Where is higher ed heading for the rest of the year?

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’s an update on how our January predictions have played out.

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.

A look back on our trends from January

1. Online enrollment continues to grow … and so do debates about the best way to deliver online education

Nearly two decades after college courses were first beamed out through the digital world, online education is no longer a quirky outlier in the postsecondary landscape. For institutions looking to reach new student populations and expand program offerings — while maintaining healthy enrollment — going online isn’t just a possibility. It’s an imperative. But successfully introducing and sustaining high quality online education is a challenge. Many institutions are choosing to work with online program management (OPM) providers on everything from marketing to course design. But others feel that the trade-offs in working with an OPM don’t ultimately pay off. For institutions looking to make online education a central part of their strategy, building internal capabilities may be a better long-term investment. No matter how institutions choose to provide their online education, they need to be prepared to support the unique needs of online learners. If enrollment balloons without plans in place to match it with high retention and completion, it’s ultimately a disservice to the institution as well as to current and future students.

2. Career prep isn’t just for senior year … and it’s not even just for students

We’ve talked before about the need to integrate career preparation at every stage in the student journey (in fact, we published an ebook on it this spring). And that is still essential. Introducing career planning conversations as early as your first outreach to inquiries ensures that your students achieve the kind of career outcomes that remove any doubt as to the value of higher education. Now it’s time to think about career prep at every stage of the career journey. Today’s hiring marketplace requires employees in every field, on each step of the career ladder, to improve existing skills and acquire new ones. It’s what Strada Education Network’s Institute for the Future of Work calls the “learn-earn-learn” cycle. Career guidance needs to keep rolling throughout this cycle, so individuals get support in pinpointing the skills they need to advance and identifying the programs where they can build these skills. A more seamless career preparation experience will make it easy for students to come back to your institution for their next educational phase.

3. Students are more focused on career than ever … even in the classroom

We just discussed how to strategize your career preparation services in terms of timing. Now think about it in terms of space, too. Our January trend report spelled out the disconnect students experience in carer support. Career is a top motivation for attending school, but few feel they have the career guidance they need by the time they leave school. One way to bridge the divide is to insert more career experiences into the classroom. Today’s students don’t want to wait until they’re finished with school to launch their careers — or, for post-traditional learners, pause their careers during their degree. Institutions can help students put new skills into practice through internships, apprenticeships and experiential learning opportunities. For students in the digital classroom, experiential learning can provide the community and real-world connections they crave, while reginiting their excitement about their degree program.

4. Generation Z is making a splash on campus … so keep them afloat with tailored support

Back in January, we gave you the quick hits on Generation Z’s demographics. The one that jumped out the most should have every institution focused on inclusivity. Almost half of Generation Z are racial and ethnic minorities. At the same time, institutions are under increasing pressure to deliver strong completion and career outcomes for every student. How can institutions make student success universal for an increasingly diverse population? Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach. A white paper we published in February identified a lack of personalization as one of the most common challenges affecting student support. While the central tenets of support strategies should be the same for all students — a proactive, holistic methodology — tailoring details like messaging, delivery and timing of interactions ensures that the right support lifts every student through graduation and beyond. Your student population will continue to change; just consider the range of ages in any institution. But knowing how to personalize at scale will ensure that institutions keep up with student needs and expectations.

5. The traditional degree pathway branches off … and should be rooted in support for student transfer

Badges, certificates and stackable credits are giving many students new options to two- and four-year degrees, or new credentials to add to their resume before they complete their degrees. But as the thicket of qualifications grows increasingly dense, students need clear-cut pathways to get credit for previous courses and a head start on their next degree. Even from one traditional degree to another — say, from a community college into a four-year school — transferring isn’t easy. Although community college students perform well in four-year institutions, they are still underrepresented at selective schools. In other cases, students lose credits they acquired in their first degree, setting them back in terms of educational goals, career advancement and finances. Making new types of programs and learning experiences available to students is only one way to nurture the new degree landscape. Just as important is smoothing the pathways from one program to the next, and looking at the educational experience from the student’s point of view — a holistic journey where every branch is as strong as the next.

Stay tuned for five new trends to watch through the summer and fall.


See how these trends impact today’s students.

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