Era of the New Structural Paradigm in Higher Ed

Amy Jenkins
January 3, 2023

A New Approach

The future of higher education in the United States is rapidly changing thanks to technology, tuition costs, and a shifting student population that’s looking for new models of teaching and learning.

One organization, the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), has identified the top issues driving change in higher education in the US. These include the need to address affordability and student debt, digital learning, and changing demographics in higher education.

Looking ahead, higher education institutions must look beyond traditional teaching and learning models to ensure that students are equipped to succeed in an ever-changing job market post-graduation. But what does this actually look like for universities? And how can they evolve with the times?

Simplify Finances

As admissions staff know, the cost of higher education is a major issue for many students and families. Rising tuition prices and the increasing burden of student debt have made many second-guess higher education.

The average student loan debt per borrower has increased from $19,000 in 2004 to $37,000 in 2019. For the average student and family in the US, this near doubling has led to decreased enrollment in higher education.

To address this issue, many institutions are focusing on creating more affordable degree pathways. This includes the expansion of online learning, which can be more cost-effective for colleges and more accessible for students. Additionally, institutions are looking at ways to create more flexible and affordable tuition models, such as income-share agreements and competency-based learning.

Other schools, like the University of Pennsylvania, are dropping their enrollment deposits to sweeten the deal for prospective students. Others, like Colby-Sawyer, are slashing their tuition.

Make the Leap Online

As mentioned above, digital learning is transforming the higher education landscape. With the widespread availability of online learning platforms and tools, more students can access coursework remotely and access a wider range of learning materials.

Colleges and universities are also exploring new models of teaching, such as flipped classrooms and virtual reality. These can create more engaging learning experiences for students. At the same time, it helps students save on things like transportation, which may steer them toward a university that offers hybrid learning. Plus, these methods recognize that not all students learn the same—and for some not being in the classroom every day is better.

Going forward, technology will be used to personalize learning experiences and provide students with more tailored educational resources.

Know Which Students to Serve

Along with shifting finances and hybrid forms of learning, changing demographics in the student population is also having an impact on higher education. Today’s student population is increasingly diverse, with students from underrepresented groups making up a larger portion of the student body.

In fact, while college enrollment rates at traditional four-year universities have dropped, enrollment at HBCUs around the country has seen boosted application numbers. To prioritize an increasingly diverse student base, some schools are eliminating SAT and other test requirements that often have bias built into them or act as an unfair filtering system. That means students can apply even if they aren’t comfortable sharing their ACT scores.

To meet the needs of this changing student population, higher education institutions are developing new programming and services to support students from diverse backgrounds. This includes creating safe and inclusive learning environments, providing financial aid resources, and offering support via student success centers.

Focus on Career Development

Lastly, one factor driving change in higher education is the changing job market. This has led some higher education institutions to create specialized educational programs. According to a report by Axios, the demand for college degrees has outpaced the supply of available jobs, leading to an increase in the number of students seeking specialized education.

To meet this demand, institutions are creating new majors and programs that are tailored to the changing job market. This includes programs in areas such as computer science, healthcare, and business, as well as more specialized degrees in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and data science.

Meeting These Changes Halfway

The future of higher education in the US is rapidly changing, and institutions must adapt to ensure that students have the skills and resources they need to succeed in an ever-changing job market. By addressing affordability, digital learning, diversifying demographics, and the changing job market, higher education institutions can create more sustainable and accessible learning models that will prepare students for the future. All they have to do is meet students halfway and show that they’re evolving with the times.

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