Higher Ed Leaders Face Multiple Market Challenges, Survey Finds

Higher Ed Leaders Face Multiple Market Challenges, Survey Finds

Few higher education leaders are highly confident that their institutions are adequately prepared to adapt to shifting market forces, a report from the American Council on Education (ACE), Huron, and the Georgia Institute of Technology finds.

Based on a survey of nearly five hundred leaders of nonprofit four-year colleges and universities, the report, The Transformation-Ready Higher Education Institution: How Leaders Can Prepare for and Promote Change, found that while 36 percent of respondents were "very confident" their institutions could meet the challenge of boosting enrollment of non-traditional students, far fewer said the same of addressing the decline in traditional student enrollment (13 percent), intensifying competition for prospective students (11 percent), declines in federal and state funding (14 percent), the erosion of public confidence in the value of higher education (9 percent), and geopolitical uncertainties affecting international students (12 percent). The top expense-related trends respondents expected to affect their institutions over the next five years were salaries, benefits, and recruitment (70 percent); financial aid (58 percent); capital projects and maintenance (54 percent); student services such as academic support, career development, and health and wellness (50 percent); educational technology (25 percent); and operational technology (21 percent).

According to the report, the majority of institutions were only planning for the next three to five years (57 percent), while 19 percent were looking between six and nine years ahead and 16 percent were looking at least ten years ahead. And while almost half (49 percent) of respondents said strategic planning was integrated across their institutions, smaller shares said the same of project management (18 percent), business intelligence and analytics (16 percent), strategic technology management (14 percent), business process optimization (14 percent), change management (14 percent), and innovation and research and development (9 percent).

For an institution to achieve "transformation readiness," the report's authors argue, it needs to empower and promote a shared leadership model and equip innovative leaders with the necessary tools and infrastructure; remove the constraints of the three- to five-year planning cycle and foster a culture and competencies that balance near-term improvements with visionary goal-setting; pursue data-driven performance management by regularly assessing the needs of students, faculty, alumni, and industry to inform strategic planning and business model innovation; and meet the demands of a new student population by designating teams or departments to test, pilot, and scale solutions that drive growth and impact.

"The fastest growing population in higher education is adult learners, now comprising nearly half of the total learner population. Working professionals have vastly different needs than those of the traditional student," said Nelson Baker, dean of professional education at Georgia Tech. "That shift coupled with the fact that technology allows us to provide educational opportunities on a global scale makes it imperative that we plan more strategically and prioritize agility in order to meet the needs of learners today and in the future."

"University Leaders Raise Concerns About Adapting to Market Forces Shaping Higher Education." American Council on Education Press Release 10/21/2019. "The Transformation-Ready Higher Education Institution: How Leaders Can Prepare for and Promote Change." American Council on Education, Huron, Georgia Institute of Technology Report 10/21/2019.