Why higher ed leaders feel increased sense of urgency

Leaders see increased student services and cross-departmental collaboration as a solution to growing financial risks
By: | October 24, 2019
Campus leaders told University Business that their institutions would increase their focus on student services such as academic help, career services and support for first-generation students.Campus leaders told University Business that their institutions would increase their focus on student services such as academic help, career services and support for first-generation students.

Higher ed leaders at private and public institutions feel an increased sense of urgency as they plan to confront the challenges of the future, a new report has found.

Their top concerns include growing competition for students, continued declines in public funding, and further drops in traditional-age students, according to the survey of 495 leaders conducted by consulting firm Huron, the American Council on Education and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The survey also found some strategies that leaders are implementing to position their institutions for success. These include:

  • empowering all campus administrators to collaborate on growth planning
  • sharing data and technology in managing the institution
  • innovating course offerings for both first-generation students and adults in continuing education
  • asking questions from short- and long-term perspectives

More from UBCollege presidents discuss enrollment declines, volatility in higher ed


Meanwhile, competition for students has caused less selective colleges to miss enrollments by 25% or more this year and has forced some elite schools to dig deeper into their waitlists to admit students, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The future feels particularly uncertain at small liberal arts institutions, WBUR-FM reported in a story about the closure of Mount Ida College in Massachusetts.

Moody’s Investor Services found that U.S. college closures had reached 11 per year between 2015 and 2017—more than double the average during the previous decade, the station said.

Concern also swirls around the nation’s historically black colleges and universities. Many of these institutions—which are widely seen as critical in propelling black students into the middle class and beyond—are “on the brink of disaster,” Delece Smith-Barrow, a senior editor at The Hechinger Report, wrote in The New York Times on October 21

In the op-ed, titled “H.B.C.U.’s Sink or Swim Moment,” Smith-Barrow noted that 15 of these schools have closed since 1997.

“Rising college costs, the student loan crisis and federal budget cuts have broadly hamstrung higher education. But it’s killing H.B.C.U.s, where nearly three in five attendees are low-income, first-generation students and over 70 percent of students have limited financial resources,” Smith-Barrow wrote in The Times. 


More from UB:  How one university designed a $1B growth plan


In University Business survey published earlier this year, higher ed leaders identified enrollment and funding declines as the top financial risks facing their institutions in 2019.

These leaders said their institutions would respond with increased focus on student services such as academic help, admissions-related services, career services and support for first-generation students.

As for shifts in their own roles, these leaders expected to spend more time on budgets, on building collaboration around shared goals, and on leveraging data to identify and solve problems.


More from UB: What’s the case for cost transparency?