Four Recent Changes That Have Radically Altered the Higher Education Landscape

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student information software helps higher ed respond to change

The first universities opened their doors well over a thousand years ago. The overarching structure of the academy has changed since those early days. However, the rapid increase in the rate of technological advancement over the last 20 years created profound changes in workforce demands and economic realities.

Now, in order to flourish, universities must find solutions to new challenges, overhaul many of their entrenched business processes, and foster systems that engage students. This presents an enormous opportunity for institutions to reimagine how they do business.

Four Changes in Higher Education that Institutions Must Address

1. Change in the Student Demographic

The typical student is no longer 18 years old and fresh out of high school. Rather, adult student enrollment has increased substantially in recent years, and is projected to climb faster than traditional-age (18 to 22 years) enrollments over the next decade and beyond. Currently, 38 percent of students enrolled at postsecondary institutions in the United States are over the age of 25 and one-fourth are over the age of 30. Further, 73 percent of higher education students are considered non-traditional, meaning they may work while attending school, study part-time or online, or support a family. Since the number of high school graduates began to decline in 2008, capturing the adult student market has become more important than ever.

2. Change in Market Size and Competitiveness

For many years, colleges and universities faced very little competition. However, recently, the number of institutions has swelled, both in rank and diversity. That trend may soon be reversed, though; Clayton Christensen predicts that half of U.S. universities will be bankrupt by 2028. Nonetheless, there are currently more than 6,900 accredited postsecondary institutions in the United States alone. This number includes traditional universities, community colleges and for-profit institutions. In addition, there are now numerous ways for individuals to take classes and gain knowledge outside of the traditional college or university, ranging from free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to independently run corporate universities. Further compounding this new level of competition, many programs can now be completed online. This means that rather than competing with a few local schools, institutions must now compete on a global scale. Institutions must not only attract students, they must also be able to differentiate themselves from the large pool of competitors in order to gain enrollments.

3. Change in Student Expectations

Non-traditional students view themselves as customers and have high expectations for the service they receive before, during and after enrollment. In fact, today’s students have the same service expectations when selecting a higher education institution as they do when making any other major purchase. Service expectations go far beyond enrollment and have an acute impact on retention, especially when it comes to non-traditional students. Further, non-traditional students want education for employability and career advancement. They are looking for specific outcomes and expect colleges and universities to align themselves with industry requirements. Given the tendency for non-traditional students to seek out courses that fill immediate educational needs, stopping in and stopping out as their schedule permits, non-traditional students will continually return to school over time. This means an institution can have a lifelong relationship with the student—rather than a relationship that lasts the length of a degree program—and can significantly increase the customer lifetime value.

4. Change in the Operational Approach

It is critical for higher education institutions to provide individualized service to each current and prospective non-traditional student; however, it must be done in an efficient (and effective) manner. Public universities are currently experiencing severe budgeting problems after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds dried up in 2012. Private universities have also experienced problems as their expenditures have increased more rapidly than their revenues. Along these lines, it is also worth noting that at both public and private institutions, spending on student services and institutional support has increased more rapidly than spending on instruction. One of the reasons for the increase can be seen when looking at the decline in administrative staff productivity at higher education institutions. Defined as the ratio of staff to students, administrative staff productivity declined by between 23 and 53 percent in the last two decades, depending on the type of institution.

What it means

Students are demanding more from their institutions than ever before and top schools are meeting these expectations despite the constraints of the current economy. Universities and colleges need to create systems that embrace and engage their non-traditional students, providing them with the tools and information they need at every point. Engaging students with the service and information they demand cannot be accomplished with one-off processes and staff determination alone. Instead, savvy administrators are seeking to make their schools more operationally efficient—and in so doing, adopting more business-minded approach to higher education management—so that they can meet the changes in the higher education industry and turn challenges into opportunities.


Destiny One is the only student information system that puts learner engagement first. Crafted specifically for continuing education extensions, professional development divisions, international programs, online schools, and other units that support non-traditional students, Destiny One is used by top institutions across the U.S. and Canada to enable the business excellence needed to support growth and foster world-class customer engagement with learners.


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