2019

With the new year comes new trends in higher education that will present you with new opportunities for success—but only if you start preparing for them now. Here's a quick peek of the trends that will make or break your goals for 2019.

Declining Enrollments

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, university and college enrollment has fallen nearly 9 percent since 2011, while NPR reports that undergrad enrollment in the U.S. is down for the sixth straight year. That trend is expected to continue until the curve bottoms out in 2026, 18 years after the recession of 2008 caused birth rates to plummet.

Although elite private schools like Harvard continue to achieve their enrollment goals, smaller private schools struggle to stay open. In Massachusetts we have seen the closing of Mt. Ida College and Marian Court College. Now Newbury College, a liberal arts school with an enrollment under 1,000, has announced it will close after the academic year.  

What puts smaller schools especially at risk is their reliance on tuition over endowments. Newbury College, which receives 74 percent of its revenues from tuition, has seen its enrollment decline 24 percent over a five-year period. In contrast, The Boston Globe reports that last year Harvard University took in just 21 percent of its revenue from tuition, compared to 36 percent from its endowment returns.

Dwindling Budgets

Declining enrollments comes at a time when, according to an article in the Atlantic, public colleges and universities are for the first time receiving the majority of their revenue from tuition rather than government appropriations. This decrease in revenues is accompanied by an increase in the cost of adhering to legislative and financial statutes. The resulting squeeze has led to slashed budgets across campuses, reductions that will continue into 2019.

Energized Fundraising

With revenues on the decline and costs on the rise, universities are turning to donors for help, and donors are responding. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that giving to America’s colleges rose 6 percent in 2017. The University of Michigan recently announced it raised $5B in its capital campaign. And Harvard University raised $9.6B in a record-breaking capital campaign that its original goal of $6.5B. Other capital campaigns underway include a $6 billion drive at the University of Southern California and $5 billion effort at the University of Virginia

In light of these encouraging results, we can expect to see more institutions attempt to break free of budgetary restraints by ramping up their fundraising in 2019.

Changing Campus Demographics

While the college student who enrolls directly after high school, attends classes full-time, and lives on campus has long been considered the norm, a growing share of the student body no longer fits that description. Students over the age of 25 and students with full- or part-time jobs are increasingly seeking degrees.

Enrollment rates for minority students, specifically Hispanics, and first-generation college students also are growing. Meanwhile, female students continue to make up an ever larger portion of the campus body.

Evolving Strategies for Student Success

Changing student demographics require changes in student success strategies. First-generation students don't have family experience to draw from when navigating the complexities of college. Institutions are putting extra resources in place to guide these students through the application and registration processes. Schools are also adopting more flexible learning formats that align better with the hectic schedules of working students.

Growing Distance Student Enrollments

Expanding online education opportunities is one strategy institutions are pursuing to expand access for non-traditional students. The strategy has also helped boost their bottom lines. In the midst of declining enrollments, The Babson Survey Research Group revealed that distance student enrollments increased for the fourteenth straight year in 2016. Inside Higher Ed reports that in 2016 30.9 percent of community college students, 29 percent of undergraduates at four-year public institutions, and 25.6 percent of undergraduates at four-year private colleges enrolled in at least one online course.

Hybridizing Courses

Another strategy for attracting non-traditional students is to offer hybrid courses that combine online and face-to-face classes. In these courses, the class lectures are online, giving students the ability to watch and review information before tests. The face-to-face portion is used for group interaction and Q&A sessions with the professor. These flexible learning programs help improve student engagement and retention. 

Adapting Curriculum to the Changing Market

We are teaching our students skills that the job market may no longer need. The McKinsey Global Institute released a report that estimated a third of American workers may have to change jobs by 2030 because of artificial intelligence.  A 2013 study from the University of Oxford predicted that nearly half of American jobs—including real-estate brokers, insurance underwriters, and loan officers—are at risk of being taken over by computers within the next two decades.

In light of these studies, universities are shifting their curriculum to better prepare students for future career challenges and opportunities. Colby-Sawyer recently eliminated its English and philosophy majors in favor of majors like nursing and business.

Edinboro University in Northwestern Pennsylvania is cutting degrees in music, geography, and social science and adding programs in business administration and health science.  According to the NY Times, Edinboro plans to emphasize in its new plan co-curricular activities, leadership and life skills, and experiential learning opportunities. It will also double the size and budget of its career center.

Other schools, including Emory University, have added degree programs that combine applied mathematics and statistics with traditional liberal-arts majors.

Investing in Technology Infrastructure

To respond to these trends and others, universities need to invest in their technology infrastructure. From innovative messaging tools for connecting with donors to intuitive online learning platforms for attracting working students to analytics-based systems for improving the retention rates of first-generation students, technology will be the key to meeting all your goals in 2019. 

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