Increasing the value proposition of higher education is a must for institutional success

Focus on the future by creating positive student perceptions, using technology and budget dollars wisely, and addressing the impact of rising tuition costs
By: | Issue: January, 2015
December 2, 2014

What are the main concerns students and the community have concerning the affordability of higher education?
There are two major concerns that seem to be the most popular worries of students and the general public.

  • The rising cost of tuition: Tuition prices have been increasing at a rate over the past years that far outpaces the rate of wage inflation.
  • Student debt: The resulting student loan debt from increased tuition continues to mount. It used to be that students could work and pay for their education and not have to accrue too much debt. Times have changed.

What are the implications of these concerns?
These concerns impact colleges and universities at the institutional level. If students cannot afford these rising costs, enrollment will start to decline. That leads to decreased funding from tuition, which then can snowball and have a negative impact on the institution’s ability to thrive.
We are also seeing the media debate the value of education in relation to the cost overall. A negative public perception about the value of higher education can also lead to declining enrollment numbers.

How can college and university leaders build—and deliver—a compelling value proposition despite high tuition costs?
It is crucial to get in touch with what students are looking for and how they want to be educated. It will take innovative solutions to decrease costs on campus. Technology can be engaged more efficiently at many institutions; for example, by relying more on online education or even outsourcing some courses. 

Backroom functionality also can be made more efficient. Outsourcing certain services often saves money. This is another area where technology is a popular solution. Many departments at colleges and universities are plagued by manual processes that have been in place for many years. Eliminating some of those is one way to make up lost funds and communicate to students that their dollars are being spent as wisely as possible. Every industry is faced with doing more work with fewer people. The natural solution is using technology to overcome challenges. Nelnet offers campus commerce and full-service payment plan technology that helps higher education institutions become more efficient.

What will drive the public perception of the affordability of higher ed in the next 12 to 18 months?
The political climate will be shifting, and that will alter public perception. Republicans have taken a majority of the Senate, as well as expanded their presence at the state level. When Tom Harkin retires as chairman, Lamar Alexander is expected to replace him. Alexander is a former U.S. Education secretary and past president of the University of Tennessee. He has identified simplification, deregulation and innovation as his top higher education priorities—all of which could be seen as positive changes. However, big picture budget priorities of the GOP (such as tax cuts and increased defense spending) will probably put spending on higher education programs in a tight squeeze. It will be interesting to see how these two dynamics play out. 
What is the best advice you can offer higher ed administrators struggling to communicate their value proposition to prospective students?
Continue to develop and evolve new ways to connect to students. Provide both traditional and innovative opportunities for them to interact with the institution. That’s the key to increasing the value proposition—communicating to students exactly what they are getting for their education dollar.

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