Many higher education institutions bucked tradition last year to support student recruitment, experiences, and retention in the face of increasing inflation and interest rates, and will continue to do so going forward. Schools turned to new partnerships and cost-saving strategies to boost course quality and student experiences while saving money, research  shows.

Inflation, Enrollment, and Employment

  • At the end of 2022, inflation measured 7.1% for the year with interest rates in hot pursuit. Until inflation stabilizes and interest rates begin to decline, colleges and universities will be challenged to reach their financial management goals.
  • Enrollment. Total graduate and undergraduate enrollment fell 1% over the previous 12 months across two- and four-year schools, public/private, and for-profits. This follows additional slippage in the previous two years. Adult undergraduate enrollment continues its 10-year decline. Total enrollment has decreased 10% from 2015 to 2022.
    • Interestingly, high school dual enrollment programs grew 10% this past fall
    • Certificate enrollment for undergraduates and graduate students grew 2.5%

Both trends illustrate market interest in recruiting quality workers; however, they also indicate reduced revenues for institutions.

  • Higher education employment is down by less than 2% and is rising again. Wages and benefits represent 50-70% of an institution’s annual budget.
  • Tutors and institutional research staff are in-demand jobs indicating student retention and focus on data-driven strategies.

Institutional High-Impact Moves

Colleges and universities are exploring new opportunities by making unusual moves for student recruitment and developing partnerships to reduce operational costs. These are new initiatives, so proof of concept is still to be determined. Examples include:

  • Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU): Partnering with and the Urban College of Boston, a small school focused on early childhood education, as a way to boost course quality and decrease costs.
  • University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC): Disbanded a 51-person course development team saying that outsourcing was the best way to revise courses at the speed and scale required to meet university objectives.
  • The State University of New York (SUNY): Nearly two dozen member campuses now match in-state tuition from eight surrounding states.
  • National Institute for Success at Georgia State University: Turned a long-admired student success model into a toolkit for other schools plus consulting services. The nonprofit is working with 28 colleges and universities and recently received a $25 million gift to expand the program.

Other Important Trends

An increasing number of schools are providing third-party certificates to support student employability. For example, the University of Charlotte is partnering with Coursera to offer free access to Grow with Google certification. Credentials are in digital marketing and ecommerce to supplement student coursework and give graduates a competitive advantage.

Then there is the Coalition for Life Transformative Education, a community of university leaders committed to individual and collective change, sharing best practices, and building a movement where students not only earn a degree but also receive a transformational education experience that benefits their well-being and professional life.

Institutional and EdTech partnerships, such as the College Innovation Network, are also flourishing. A grant-funded initiative of Western University’s research and development hub, the network connects institutions with EdTech that boosts students feelings of belonging, facilitate engagement, and promote equity.

These examples reflect innovative thinking from higher education leaders as costs, degree utility, and market forces impact traditional ideas about the benefits of higher education. It is likely that 2023 will provide more innovation as institutions tailor course and degree offerings to align with market demands for a sophisticated workforce.