Higher Education Trends to Watch for in 2023

Better job prospects, higher income potential, and advancement opportunities are more obtainable for those who graduate from a higher education institution. The field of post-secondary education is responsible for preparing a large part of the upcoming workforce and, as such, leaders in the field should be made aware of imminent trends. 

Unemployment is less likely the more educated the individual. For instance, those who do not graduate high school have over a five percent unemployment rate, whereas the unemployment rate when the individual has obtained an associates (2.8%), bachelors (2.2%), and master’s (2.1%) degree are far less. Similarly, median weekly earnings increase with more education. With a substantial impact on employment opportunities, more students are recognizing and prioritizing the need to obtain a degree. However, the higher education sector must draw their attention to areas of issue to enhance the student experience. 

With the fall semester of the academic year nearing an end, leaders of higher education should watch out for key trends that will shape the higher education landscape well into the new year. Below we explore the top five global trends as reported by the FinancesOnline Research Center in more depth: affordability of college tuition; discount fees by private universities; shifting campus demographics; accommodating nontraditional learners; and online education. 

Affordability of college tuition

The cost of higher education is a major factor for both prospective and current students pursuing a college degree. When compared to tuition rates from 2008, tuition costs have more than doubled, as seen, for instance, in Alabama and Arizona public universities where tuition has increased by more than 60 percent. Students must also consider additional costs that come with obtaining a degree, such as room and board, food, books, technology, etc. 

Reports from the 2020-2021 academic year and projections for the upcoming years, however, indicate that costs are on the decline (U.S. News & World Reports, 2020). Year-over-year tuition rates at private and public universities have declined by five and four percent, respectively. On average, tuition at private institutions from last academic year cost roughly $35k while it cost just under $10k for public institutions for students in-state. So, though costs have exponentially increased in past decades due to increased demand and lack of state funding, efforts to make obtaining a degree more affordable seem to be on the rise. 

Discount fees by private institutions

For the academic year 2017-2018, reports from the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) revealed that incoming freshmen were offered discounts of more than 50 percent by private colleges and universities and the following academic year saw discounts rise to as much as 52 percent (CNBC, 2020). The act of providing students with discounted tuition packages is used as a strategy to appeal to more students and, ultimately, increase enrollment. When the pandemic hit in 2020, many private institutions chose to freeze or even slash tuition rates for the subsequent academic year. 

Private colleges choose to offer discount fees for students rather than lower overall tuition rates. Reports also show that 40 percent of students and their families would choose a more expensive institution with discounted fees than another college with lower tuition costs to begin with. Perceptions surrounding the correlation between cost and quality of education seem to prevail, where an institution that costs more initially is deemed to offer a better quality education. 

Shifting campus demographics

There are more Generation Z students on campus now than ever. With the influx of this new generation of students, student preferences and behavior have shifted dramatically and campuses are becoming more diverse. Furthermore, Gen Z students reportedly emphasize and recognize the importance of education. In fact, just under 60 percent of high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 20 attend a higher education institution (BestColleges, 2020).

Data also suggests that the introduction of online learning has brought in more younger and older students, such that nearly 50 percent of institutions report that age was the most significant trend observed in online student demographics. A quarter of schools report that they have seen a stark increase in adult learners, while another fourth of schools delineate a rise in younger learners. These demographic changes are indicative of new generational needs that leaders in the field must consider when tailoring the existing educational system.

Accommodating nontraditional learners

Higher education trends indicate a decline in traditional learner enrollment. That is, in 2020, nearly 75 percent of the 20 million students attending a higher education institution are considered nontraditional. Moreover, seven out of ten students work full time to make ends meet in addition to their studies (Georgetown University, 2018). Leaders in the field recognized this trend and diversified educational offers, making course content more accessible for nontraditional students. 

Online education

Steadily increasing in popularity since 2017 and booming in 2020, online learning continues to be the prominent driving factor for student enrollments. Online education is more favorable to many students, as it provides more flexibility for students’ busy lives and many responsibilities, as well as agency over their educational goals and experience. 

The shift to online learning has also given institutions an opportunity to optimize their digital platforms, making their content more mobile and user friendly. Various digital learning management systems have entered the market as online education has taken off. Institutions are prioritizing reconstruction of their online course offerings so that they can serve every kind of learner and remain competitive, as students are no longer constricted to enrolling in a specific geographically located institution. 

Advancements in online offerings have increased the quality of digital learning, and student demand indicates that the field must continue emphasizing the growth of their online education programs.