Three Indisputable U.S. Higher Education Challenges
There is no shortage of opinions and articles detailing the challenges facing higher education in the U. S. While the academy argues that the role of a university and college education is to prepare students to be critical thinkers, become responsible citizens, and contribute to society, chief financial officers argue that the current business model is outdated, unsustainable, and needs to change.
In the book, The Innovative University, Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University, wrote:
“The model is broken and yet so much that we associate with a college education, that a degree requires four years of study and 120 earned credits, that undergraduate life is also about fraternities and athletic teams and dorm life, and that a faculty member with a terminal degree, usually a PhD, is inherently the best educator, is becoming unsustainable.”
There are several challenges facing higher education. This article will focus on three.
Public Perception of Higher Education
In a report published by the Lawlor Group in 2012, 80% of the adults polled indicated the education offered at many colleges and universities in the U.S. was not worth the cost. In a 2019 Pearson survey, the majority of respondents agreed with the earlier survey. In this same survey students around the world and in the U.S. expressed the belief that there are many ways of obtaining the education and the skills needed to secure a job after graduation. College students, according to the Pearson Survey, believe they can succeed in life without a college degree.
Parents are re-evaluating the return on the college investment and demanding proof of tangible, positive outcomes, i.e. jobs for their children after graduation. No longer can many families finance a college education by refinancing home mortgages nor are many willing to tap into retirement funds. College students don’t want to graduate with unmanageable loan bills that will be part of their economic life for years, or decades, after graduation. And 81% of college admissions counselors maintain that they are losing potential applicants due to concerns about accumulating unmanageable student loan debt.
Alternative Educational Delivery Paradigms
In an attempt to meet the demands of the marketplace, many schools are forging alliances with alternative educational delivery paradigms, including for-profit organizations, online learning platforms, academic boot camps, and company-sponsored certificate programs. IBM, for example, has created one of the most robust digital badge portfolios and is adding more and different apprenticeship opportunities in addition to offering its own boot camp. Certificates in cloud computing, cybersecurity, and data science are available through IBM. And JP Morgan Chase has initiated similar educational programs in Detroit.
Consider the opinion voiced by Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive:
“I don’t think a four-year degree is necessary to be proficient in coding. I think that is an old, traditional view.”
However, what alternative option is best and how can it be effectively delivered and monetized, remains elusive for many presidents, deans, and enrollment managers.
Changing demographics and fewer international students
According to Inside Higher Ed’s “2019 Survey of College and Admissions Officers,” a majority (52%) of admission directors reported they did not meet their enrollment targets for the fall semester and are concerned about meeting enrollment goals for next year.
When President Regan was inaugurated, 83% of Americans were white. That demographic has changed. According to a PEW research report the Hispanic population reached nearly 60 million in 2018. And from 2012 to 2019 the number of white high school college students increased 5% while the number of Hispanic students increased 27%. According to the WICHE report, Knocking at the College Door, by 2020 minority students will account for 45% of America’s high school graduates. (In 2009 that statistic was 38%.)
The United States’ proportion of international students has been declining for some time, contributing to fewer international students enrolling on U.S. colleges and universities. For several years it was this cohort of students, paying full tuition, that made it possible for many colleges and universities in the U.S. to meet their enrollment and financial goals. But, as was written earlier, this part of the prior business model is no longer working as it once did.
For decades, Chinese students have been the largest number of international students enrolled on U.S. colleges and universities. However, that is changing. In an article published by The World View, 87% of Chinese parents are re-evaluating plans about sending their children to study on American campuses and are now considering enrollment in other countries such as the U.K., Canada, and Australia.
Tony Pals, spokesman for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, stated the following: “Economic, demographic, marketplace, and technological trends are converging to cause an unprecedented time of change for higher education. The new reality is that colleges are expecting to do more with less for years to come.”
There are certainly more challenges facing higher education in the U.S. than the three listed in this article. But these three are fundamental to understanding other challenges.
“The Future? The Things that got us here will not get us there.”