2023 wrapped: The biggest trends in higher ed—and the most read stories

Growing skepticism over the value of higher education has inspired colleges and universities to rejuvenate their academic course offerings and modalities to keep pace with a new generation of cost-savvy students interested in a high return on investment and flexible learning pathways.

It’s been quite the year for higher education in 2023.

The Supreme Court officially struck down affirmative action, leading institutions to reevaluate their relationship with legacy students and the nature of an “elite” institution. The fervor over U.S. News & World Report’s longstanding college rankings was called into question as institutions vie to personalize their brand to match students’ needs.

Republican-led states have aimed their sights at diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, thanks to a strong charge by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to extract the “woke” from higher education.

Pandemic-era emergency federal aid expired, leaving tuition-dependent institutions to think critically about how to expand their revenue streams and cut costs as student enrollment struggles to return to pre-pandemic levels.

College president tenures continued to shrink, aided by a spate of high-profile resignations in July. Three Ivy League presidents found themselves in the hot seat due to the outbreak of campus protests over the Israel-Hamas war, which sparked its own conversation on academic freedom, freedom of inquiry, and free speech.

And ultimately, growing skepticism over the value of higher education has inspired colleges and universities to rejuvenate their academic course offerings and modalities to keep pace with a new generation of cost-savvy students interested in a high return on investment and flexible learning pathways.

Reflecting some of the most significant news developments in 2023, our readers at University Business gravitated toward topics reflecting issues most top-of-mind. Let’s take a look at this past year’s most-read stories. The following is in order, starting from the most trafficked.

How one grant can kickstart an HBCU powerhouse

The U.S. Department of Education’s Development Infrastructure Grant Program (RDI) announced in August offers a potential game-changer for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Eleven HBCUs with R2 status have the potential to upgrade to R1 if granted the $50 million allocation, which would go toward addressing historic funding disparities, fostering sustained growth and improving infrastructure. The boost in funding could help perpetuate future success for the lucky institution by increasing institutional visibility and reputation and thus drawing in more tuition dollars, experienced faculty and possibly philanthropy.

Leadership shakeup at Bob Jones University

Bob Jones University (S.C.) President Steve Pettit and Board Chairman John Lewis both resigned earlier this year one week apart from one another due to what Pettit described as “dysfunctional leadership.” In a letter to the board, the president described Lewis’s secrecy, hostility, and disregard for “good corporate governance,” ultimately leading to Pettit’s resignation. Lewis then stepped down when the letter was leaked to the broader community, who demanded his resignation.

Which colleges are the country’s most politically divergent? 

Niche, a prominent student rankings website, compiled a list of the most liberal and conservative institutions in America based on students’ personal comprehensive assessments. Of the 30 featured colleges, 23 align with their state’s political majority. Notably, seven conservative institutions are in predominantly liberal states. Utah State University tops the conservative list, while California dominates the liberal rankings.

Computer science degrees are still red hot. These colleges boast the best offerings

Enrollment in computer science continues to surge. Fall 2022 enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center showed that undergraduate enrollment in computer and information sciences was the only category of accredited programs to continually grow in the last five years without a single year of decline, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 21% growth in demand for computer scientists by 2031.

With a potential salary of over $100,000 and a diverse range of job sectors, it should be no surprise that computer science is an increasingly important program for schools to invest in.

Intelligent, an online news service, rated different colleges’ offerings, measuring criteria like tuition, faculty, retention rates and resources. Cornell University lead the list, followed by Princeton and Stanford.

The most gracious financial aid packages for int’l students

International students enrollment boomed back in 2023, but as academic and living costs threaten to pull students to other competitive countries, it’s good to know which U.S. institutions offer students a hefty discount. Wellesley College (Mass.), Haverford College (Pa.), and Washington and Lee University (Va.) dominated topped the list, offering financial aid packages worth over $75,000. Private institutions dominated the list in general. While the price tag for private non-profit four-year institutions is now nearly 20% more than the 2006-07 year, the average grant aid per student in the 2022-23 academic year covered 43% of the sticker price.

Analyzing the strongest community colleges and their systems

Despite the year’s headlines painting community colleges poorly, community colleges are seeing some favorable developments. They experienced a whopping 12.4% increase in first-year student enrollment this past Spring semester, and a quarter of Gen Z students between 14 and 18 are considering community college with their interest in four-year degrees diminishing. WalletHub collected data from 668 member institutions across categories like cost and financing, education outcomes and career outcomes. New Mexico, Connecticut and Maryland were rated as having the best community college systems.

Student ROI, by state university system

Kicking off the year, the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity evaluated the return on investment (ROI) of all 50 state public university systems, comparing tuition and financial factors to graduates’ lifetime income. South Dakota, Kansas and Pennsylvania emerge as top performers, with South Dakota’s public colleges showing an ROI nearly double the national median. In contrast, Montana, Louisiana, Connecticut and New Mexico exhibit lower ROI. The report suggests implementing performance-based funding and lifting restrictions on high-value majors to enhance overall ROI, emphasizing economic mobility for students.

Turnitin’s ChatpGPT antidote

To combat the rising fear of ChatGPT’s ability to promote cheating, Turnitin unveiled its generative AI detector capable of identifying 97% of ChatGPT-generated text with under 1% false positives. Turnitin aims to provide educators with usable information, supporting them through an AI writing resource page that includes insights, testimonials, and guides for addressing AI-generated content in the classroom.

R&D spending booms. Which universities invested the most?

In a surge of innovation, U.S. colleges and universities increased research and development (R&D) spending by $3.4 billion, reaching $89.9 billion in FY 2021, reports the National Science Foundation. Boosted by the largest federal R&D spending increase since 2011, leaders invested in math, science, and engineering. The top 30 R&D universities, over half public, comprised 42% of total spending. Vanderbilt entered the top 30, while Ohio State rose to 12th place. However, MIT slid to 29th despite increased R&D spending.

The most LGBTQ-friendly colleges

In celebration of Pride Month in 2023, BestColleges, in collaboration with Campus Pride, identified each U.S. state’s most LGBTQ-friendly college. Using National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data and Campus Pride’s Index Score, the ranking considered academic quality, affordability and LGBTQ-friendly policies. Notably, four colleges, including the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor and Ithaca College, feature in both BestColleges and BestAccredited Colleges’ top 10 LGBTQ-friendly lists.

Remembering Sister Candace Introcaso of La Roche University

Sister Candace Introcaso, having served La Roche University since 2004, died unexpectedly during her presidency. Now-acting President Howard Ishiyama alerted the community that Introcaso’s health took an “unexpected turn” two hours prior. Introcaso’s legacy at La Roche will not be forgotten. She oversaw the institution’s transition from a college to a university in 2019 and helped expand its academic offerings and shift its campus operations to one cohesive campus location.

These universities have embraced remote work—and they’re seeing some big wins

Three years post-pandemic, remote work remains a popular choice for employees, ranking as the second-most cited reason for seeking new jobs. While many colleges lack transparent policies on remote work, some institutions that have embraced the modality have observed positive outcomes. St. Lawrence University’s ability to advertise fully remote positions has attracted a strong candidate pool. Similarly, Lincoln University’s remote work model in its admissions office correlated with a record number of applicants, challenging the notion that remote work diminishes morale or productivity.

How pricey college towns are driving faculty inequity

A new report highlights the most expensive college towns in the U.S., revealing potential challenges for students and faculty. With housing affordability a significant concern, the study by In My Area found that California dominates the list of costly college towns, with Santa Clara ranking highest, requiring residents to earn at least $70,000 for living expenses. Rent prices plateaued after a recent spike but still surged in certain California metro areas. Expensive college towns can lead to faculty inequity, hindering diversity as faculty members face financial challenges, particularly non-tenure and tenure-track faculty of color. The issue also contributes to the wave of student and faculty union strikes across higher education institutions.

Jackson State University’s revolving door of presidents

With the resignation of President Thomas Hudson at the feels of a faculty no-confidence vote, Jackson State University has seen six presidents in the last 13 years. The university’s leadership instability included a president’s resignation following a prostitution sting and another’s departure due to growing financial challenges. JSU recently appointed a permanent president in Marcus Thompson.

Faculty, students seek to replace ‘bullying’ president at Connecticut College

Pressure began mounting against President Katherine Bergeron after a resigning dean’s letter was posted publicly illustrating her “bullying behaviors” and “toxic administrative culture.” President Bergeron also dismissed the dean’s advice to avoid hosting a fundraising event at a Florida venue known for its history of racism and antisemitism. As students continued to object to King’s resignation, many of the school’s departments issued statements in solidarity with students and supporting protests that led to social change, drawing the campus community into direct conflict with the school’s board of trustees. President Bergeron soon resigned.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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