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Higher ed is evolving, not declining. For colleges and universities to stay relevant, they must embrace these top five trends in higher education.

As we considered the themes that emerged in Hanover’s 2022 Trends in Higher Education report, it became apparent that the current definition of higher education requires reframing.

For the past two years, many higher education conversations have centered on the woeful effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic upheaval. “Doom and gloom” stories can be found everywhere about enrollment declines, campus public health troubles, budget shortfalls, rising student debt, and, perhaps most troubling of all, diminishing public trust in the value of a traditional college degree.  

Indeed, COVID-19 has revealed and reinforced many of the imperfections and inequities that existed in higher education long before the pandemic began. But, instead of concluding that colleges and universities are hopelessly endangered or nearing extinction, perhaps there’s a more hopeful reality to consider. 

We are witnessing the evolution — rather than the decline — of higher education. A transformation is afoot, and now is not the moment for institutions to pull back. It’s time to lean into the shift.  

Though the methods and modalities that power academia need to evolve, its purpose remains essential. We will always need educated, skilled professionals, such as doctors, engineers, architects, teachers, occupational therapists, and so on.  

The challenge will be ensuring that higher education keeps pace with the new trajectories that careers are traveling. For colleges and universities to remain relevant and continue serving the public good, they must evolve. Instead of clinging to tradition or predicting academia’s demise, it’s time to let go of outdated thinking, to seize new opportunities, and to embrace a new era of learning. 

Opening Minds and Broadening the Scope of Higher Education

Traditionally, post-secondary education has been reserved for the students who could manage costly tuition bills, navigate exclusive admissions requirements, and dedicate four or more years of full-time study within physical classrooms. It’s time for that notion to fundamentally change.  

The pandemic has illuminated what higher education could look like and who can access it. The stage is set for advanced learning to become more accessible and flexible than ever before, and it’s not limited to a bachelor’s, master’s, or terminal degree. 

In the past two years the U.S. has provided college students with record-level tuition assistance (and some debt relief). Institutions have softened rigid admissions procedures and testing requirements. Many are earnestly wrestling with closing equity gaps. Most have expanded beyond in-seat learning to offer a creative array of remote and hybrid options. Colleges and universities are identifying new revenue sources and collaborating with partners in other industries to broaden academic offerings and refine credentials. And finally, industries are recognizing that non-degree credentials aren’t necessarily inferior to their four-year counterparts.  

While these changes are good for students, the economy, and society, it will take an ongoing commitment from colleges and universities to embrace new habits that sustain this evolution. 

The 2022 Trends in Higher Ed: Branding, Diversity, Enrollment, and More

Through our partnership with hundreds of colleges and universities, we at Hanover see a range of perspectives and strategies across the field of higher education. Based on our work with them, these are the top trends we see emerging in 2022: 

  •  Academic Portfolios Focus on Skills for a New Employment Era 

As colleges and universities continue to reshape offerings to drive enrollment, administrators and faculty must be willing to take a hard look at their programs and courses and hold honest conversations about how they can best prepare graduates for a new era of work and upskilling. 

  • Enrollment Strategies Meet Students Where They Are 

To accommodate shifting student needs and expectations, institutions will need to continue increasing flexibility around the application and admission process and modernizing enrollment-related service delivery. Doing so means that institutions must accept that some of the policies and procedures that worked in the past may no longer fit the future. 

  • Institutions Focus Brand Value on Practicality over Prestige 

More than ever, institutions need to be ready to articulate the distinctive features that set them apart from their peer institutions and convey to students the tangible benefits they will gain by enrolling. 

  • Grant Funding Supports Responsive Programming and Helps Stabilize Budgets 

In 2022, colleges and universities need to be prepared to uncover new sources of revenue and find creative ways to streamline existing costs, including grant seeking and forming new industry or corporate partnerships. 

  • Institutions Set Sights on Measurable Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Results 

A growing number of institutions understand they must have a regular and systematic practice of collecting insights to bring about large-scale change. Colleges and universities will increasingly examine equity data to establish meaningful ways to close equity gaps, ensure DEI accountability, and track progress. 

For Higher Ed, this is a Chance to Show Stability, Resourcefulness, and Resilience

Despite the profound challenges of the last two years, there are strong reasons to feel hopeful about the future of higher education. Institutions have demonstrated a willingness to use their resources, talent, and acumen to push through difficulty. The test will be whether they can achieve greater stability and growth by remaining open to change instead of leaning on old ways.  

As this year’s trend report illustrates, college and university administrators must be ready to seek out fresh ideas, embrace creative solutions, and closely examine data to find the clues that will lead them to new answers.  

A few higher education leaders recently shared with Hanover how optimistic they feel about the future. They have a greater sense of freedom now to explore new frontiers and test data-driven concepts. Let’s take that energy with us through 2022 and build more resilient institutions that serve all students.  

Prepare your institution for what comes next. Download Hanover’s 2022 Trends in Higher Education report. 

— Fox Troilo, PhD, Managing Director, Hanover Research 

Author Information

Managing Director, Higher Education Research Advisor Team
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Education: BS, Operations and Quality Management, University of Maryland College Park; BS, Information Systems, University of Maryland College Park; MEd, Higher Education Administration, Vanderbilt University; PhD, Higher Education and Strategy, Indiana University Bloomington
Areas of Expertise: Strategic planning, institutional research, academic program portfolio optimization, brand awareness, survey research, new program viability

Fox serves as the managing director of Hanover’s Higher Education Research Advisory team. This group of higher education experts provides strategic research guidance to members by helping them answer key institutional research questions related to enrollment, retention, brand perception, advancement, and academic program portfolio optimization.

Before joining Hanover, Fox worked at Indiana University Bloomington assisting with the development of the institution’s strategic plan. While there, Fox received his Ph.D. in Higher Education and Strategic Management, where he completed his dissertation on resource allocation as a joint venture between the School of Education and the Kelley School of Business.

“Higher education is the key to a growing culture. Its evolution and distribution only result in positive effects on both a personal and societal level. There’s something immensely rewarding about helping institutions develop new, innovative ways to serve students of all kinds.”
Colleges and universities can succeed if they heed these top five trends in higher education.

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