Prepare your institution for a successful 2023–2024 academic year with these top trends and tips in higher education.
Hanover Research’s 2023 Trends in Higher Education report, drawn from our work with hundreds of institutions, reflects a disconnect between higher education processes and student well-being. This disconnect, coupled with growing financial challenges for students and institutions, are just a few of the obstacles colleges and universities face. As a new academic year begins, we revisited the top trends related to career-focused learning, financial strategies, and student well-being to see how college and university leaders are preparing their students and institutions for success in 2023–24.
Microcredentials Lead the Way in Career-Focused Higher Education Trends
Despite an increase in demand for undergraduate programs, nearly 40 million adults have completed some college but earned no degree. Many cite this as a significant obstacle to building a career because data still indicates that a majority of employers are more likely to hire an applicant with official credentials. This disconnect between students’ ability to remain in school and the expectations of their potential future employers likely contributes to the public’s growing apprehension of higher education.
Why do so many students find it so difficult to finish their studies? Concerns such as tuition affordability, juggling employment, or caring for family members are some of the top reasons. In fact, half of community college students find it difficult to schedule their classes to fit their employment needs. Offering flexible, stackable curricula may provide much needed relief for students struggling to find time or money for school, while promoting confidence in their institution to prepare them for career growth.
Therefore, some institutions have achieved higher rates of enrollment and retention by offering microcredentials — short-term, skills-focused training that allows students to demonstrate competency in a focused area. Students can choose bite-sized course loads that “stack” to earn a larger certificate or degree, preparing them for direct entry into the job market.
Additionally, institutional leaders pursuing microcredential offerings must balance the needs of their institution, students, and workforce gaps by establishing strong connections with local employers. They should also incentivize faculty to lean into career-readiness curricula while honoring the needs of working and caregiving students.
Learn which trending skills will best prepare your students for the job market. Download our Top Career Skills for New Grads infographic.
Tensions Rise between College Students’ Need for a Debt-free Future and Institution Finances
On June 30, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s proposed student debt relief plan, leaving many Americans with increased concerns about the financial viability of higher education. Hanover Research’s 2022 National Prospective Student Survey, which surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. high school sophomores and juniors considering undergraduate programs, cites cost as a major factor in students’ decisions about not only what institution to choose but whether they continue their education at all.
Nearly 75% of 2015-2016 graduates alone have not paid off their student loans. With student loan payments resuming in October 2023, many new and older graduates will have difficulties rebudgeting their already limited incomes.
No-Loan Solutions to Higher Education Tuition
Some institutions have made the radical decision to eliminate student loans by covering students’ tuition costs with grants, scholarships, and other forms of aid. This solution, however, is not sustainable for all institutions. Colleges and universities that cannot provide full no-loan aid to students can work to de-emphasize loans, bolstering existing grant, scholarship, and aid opportunities for students that don’t need to be repaid. Institutions should also consider collaborating with employers and nonprofits to develop tuition reimbursement and debt relief plans to lessen the financial implications of a no-loan approach.
Institutions Usher in Revenue Reworks to Promote Financial Sustainability
Pandemic-related attrition, the impending enrollment cliff, inflation, and public skepticism about the value of higher education continue to impact institutions’ finances. To stay afloat, many colleges and universities must develop innovative revenue approaches outside of tuition dollars, such as fundraising, grantseeking, and enhanced auxiliary services. By reinforcing non-tuition related streams of income, ideals such as the no-loan approach become more feasible.
While the grantseeking landscape is competitive, with proper training and counsel, grant funding remains an excellent way to bolster institution finances. Emphasizing the role of grants to fund innovative programming can reduce costs transferred to students and families. In tandem with the prospect of grants, we highly recommend strengthening investments in auxiliary enterprises such as non-credit courses and rentals.
A single grant can change the lives of hundreds of students. Learn more about how to support faculty in the pursuit of strategic grantseeking.
New Systems to Support and Measure College Student Well-being
In yet another landmark ruling in June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action, meaning college admissions offices may no longer weigh racial and ethnic experiences when admitting students. With over 50% of students of color citing feelings of alienation related to their identities, it’s no wonder many have chosen to speak out against the removal of affirmative action.
In 2023–2024, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in higher education must include actionable measures to directly address the unique problems faced by historically marginalized students as well as low-income students. The most recent found that nearly 25% of U.S. undergraduate students face food insecurity. Even more striking, almost 10% of undergraduate students are experiencing homelessness. All approaches to student well-being must also account for those whose basic needs are not being met.
While traditional on-campus activities and support services may seem like the most effective way to serve students in need of personal support, they aren’t always the most suitable options for students from marginalized backgrounds or those with non-traditional scheduling needs. Many students seek help in ways culturally familiar to them or in line with their finances and lifestyle. Offering more student-led, flexible, and culturally informed programming accommodates and honors students’ social, emotional, and physical needs.
To ensure institutions deliver relevant services that improve student well-being, they should regularly survey students and share the results with the entire campus. When students see institutional accountability in action, they will feel more secure and trusting of the support services offered and faculty can also apply the data insights in their classrooms.
Deepen your awareness of what it means for a student to belong. Read Student Belonging: The Next DEI Frontier in Higher Education.
Key Takeaways for 2023–2024
By reworking traditional approaches to curricula, tuition, and student well-being, colleges and universities can increase student enrollment, retention, and success. Changes that accommodate students’ financial, social, and physical needs contribute to a positive perspective of their school as a worthy investment in an age of doubt. Grantseeking to diversify revenue streams remains a powerful tool in ensuring financial longevity of an institution, while honoring the needs of students. These changes may seem like a lot to manage, but by engaging with faculty, staff, students, employers, and the local community, a data-driven, appropriate strategy becomes more and more feasible.
More trends and data points await to help you make a better decision. Download our Trends to Watch in 2023–24 infographic for a deeper look at our recommendations.