Where is higher ed heading for the rest of the year? – Part 2

We’re halfway through 2019. Where is higher ed heading for the rest of the year?

Get your institution ready to weather the trends with this forecast for the coming months

Back in January, we gave you our best guess on the higher education outlook for 2019. Now here are five more trends to watch between now and December.

We keep our ear to the ground for the ideas making the biggest splash in higher ed research, policy and the media. But more importantly, we have access to insights before they make the news. We provide personalized support directly to students, and help institutions develop their own support functions. That means we hear firsthand perspectives on the future of higher ed from the most important source — the learners who are showing up, logging on and raising their hands to find and complete the programs that will launch their futures.

It’s one thing to know where higher education is heading. It’s another to understand how the trends everybody is talking about will impact your students.

Take a look at the trends below, and make sure your institution is ready to make the most of the months ahead. Then dig a little deeper by downloading our report to uncover the student insights driving the trends.

Five new trends to watch through the summer and fall

1. Admissions are more about fit, less about feat

The Varsity Blues scandal broke in March, and the ensuing saga has taken us well past spring admissions. At a time when the public seems particular distrustful of higher education, bad news has obscured two important realities: most institutions are in the position to accept many applicants of all backgrounds and interests, and all are committed to creating a welcoming and supportive student environment. Fixating on schools with lower admissions rates puts an unhealthy emphasis on the admissions process itself as the central feat of the college experience — rather than the enormous learning and growth that comes from college itself. At our third annual Student Success Symposium in April, participants noted that the prestige of universities is too often measured by inputs — who is accepted into a university, and what their accomplishments are before they enter. Instead, higher ed should focus on how students develop during their time in school. Students and institutions both benefit when the admissions process is focused on fit. Enhanced support for prospective and current students can ensure that students make the most of the unique opportunities their dream college offers, wherever it might be.

2. Take the stigma out of stopping-out

Here’s another take on the lifelong learning concept we mentioned in trend #2. If students are expected to continually return to school to learn new skills, then institutions should continually be focused on re-engaging them and bringing them back to the institution. Whether a student completed an initial degree or not, all should be considered prime candidates for additional education. Engaging former students on an ongoing basis can help institutions reach the millions of adults in the U.S. who have some college credit, but no degree. Drop-outs used to seem like a lost cause. But now, time away from school may be more reflective of how students navigate the career-educational cycle. Our insights from coaching students reveals that academics are rarely the main reason someone will leave school. Other factors like balancing work and outside commitments and managing finances are the much more likely culprits. Institutions can help bring students back by proactively addressing these factors and ensuring the support is in place to help them overcome these challenges.

3. A new outlook on outcomes

All higher education institutions have been under increasing pressure to prove their value, with more public attention on outcomes like completion rates and career readiness. These questions come at a time when educators, policymakers and other leaders are rethinking how to measure student and institutional effectiveness. Although completion rates are a go-to metric, students and their families are just as interested in post-graduation career outcomes. But career, especially over a lifetime, is difficult to track, and the standard completion metrics may not take into account transfer and other educational pathways. On top of focusing on the right end result, institutions shouldn’t ignore what’s happening in the middle of the educational journey. Participants in this year’s Student Success Symposium cited things like a student’s interactions with faculty and staff and use of institutional resources as ways to evaluate the quality of a student’s educational experience — while there is still time to intervene.

4. Calculate the cost of free education

About twenty states offer some form of free higher education, most often at community colleges, and presidential candidates debate the merits of tuition-free degrees on a daily basis. Meanwhile, institutions are left wondering how to turn more access into greater success for a population comprising many historically underrepresented and first-generation students. Free tuition is not enough. In order to ensure students get the most value from their degrees, these schools also need to provide student-centered support that includes degree planning and career preparation. Colleges in states offering some form of free tuition can enhance student success through developmental support that addresses students’ personal, professional and academic growth. Although free college is a step toward improving equity in education, enhanced support can ensure that students know what to do when they arrive on campus, and their completion numbers rise alongside enrollment.

5. Employers are getting into the education act

The past few months have put a spotlight on higher education partnerships. Much of that coverage has focused on online program management (OPM) providers and other external providers supporting critical functions at universities.But a different kind of partnership is also shaping higher education. Some institutions and employers are working closely together to create more career-ready graduates. Other employers are partnering directly with institutions to help their current employees earn degrees. Student support should play a fundamental role in each of these partnerships. While specific job and technical skills may be outdated by the time a student graduates, strong noncognitive abilities will see students through many career transitions — and will ensure that employers are hiring graduates who can navigate any job situation. No matter which partnerships shape higher education, student-facing teams should be on the frontlines of helping students develop skills like problem-solving, communication and time management — keys to personal and professional success.

Wondering how our last set of predictions played out? See our updates on 5 trends we identified in January.


See how these trends impact today’s students.

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