Higher education stands at a multi-lane crossroads, and the most consistent trend is the industry must change dramatically to meet the needs of students, the economy and the many stakeholders within its ecosystem. Leaders who are not prepared to adapt will fail. Innovative institutions will survive and thrive, while those that continue to look through the rearview mirror will likely be threatened by obsolescence. Now is the time to be flexible, nimble, expedient, and responsive.
This assessment has significant implications for university-related foundations and advancement organizations in general. “Higher education is changing rapidly as the forces facing today’s colleges and universities become increasingly formidable. Yet within the vortex of those forces, there are many emerging opportunities for constructive and adaptable change. The acronym ‘VUCA’ describes the environment well – it is filled with Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity,” said Barbara Gellman-Danley, President of the Higher Learning Commission. “Change does not come easily, but the past few years have demonstrated the ability to rise to the occasion with innovation, transformation, and a laser focus on the students we serve.”
Institutions must continue to do more with less while consider fiscal reforms and innovative sustainability measures. Among the HLC’s major trends particularly related to institutional costs and support:
- Equity and Access for All Learners
In 2022, gaps are still far too wide to meet the needs of all learners and whole sectors of society are left out because of cost, location, programs and the marginalization of certain populations.
- Broken Models, New Opportunities
Institutions need to consider moving from isolation to collaboration. Change must be intentional, based on input of all stakeholders and must embrace new models of learning. Partnerships can be helpful and successful, as long as the right partnerships are formed.
- Changing Demographics
Declines in traditional students and international student enrollment are here and likely to continue. The shift to more adult learners has been emerging for years; institutions are best positioned for success by diversifying served populations.
- Teaching and Learning, Looking at Options Through a Kaleidoscope
The pandemic has highlighted the challenges and opportunities of remote learners. Demand for flexibility and access is growing and universities must respond while focusing on quality assurance in education and sufficient coverage in advancement staff. With significant growth of outsourcing of complete academic programs, oversight needs to remain with the university.
- The New Credential Landscape, Multiple Choices for Learners
Non-degree programs and certificates are on the rise. Many learners are choosing alternative offerings that may or may not lead toward a degree. Expanded credentials open the door for new partnerships.
- Financial Pressures and Enrollment
Enrollment decreases and declines in state and local funding are increasing financial stress across higher education. Institutions are building plans and new business models to assure sustainability, and tuition-driven institutions will need to expand revenue sources to strengthen financial health, while addressing public criticism of rising costs.
- Is it Worth it? Public Perceptions About Higher Education
Public perceptions of the value of higher education are increasing the need for institutions to show successful outcomes with measurable metrics. An equity gap exists between colleges with the resources to support extensive data analytics and those without the resources to compete.
- Post-Pandemic Mental Health, Imagining the Impact
With the pandemic uptick in reported student and faculty mental health issues, institutions have increased mental health services, but cost can be prohibitive to many colleges and universities.
- Human Resources and the Work “Place”
Retention and attraction of employees has been greatly impacted by the pandemic; they expect flexible hours and the ability to work remotely. This has created staff and hiring shortages, like other industries, which can decrease human resources for fundraising, alumni relations and other advancement programs.