As Enrollments Decline, Colleges Respond With Technology, New Curricula And Business Partnerships
Faced with years of declining enrollments and financial strain, American colleges and universities are increasingly embracing innovations in technology, career-based curricula, and business partnerships, according to a new survey commissioned by Jenzabar, the higher education software and services company.
The survey, Innovating to Create a More Flexible Path for Higher Education, is based on responses by 145 higher education administrations – most of whom were in campus leadership positions such as president, vice-president or dean – to an online survey administered in August and September, 2022.
The survey consisted of multiple-choice questions about technology spending plans for the coming year, skill-based curricular options, and partnerships with local businesses.
Nearly half (45%) of the respondents reported that their enrollments had declined in the past year, and, according to other sources, officials in numerous states have observed particularly sharp drops in the percentage of graduating high school students who enroll in college. Here are a few highlights of how the respondents said they are trying to address this challenge.
Regardless of whether schools’ enrollment is increasing or decreasing, most schools increased technology spending last year, and most plan to increase their technology spending again this coming year.
- Over half (51%) of respondents increased spending on their infrastructure/technology in the past year.
- Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) expect to increase their technology spending in the 2023-2024 school year.
A major aim of this increase in technology spending is to increase flexible course pathways tied to skills acquisition and career preparation. A substantial advantage of enhanced technology is that it allows institutions to offer new courses more quickly, especially to nontraditional students.
More Flexible Curricula and Credentials
- Nearly two-thirds (62%) of the institutions offer or plan to offer non-credit courses.
- More than half (52%) offer or plan to offer non-credit certificate programs.
- 60% of these schools offer or plan to offer stackable degrees.
The majority of colleges and universities are working with local businesses to offer more flexible learning opportunities for their students. More than half (53%) of the surveyed institutions partner with local businesses to provide in-demand skills training or workforce training.
Surveyed institutions that partner with local businesses (versus those that don’t) are:
- Almost twice as likely to offer or plan to offer non-credit courses (71% vs. 40%).
- Nearly twice as likely to offer or plan to offer non-credit certificate programs (63% vs. 34%).
- More than twice as likely to offer or plan to offer micro-credentials (51% vs. 24%).
- Nearly twice as likely to offer or plan to offer stackable degrees (66% vs. 37%).
- More likely to invest in technology (67% vs. 61%).
“We’re not surprised to see that institutions partnering with local businesses are those more likely to be offering alternative paths to education. These are institutions that are in touch with their communities. They are listening to students, listening to local employers, and seeing it as their responsibility to create more inclusive educational opportunities for students,” said Ling Chai, President, Founder, and CEO of Jenzabar.
As the slide in college enrollment continues, institutions are intensifying their search for new revenue streams. According to a recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), total postsecondary enrollment, including both undergraduate and graduate students, decreased by 4.1% – equal to about 685,000 students – in spring 2022 compared to spring 2021.
Added to the 3.5% drop seen in spring 2021, the overall two-year decline in college enrollment has reached 7.4%, or nearly 1.3 million students since spring 2020, dashing hopes that the worst of the pandemic-era erosion of enrollment was over. Instead, there are growing concerns that other factors – such as skepticism over the value of college – may be keeping students away.
Whether the strategies documented in the Jenzabar survey will help turn the enrollment numbers around remains to be seen, but they are well-aligned with employers’ continued investments in worker education and skills training.
As Jenzabar’s Chai notes, “Higher education is facing extreme pressure to change. Students need to see a stronger connection between their education and career paths. Many students crave alternative learning opportunities. The survey reveals information institutions can leverage to chart their path for the future – and Jenzabar wants to help. We provide new ways for institutions to attract today’s students, and we hope that our partnership with institutions will give learners the education and life skills required to help them bridge the education/employment divide, and to unlock their full potential.”
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