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3 Higher Education Trends to Prepare for the Unknown in 2024

Despite great challenges this academic year, here are three higher education trends that can improve your institution’s  long-term outlook.

The higher education landscape in 2024 may feel like a minefield to many. Longstanding challenges such as affordability, public skepticism, and evolving student support needs amplify tensions under the weight of political opposition and legislative uncertaintiesYet undeterred by these stressors, many college and university leaders are embracing creative problemsolving to illuminate a path toward sustainable improvement this academic year. Hanover researchers see many institutions persevering by doubling student support and retention efforts, emphasizing higher education’s intrinsic value in the labor market, and seizing a new focus on institutional agility. Learn how to leverage these trends on your campus to manage flux in 2024. 

Higher Education Trend #1: Navigating Student Support Options to Promote Retention 

What students need and expect from colleges and universities today is different than in previous decades. Many institutions recognize the importance of not only recruiting students of non-traditional and historically marginalized demographics, but also retaining them. Political motivations continue to complicate these retention initiatives. For example, some states and regions are experiencing undue political interference in their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives or curriculum that regards theories based on gender/sex, race, or other identities.   

Navigating this and other retention-related challenges is ultimately a campus-wide issue, and data analysis remains one of the best tools to fuel any retention improvement initiative. Leaders can leverage this higher education trend by breaking down institutional silos to create cohesion between enrollment and retention efforts. This allows institutions to more efficiently identify opportunity gaps early and help create more equitable outcomes. Using data to anticipate diverse and non-traditional support needs can help students of non-dominant or marginalized backgrounds feel more confident in remaining at your institution.   

Improving retention rates involves highlighting common ground and using data to proactively prepare to accommodate students who benefit the most from your support services:  

  • Form an institution-wide retention taskforce to assess existing services and interventions, establish a strategic retention plan, and monitor performance indicators. Successful strategies often include implementing mandatory advising check points or courses and early-warning systems or best practices.  
  • Analyze student success and retention data to understand student-level characteristics and behaviors driving year-to-year student retention and on-time graduation using predictive modeling.  
  • Foster a campus culture that normalizes getting help, educates students about what various services can do for them, and encourages participation within accessible, flexible, culturally responsive programming.  
 Tune into our prerecorded webinar to learn more about Using Data to Prevent and Recover Stop-out College Students 

Trend #2: Fostering Career Readiness Opportunities to Capture Student Interest  

Despite persistent public skepticism of the value of higher education, there is hope. Higher education still offers valuable means for the next generation to attain fulfilling careers. In fact, nearly 80% of adults 25-30 with a bachelor’s degree agree their work fits well with their talents and interests. So, how can institutions capture student interest in spite of doubts?   

In an ever more competitive environment, higher education institutions are gaining students’ attention by connecting their interests to degrees and certificates that can promise a strong return on investment. Use these tips to strengthen students’ career readiness at your institution:   

  • Revamp career advising, such as by embedding coaches or learning communities within academic programs. 
  • Accelerate program pathways to bundle credentials that advance career preparation such as teaching certifications or EMS and nursing credentials.  
  • Provide fresh and innovative experiential learning and research opportunities at the undergraduate level to act as resume builders.   
 Learn more about higher education trends and promising career connections with our infographic, Top 10 Degrees on the Rise 

Trend #3: Modeling Nimble Leadership for Sustainable Growth   

As institutions adjust to new fiscal realities, many are nimbly leaning into innovation and organizational change to achieve long-term institutional sustainability and success. Such adjustments, however, should come with careful consideration as any organizational changes that include budget reductions, layoffs, or mergers will affect campus morale, instruction quality, and work culture.   

Building a budget and organizational strategy that fits your unique circumstances is a balancing act. No one solution will account for all concerns and consequences. Instead, institutional leaders should explore and evaluate a variety of financial models and alternative revenue possibilities to determine appropriate fit and feasibility. When assessing ideas, consider factors such as profitability, mission fit, initial capital requirements, administrative load, and complexity.  

Consider the following tips to help build a financial and organizational solution that works best for your institution:  

  • Establish a task force or working group to conduct an audit to identify institutional strengths, resources, and underutilized facilities that could potentially be leveraged to bring in new revenue.   
  • The group can make recommendations to create additional revenue opportunities or optimize existing programs or practices.  
  • When possible, incorporate organizational restructuring needs into the strategic planning process to maximize buy-in from faculty and staff and allow for restructuring efforts to be defined as a shared responsibility. 
  • If an institution is considering rightsizing or reorganizing, gathering input from the campus community is paramount. Convene a working group as early as possible to discuss the need for action and develop a collaborative plan. 
Before making any major decisions to add, sunset, or restructure academic programs, learn more about Best Practices for Your Higher Education Academic Portfolio Review.  

With many considerations and uncertainties about the future state of higher education, it’s easy to get bogged down by worrisome headlines. College and university leaders, however, still have time to act and advocate for the long-term health of their institution. Now more than ever, leaders must make the most out of the most powerful tool readily available: data. A research- and data-driven approach to institutional planning allows administrative teams to gain invaluable decision-making power over important issues, such as student support, academic programming, as well as the best path to sustainable operations. To promote the long-term health of your institution, thoughtfully plan your next steps forward with the help of research and data analysis. 

Learn more about how colleges and universities across the nation plan to overcome higher education challenges in the new academic year with our full report, 2024 Trends in Higher Education.

Don't let the headlines get you down. Promote student success with these higher education trends.

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