The landscape of higher education in the United States is evolving at an unprecedented pace. In 2023 and beyond, higher education institutions are grappling with a multitude of challenges that demand innovative solutions. We turn to the expertise of Jason W. Osborne, an authority in the realm of US higher education, to shed light on the key challenges and propose strategies for tackling them.
Challenges Facing Higher Education
Declining Student Enrollment
One of the most pressing challenges facing higher education institutions is the ongoing decline in student enrollment. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this trend, with many students postponing or abandoning their academic pursuits. Jason W. Osborne highlights that this decline in enrollment could have significant consequences, potentially creating a mismatch between the needs of the workforce and the supply of graduates with advanced degrees.
Higher education institutions across the nation are grappling with underfunding. State funding cuts, combined with rising costs in various areas such as faculty and staff support, healthcare, retirement programs, and infrastructure, have strained the financial health of these institutions. Jason W. Osborne underscores the importance of working with government leaders and corporate partners to address this issue for mutual benefit- such as improved workforce development, intellectual property, and infrastructure improvements- all of which can improve the quality of education and services provided to students.
Doubts About the Value of Higher Education
There is a growing skepticism among some families about the value of a higher education degree, particularly given the increasing cost of tuition. This skepticism can lead to decreased enrollment and financial support for institutions. Jason W. Osborne emphasizes that higher education institutions need to demonstrate their multigenerational benefits, regional economic impact, and return on investment to students, parents, communities, and society at large.
Strategies for Addressing These Challenges
Diversified Funding Sources
To mitigate the effects of underfunding, institutions must explore diversified funding sources. This generally includes a portfolio of initiatives aligned with institutional values and mission, such as improving student success, creating frictionless transfer pathways, seeking entrepreneurial revenue opportunities, securing government support, cultivating donor and corporate contributions to offset institutional discounting, and improving alignment with student interests and workforce needs. Jason W. Osborne underscores the need for creative financial strategies to ensure financial resilience.
International Student Programs
Attracting international students can enhance both funding sources and an institution’s global reputation. Universities should continue to invest in programs that attract and support international students, contributing not only to diversity but also to the bottom line. However, institutions also have to expand beyond the traditional locations that they have recruited from, and move beyond seeing international students as “cash cows.” International students are a valuable resource for bringing diverse perspectives and cultures to campuses, and are a benefit far beyond what tuition revenue they may contribute.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of online education, particularly to meet students where they are. Offering online degree programs can cater to students who prefer or need remote learning options, or can support professional programs aimed at working adults or military-connected individuals who cannot always attend classes on remote campuses when they are offered. We also know that even students living on campus in residence halls may occasionally prefer hybrid or online learning options, so this directly improves potential student success and retention. This approach can help institutions reach a broader student base and adapt to changing educational needs.
Support for Transfer Students
Improving support and transparency for transfer students can serve as a valuable funding source and enhance overall student success. Jason W. Osborne points out that streamlining the transfer process and providing adequate resources can help institutions tap into this often-overlooked student population.
Engaging Incomplete Degree Holders
There are over 40 million Americans who have started but not completed their degrees. Institutions can play a pivotal role in supporting these individuals, focusing on retention and student success. Jason W. Osborne emphasizes that re-engaging this demographic can lead to increased enrollment and a more educated workforce.
Collaborative efforts between high schools and higher education institutions can promote early engagement with students. By exposing them to higher education options before college, we can foster educational equity and inclusivity, helping students make informed choices about their academic paths.
Finally, institutions must manage increasing costs by investing strategically and considering entrepreneurial approaches. This involves working with the campus community to examine resource allocation, optimizing operations, and making data-informed decisions.
Navigating the challenges facing higher education institutions in the United States requires visionary leadership, innovative strategies, and a commitment to adapt to the evolving landscape. As highlighted by Jason W. Osborne, it is imperative that institutions explore diversified funding sources, prioritize the value of education, and engage with a variety of student populations to ensure long-term success. With these strategies in place, higher education can continue to thrive and fulfill its vital role in society.