NAPA RESEARCH                                                                                              

As the 2022-2023 academic year began, topics of confidence in higher education and workforce relevance, higher education’s costs, university admissions practices and diversity initiatives dominated the headlines. Since then, some other important themes have garnered significant attention, such as Generative Artificial Intelligence and the U.S. Supreme Court’s intention to rule on high-profile issues in higher education, such as race-conscious admissions and student debt forgiveness.

This mid-year update spotlights the more recent headliners and summarizes the other key issues previously described. (For a deeper dive, follow the references or links in the footnotes.)

Here’s the latest:

Enrollments still down generally, but some segments ticking upward: Undergraduate enrollment continued to decline by 1.1% in fall 2022 compared to 2021, but the decline has slowed to pre-pandemic rates, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) reported once last fall’s numbers were in.

Total undergraduate and graduate enrollment combined declined 1.1% over last fall, leading to a total two-year decline of 3.2% since 2020. Undergraduate enrollment declines occurred across all sectors especially among four-year institutions, with a drop of 1.6% at public four-years; 0.9% at private nonprofits; and 2.5% at private for-profits. Declines at community colleges have slowed, with only a 0.4% enrollment loss compared to fall 2021, driven by an 11.5% jump in dual-enrolled high school students.

“After two straight years of historically large losses, it is particularly troubling that numbers are still falling, especially among freshmen,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. “Although the decline has slowed and there are some bright spots, a path back to pre-pandemic enrollment levels is growing further out of reach.”

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This mid-year update to our whitepaper, Trends in Advancement, Fall 2022, underscores the reality that the “pandemic pivot” in institutional relationship-management has forced alumni, development and marketing offices to be more creative, collaborate more and test new ways of interacting. But while the shift from from traditional, in-person activities toward digital and virtual engagement continues, alumni and donors now seek both. They expect virtual and digital for convenience and, still for some, safety, while many are also eager to be together in-person for the energy, efficiency and often more personable connections of face-to-face engagement. The key for alumni and fundraising professionals is to offer the right mix of virtual and in-person interactions, the balance that will serve the range of stakeholders and meet them “where they are.”

At the same time, and perhaps most important, is there is no turning back from the trend of recent years – to personalize, personalize, personalize. Whether it’s outreach, promotion, information-sharing, content and communications about them must compete to grab attention (e.g., video and digital interactivity) yet be transparent and demonstrate benefits and outcomes. Time is a fixed commodity, and to encourage your stakeholders to spend time with your organization rather than the next-best competitor for their attention, advancement organizations must offer a consistently positive, relatable, barrier-free and where possible, unifying experience.

Here’s our deeper dive, picking up from the advancement trends we identified earlier in this academic year…

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This mid-year update to our Fall 2022 whitepaper, How University-Related Foundations are Evolving, calls attention to a growing issue that may bring increasing challenges to university foundations – the talent and employment trends in higher education overall. AGB’s CEO Update from November noted a “meaningful realignment in higher education as an employer” and, as a result, on university-related foundations’ strategic priorities. The article, linked in full here, pointed to data in a summer 2022 CUPA-HR survey — nearly 60 percent of higher education staff members from 949 institutions were very likely, likely or somewhat likely to look for new employment opportunities in the next year. Why? The need for increased salaries, the opportunity to work remotely and the desire for a more flexible schedule. Faculty as well as faculty and staff from marginalized communities are facing additional challenges. The AGB’s assessment – “this is an alarming trend for higher education” and advised foundations to work with their institutional counterparts to influence systemic change.

As we reported at the outset of this academic year, 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.[1]

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.

Here’s our deeper dive, picking up from the Foundation trends we identified earlier in this academic year…

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