Priorities in Higher Ed: Affordability & Advanced Tech

Amy Jenkins
January 2, 2023

Zeroing in on Two Issues

Higher education is currently facing several challenges. Two of the greatest relate to the cost of attendance and a shift toward online education and hybrid learning. Today, administrative staff are focused on improving outcomes related to both in order to boost enrollment in higher education and increase graduation rates. Viewed in this way, pricing and technology aren’t just about student empowerment, but also about improving the current business model used by colleges and universities.

Enrollment Rates in Higher Education on the Decline

One report on discounting in higher education in 2021 found that enrollment is on the decline. This decline is due to a variety of factors, including a decrease in the number of high school graduates, a decrease in the number of adults looking to further their education, and an overall decline in the number of students looking to pursue higher education.

The report also notes that there has been a decrease in the number of first-time students, which tends to be the focus of most admissions staff and financial aid officers in higher education.

Surprisingly, the overall four-year graduation rate has remained relatively steady over the past few years. This deviates only in terms of six-year graduation rates, which have decreased slightly.

What’s Behind the Curtain?

Given enrollment in higher education is on the decline, colleges and universities are looking at different business models that may help them reframe their approach to enrolling students. According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), the top business concerns in higher education include rising tuition costs, decreased state and federal financial aid, increasing competition, and the need for technology-driven educational solutions.

As tuition costs rise, students expect increased financial aid and tuition discounts. However, many colleges and universities rely on federal and state programs to help their students afford the cost of attendance. As state and federal funding for higher education decreases, there are fewer resources to go around.

This means fewer students are able to pursue a degree or similar programs. Those who do are graduating with more debt than ever before. Rising costs and declines in funding and financial aid have led many institutions to turn to private donors and corporate sponsors to support their programs and initiatives.

Battling the Competition

Above, we mentioned that technology is another huge factor influencing enrollment in higher education. In addition to finding more creative sources of financial aid for students, top institutions are also on the hunt for technology-driven educational solutions.

As technology evolves, colleges and universities must harness it to improve the quality of their educational offerings. This includes the use of online learning platforms, as well as the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the student experience.

For some higher education institutions, it may include building a hybrid learning environment. Hybrid learning can also alleviate some of the pricing tension associated with attending college, as hybrid courses tend to be cheaper and allow students to manage their time better. They may be able to live farther away (or at home) and have more flexibility with holding a job.

Along with creating more sources of funding for students, improving their technology outlook is one way for colleges and universities to separate themselves from the competition. As the number of online and for-profit universities continues to increase, traditional universities are facing greater competition for students. Technology is one way to stay ahead of the pack.

Keeping the Focus on Affordability & Innovation

Many students are searching for an affordable education at a tech-savvy institution. Universities and colleges can address lagging enrollment numbers by developing approaches to improve financial aid offers and tech-first learning environments. Without addressing these issues, higher education institutions won’t be able to compete with others in terms of attracting prospective students.

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