Changing Higher Ed Podcast 136 With Dr. Drumm McNaughton and Deb Maue – 2023 Higher Education Predictions with the 2022 Year in Review
At the close of 2022, The Change Leader’s Drumm McNaughton and Aurora University Senior Vice President for Enrollment and Marketing Deb Maue, got together once more to look back at what happened in higher education the year before, including recapping Drumm’s 2022 predictions for higher education. Drumm then offered his Higher Education 2023 predictions on the major trends and issues that will arise in colleges and universities across the US.
In 2022, enrollment may have continued to decline, but higher ed adapted by colleges and universities merging together, embracing innovation, and seeking more partnerships. This provides a recap of some of the trends that have affected higher education.
Recapping Predictions for 2022
Drumm’s prediction that enrollment would continue to decline was, unfortunately, quite accurate, a trend that will likely persist into the new year, especially as higher ed nears the enrollment cliff. Fewer students enrolled in community colleges also affected four-year institutions that rely on transfers, including Aurora University, whose transfer population has declined by nearly 15% since 2019. Moreover, the troubling trend that 15% fewer college-age students overall are college ready upon high school graduation negatively impacted enrollment.
Less Fully Online Institutions
Although there are fewer colleges and universities adopting fully online models as Drumm predicted, his prediction that higher ed would see a rise in hybrid models did occur. This happened in part because approximately 75% of the institutions that embraced online learning at the onset of the pandemic started going hybrid. This trend also reflects society as a whole since very few students want to attend in-person classes full-time. Employees share the same sentiment about working full-time in the office.
Although Drumm predicted there would be a rise in fully online classes, he still believed that traditional colleges and universities would outnumber online-exclusive institutions, which is the case.
More Certificates and Micro-credentials
Drumm was also right that even though 2022 would see more traditional schools overall, higher ed would experience a rise in certificates, badges, stackable certificates, and micro-credentials. However, Drumm acknowledges that the industry will need to address credibility issues, such as who provided the credential and what the credential holder learned.
More Partnerships with Industry
Colleges and universities offering, for example, more internships and study programs last year confirms Drumm’s prediction that higher ed would form more partnerships with industry providers to increase career readiness. This comes as institutions are realizing that the purpose of higher ed is more about preparing graduates to enter the workforce as opposed to for the public good.
Drumm predicted that federal funding could help increase innovation in higher ed but that colleges and universities would struggle without support from accreditors in relation to innovation and faculty governance. However, the pandemic jumpstarted innovation in higher ed even without accreditor backing in multiple ways, including many universities and colleges such as Saybrook University.
Luckily, last year saw fewer closures with more mergers and acquisitions, unlike how Drumm predicted, but closures now receive more attention. Additionally, higher ed leaders realized the importance of both seeking aid before the situation worsens and choosing the right partner.
More Mergers and Acquisitions
“You don’t get a stronger institution by merging two weak institutions. You get a larger and much weaker institution.”
Just as Drumm predicted, the midterm elections did not have much of an effect on higher education. He was also right that general politics would, however, continue to influence higher ed, especially in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election, until the U.S. Senate addressed voting laws. Unfortunately, politics in higher ed have worsened.
Recapping Key Higher Ed Stories in 2022
Students and post-COVID Challenges
COVID may have accelerated much-needed changes, but campuses are starting to feel the long-term effects of the pandemic. Here are four post-COVID challenges that are complicating higher ed’s mission to transform students.
1. Anxiety and stress continue to rise.
Although depression among students is less prevalent than before the pandemic, an increasing number of students are reporting anxiety and stress. More than 70% of associate and bachelor’s degree holders who considered leaving college indicated that stress was the reason, according to a 2022 Lumina/Gallup State of Higher Education poll. That’s a more than 30% increase from 2020. Higher ed can attribute the nearly 1.3 million students who dropped out of college during the pandemic on this finding.
Higher ed has been dramatically increasing the use of campus mental health services during the pandemic as more students experience mental health distress and suffer from more acute mental illnesses. For example, the number of students using TimelyMD’s TimelyCare telehealth service for mental health needs rose from 10% before the pandemic to 80% as of this year.
2. Student mental health is now everybody’s business.
Rather than just providing mental health services, higher ed leaders need to encourage faculty and staff to participate in training that will help them identify the signs of student distress, connect with students, be more empathetic, and provide support or direct students to the appropriate resources on campus.
Colleges and universities should also strive to create a sense of belonging, which survey data shows have positive effects on student development.
3. Peer support is more crucial.
More institutions are adding peer-to-peer programs as anxious and stressed-out students usually talk to their friends first before seeking professional help.
Some examples include peer chats and access lines or “warm lines” — as opposed to hotlines — that students can call for emotional support. Campuses also have peer advocates who promote peer-to-peer support and peer counselors who work with students suffering from more severe mental health problems under close clinical supervision of licensed providers.
A growing number of national programs offer online training to teach students basic skills to support their friends, including Peer Community from TimelyMD, a space for students to seek support while helping each other navigate challenges and concerns together.
Pandemic learning loss
Although higher ed students suffered learning loss overall, high school graduates entered college or university two years behind their peers academically and socially, placing additional burdens on faculty. However, higher ed needs to be aware that learning loss didn’t affect all students equally. The more students were affected by poverty, the more it increased their overall learning loss, according to an analysis of thousands of public school districts in 29 states by Harvard and Stanford Universities.
These students will require more help than their peers, which increases the demand for faculty to receive informal training to meet their needs.
“We need to do a better job training faculty members on how to address mental health issues and who to refer students to.”
“Today’s students are more open about their issues than previous generations because they were raised in social media environments, so when a faculty member asks how they’re doing, these students tell them exactly how they’re doing, and faculty don’t know how to deal with this,” says Drumm.
Retention and completion rates
The six-year completion rate stalled this year after small, steady growth in that category and larger gains or on-time completions. Only .1% more students who began their undergrad career in 2016 completed their degree in six years than their peers who started the year before, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC). This came after a 1.2% increase from 2014 to ’15. Meanwhile, on-time completion rates grew across most of the U.S. from 2016 to 2021, according to a new report from Complete College America (CCA), a nonprofit aiming to improve postsecondary attainment.
Both reports also shed light on inequities. NSCRC’s numbers revealed falling completion rates among White, Black, and Latino students. CCA saw that only 21 percent of students who attend four-year colleges part-time finish in six years, and only 19 percent of students who attend community colleges part-time earn a credential within six years. When full-time students are also included, the six-year completion rate jumps to 69 percent for students at four-year colleges and 42 percent at community colleges.
“I think this ties in with mental health, and I think it ties to learning loss,” says Drumm. “It’s a real challenge from a revenue standpoint when your students aren’t being retained and aren’t progressing toward graduation.”
Analyzing Pandemic-era Graduation Rates
Higher ed is beginning to see more clearly how two years of pandemic-era operations have affected colleges’ graduation rates.
The Chronicle discovered that six-year graduation rates in 2020 and 2021 rose by 1.26 percent, on average, in comparison to 2018 and 2019. But only 90 institutions saw minor increases that put them at least 5% above the average, as opposed to 140 others that experienced declines. The Chronicle obtained these numbers by analyzing preliminary U.S. Department of Education data for more than 1,300 public and private four-year institutions.
Higher Ed Closures and Mergers
Although CARES Act funding greatly helped higher ed, it only delayed the many closures and mergers that are expected to come, with more than 1,200 colleges and universities either at or approaching a “not financially viable” status, according to DOE Financial Composite Scores.
Here are some noteworthy stats:
- 70% fewer colleges shut down last year (35) than in 2016 (120), according to an analysis of federal data by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO).
- Between 2004 and 2021, more than 80% of the 861 institutions that closed were for-profit.
- The number of closures over the past 18 years represents almost 15% of the 5,860 colleges and universities that remain in operation.
- The number of campus closures is 11 times larger.
- Almost 9,500 campuses closed between 2004 and 2021
- Roughly 500 closed because of a merger or a consolidation with another college. These campuses don’t always shut down physically, but students aren’t necessarily able to continue their previous studies there.
- The remaining 8,986 branch campus closures occurred at 2,011 different institutions. Most of them continued to operate campuses at other locations.
Interestingly, more prominent colleges and universities have been increasingly getting more involved in acquisitions. Last year, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) made headlines by merging its institutions to take advantage of shared services and reduce costs without actually closing or completely merging campuses.
“The PASSHE system has 14 institutions underneath it, and that was after they merged the three campuses in the west and the three campuses in the east into two distinct universities,” says Drumm. “Pennsylvania [state] doesn’t really fund higher ed, so PASSHE had to do these mergers. I think we’re going to see more and more of this kind of unique situation.”
This year, the University of Redlands began undergoing its second acquisition by acquiring Presidio Graduate School. Northeastern Vermont State also recently absorbed Mills College, which was soon followed by the merging of Vermont State from Northern Vermont University, Vermont Technical College, and Castleton University. Additionally, Saint Joseph’s University acquired the struggling University of the Sciences, while Montclair State acquired Bloomfield College. In addition to Wisconsin’s 13 community colleges remaining merged with one of the state’s public universities, Aurora University’s George Williams College, also in Wisconsin, will close its doors in December of next year. Meanwhile, after 200 years in operation, Cazenovia College recently announced it would close prior to the start of the fall 2023 semester.
Unfortunately, students who were affected by their campus closing are less likely to return to higher ed, with fewer than half of them ever re-enrolling in college, according to a November 2022 report by SHEEO and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
The Purpose of Higher Education has Changed
As more colleges and universities are forced to close or merge as a result of states reducing their education budget, people in the industry are realizing that the purpose of higher education is changing. Before, higher ed was considered to be for the public good under the idea that a country needs to have an educated population for democracy to work. State investment, therefore, kept public college tuition very low. But levels of state investment have dropped from about half of a college’s budget to less than 10%, creating the impression that states don’t believe this anymore.
Vice Provost and Dean of Louisiana State University’s Graduate School, James Nguyen H. Spencer, argues in The Review that higher ed is a public good but hasn’t been funded like one.
“Individual families are more concerned about attending college to get a job, so we can’t expect them to think about the greater good of democracy,” says Deb Maue. “The government has to be the one thinking about that when they are considering funding, and they’re not.”
Higher ed had been expecting a rebound in enrollment coming out of the pandemic, but that hasn’t occurred. As a result, 89% of higher ed leaders are concerned about enrollment overall, especially with community college decision-makers (97%) as opposed to those at four-year institutions (80%), according to Inside Higher Ed. A major contributing factor is that the economy has been booming, which negatively affects enrollment.
“The reason why people always went back to college was to get a higher-paying job or a promotion,” says Drumm. “But now people are dropping out of low-paying jobs for ones that pay more without help from higher ed.”
Moreover, fewer jobs require a degree as employers begin to shift their focus to skills and experience over learning. The percentage of all jobs that require a degree fell from 46 at the start of the pandemic to 41 in November. Although degree requirements have grown since then, the numbers still remain below pre-pandemic levels.
Additionally, the state of Maryland no longer requires a college degree for many of its jobs, along with big-name employers such as Google, Delta Airlines, and IBM. Even colleges and universities suffering from the Great Resignation are beginning to revisit the qualifications of certain jobs to help attract more workers.
“This is one reason why I’m telling my clients that if you’re not focused on giving your students work experience during their degree, whether it be internships or work study, then you’re doing them a grave disservice,” says Drumm.
Complicating the low-enrollment issue for many states is that the higher ed enrollment cliff has already begun, as opposed to it beginning in 2025, as many economists predicted. In Indiana, high schools are graduating more students than they have in the past two decades, yet the state’s college enrollment is at its lowest in recent history, forcing the state to cut back on higher ed funding. While the Indiana Commission for Higher Education believes the state’s students are no longer pursuing college degrees, a local economist believes they are attending higher ed in other states, which will create decades-long consequences for the state’s economy.
Higher Presidential Turnover
In 2022, a higher number of presidents left either of their own volition or as a result of the school’s board of trustees. Many presidents who resigned themselves left after the pandemic, most likely because the experience was stressful. But, in many cases, they had likely planned on retiring already but decided to remain until COVID ended.
“For those who made that decision, it shows incredible loyalty to the institution as well as their profession since leaving during the pandemic would have really hurt their institution,” says Drumm.
But in other instances, boards have made the decision themselves due to a lack of understanding the role of and how to oversee a president. “We’re starting to see a crossover between oversight and managerial boards,” says Drumm. “And I think presidents have just gotten tired of it.”
An Increase in Campus Violence
Another possibility as to why higher ed is seeing more president turnover could be due to increased violent incidents on campuses. At the University of Idaho, four students were stabbed to death at an off-campus home. A University of New Mexico student was shot to death after he and three others lured a New Mexico State University basketball player to assault. Additionally, the FBI also arrested a minor who made racially motivated bomb threats to dozens of HBCUs.
“This is a reflection of the greater society with all the violent video games these kids grow up with and the gratuitous amount of violence that we see on television and in movies,” says Drumm. “We’re becoming numb to this.”
The misuse of firearms that are protected under the Second Amendment is another problem, especially when compared to Australia, which saw a dramatic decrease in gun violence after banning firearms, he says. “I’m not going to pull a Trump and say that we should throw the Constitution out, but we need to make some serious changes in how we think about guns as a society because what happens in society is reflected on our campuses.”
Forcing Changes in Higher Education Business Model
Adoption of the Common App
Many institutions have adopted the “Common App,” which has forced colleges and universities to update their business models because of an increase in student applications. More than 1,000 member colleges use the Common App, which as resulted in over 1.2 million unique applicants in 2021-22, according to Higher Ed Dive.
“The Common App (should) also change your marketing function because you may not need to put as much money towards attracting the initial applicants,” says Drumm. “Schools need to start marketing to those who have actually applied via the Common App to get them to campus and increase your yields. It’s a different conversation.”
Although the Common App may help, a significant percentage of students don’t apply to a college or university when they see the cost of tuition because they don’t understand the difference between scholarships and the price they’ll actually pay. Many campuses are therefore performing tuition resets, but it limits the scholarship levels that can be provided to prospective students.
“Lower-income or first-generation families are more concerned about the actual price that they’re actually going to pay but families that are more educated and have experience with higher education are more concerned about value and what level of scholarship their child is going to get,” says Deb Maue. “They see the scholarship as an award to their child for good performance, and to a large extent, to their performance as parents, so you’re limiting what you can give to those families who can pay more. It’s a very nuanced aspect of higher ed.”
A possible solution is incorporating a robust Net Price Calculator in a prominent part of a website that prospective students visit. While many campuses have one, they either hide or don’t encourage students to use them. Families that have already completed their FAFSA applications can learn about the exact number they’re going to pay using a high-performing Net Price Calculator.
Tuition resets can also offset the number of enrolling international students since they would still have to pay full tuition. This is similar to how state universities are now forcing out-of-state students to pay more than in-state students whose taxes make up for the dwindling support from local government.
Five Areas of Enrollment Focus
Pure enrollment is on top of mind for higher ed leaders in five areas, but how two- and four-year institutions across the spectrum are responding and reacting to them differs, with community colleges usually leading the charge.
- Dwindling numbers are causing community college decision-makers to feel far more worried about future enrollments (97 percent) than those at four-year private and public institutions (around 80 percent).
- Community colleges are also much more driven by micro-credential options, with 76% either offering or planning to in the near future. And while four-year institutions are showing interest, roughly only 11% of four-year private colleges offer micro-credentials, though 38% say they would most likely adopt them. Currently, certificates and badges available for people to earn in the U.S. now surpass 1 million.
- Community colleges are also showing the most interest in adding online and hybrid courses along with four-year public institutions. But more than half of private institutions are adding them.
- In response to the now 39 million adults with either no or incomplete degree, more colleges are turning their attention to retaining students through providing access to services students need, such as Russell Lowery-Hart at Amarillo College, who only lost one student when 99 of them went homeless during the spring term because of his social services network.
- In addition to community colleges working with alumni to improve their outreach, higher ed overall is involving their faculty in the enrollment process.
“When you stop and think about it from a student perspective, do you remember your enrollment counselors and your advisors? No, you remember your faculty,” says Drumm. “Get that relationship started early with your faculty members. It will pay dividends in your enrollment.”
Shared Services and “Co-op” Models
More campuses have been moving to shared services to avoid the costs of a full acquisition or merger. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education plans to consolidate six state universities for sharing enrollment management strategy and student support services. In addition to Goodwin University and the University of Bridgeport, five New Mexico colleges began collaborating to establish a common platform for student and financial services. Meanwhile, 15 Iowa community colleges are creating a shared development center that provides faculty with the knowledge and tools to best educate students, whether in the classroom or virtually. To increase efficiency and reduce costs, four Midwestern universities are consolidating back-office services onto one platform for finance, accounting, IT, and human resources.
North Central College in Naperville, Valparaiso University and the University of Evansville in Indiana, and Drake University in Iowa are forming an independent, nonprofit organization called the College and University Sustainability Project, or CUSP, to develop a cloud-based system to share business services that run their institutions of higher education. This effort is funded by a $10 million grant from the Lilly Endowment. Similarly, the philanthropy-backed Transformational Partnership Fund awarded 17 grants totaling more than $1 million to help higher ed begin discussing mergers and other joint projects. This could help the Urban College of Boston, which is using its funding to create a platform cooperative model with Southern New Hampshire University that mimics outsourcing or a consortium but without managing online programs. Companies offering these include the TCS Education System, Core Education, and CampusWorks.
Politics in Education
Politics in education have become more prevalent, especially in “Red” states. For example, critics are accusing Florida lawmakers of pushing legislation that requires higher ed to change accreditors in response to oversight of the University of Florida by The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), a body that accredits numerous Florida institutions. Before the passage of this legislation, SACSCOC raised questions about the University of Florida for both initially preventing professors from testifying against the state in a legal case challenging voting rights restrictions and for considering Richard Corcoran as its president since his role on the system’s Board of Governors could be a conflict of interest.
“It costs an institution a lot of money and usually takes universities a year and a half to go through reaccreditation,” says Drumm. “You completely disrupt your faculty, your administration, and everyone else involved with this, all because you didn’t like the way your creditor said you were not participating in shared governance or allowing academic freedom.”
The University of Florida did make the right choice, however, in making the junior U.S. senator from Nebraska Ben Sasse, their university president due to his receiving his Ph.D. from Yale and being elected as president of Midland University before his time in politics.
Meanwhile Georgia made Sonny Perdue its system chancellor despite having no higher ed leadership experience and, as governor, decreasing funding for public education, getting sued for underfunding HBCUs in the state, supporting reinstating a state flag with a large Confederate symbol, and his history as a climate-change denier.
“Georgia faculty members are saying he’s unqualified for the job, and I can’t say that I would disagree with them,” says Drumm.
Like in 2021, too many higher education boards don’t understand the difference between board governance, i.e., oversight vs. management.
“You’re a Fortune 1000 company that makes about $2 billion a year, but you’re acting like a small town bank board with $50 million in assets versus a $2 billion corporation.”
In addition to Michigan State University going through four interim and acting presidents since 2018, including one president emeritus, North Idaho College’s board has been wrought with scandals over the span of less than two years. Its board fired former president Rick MacLennan without cause, cost its community college nearly $500,000 in settlements after MacLennan sued, lost its insurance company over heightened risk factors, saw executive leaders leave en masse, and received a warning from accreditors over its behavior.
The board has also been deadlocked on votes since losing one trustee in January who resigned amid currently unanswered questions about his state residency. Later, two others resigned to force the governor’s office to appoint three new members who, after the remaining trustees failed to block their appointments via a lawsuit, recently introduced resolutions that may have crossed legal lines but have doubled down on their decisions in two later special meetings.
“Part of the problem is the way that trustees are appointed or elected,” says Drumm. “When the Republican governor of New Mexico was there, the way you’d get yourself on a board was to make a political contribution. It hasn’t changed that much.”
Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue and two-times Indiana governor, recently acknowledged that boards who abdicate “their rightful responsibilities” are the cause for many of the difficulties in higher ed. He also confessed that every bylaw of any institution makes plain that the board “is the ultimate authority over everything, including curriculum and all policies.”
“What he didn’t say,” adds Drumm, “was, it’s not up to the board to implement actions. It’s up to them to oversee it and make sure that it’s being done properly and that you’re getting the results you desire.”
One possible solution is that accreditors must lean into governance oversight more forcefully, similar to what the SEC does with corporations. This isn’t going to be well received by colleges and universities, but how else will it force boards of trustees to put governance into better perspective?
Higher Education Rankings
Despite the new level of scrutiny over college and university rankings, it’s unlikely that the U.S. News and World Report will disappear. What higher ed should be wary of is if prominent institutions such as Yale University or the University of Virginia no longer participated in future rankings. The latest revelations about Columbia University recently admitting that the data it submitted was incorrect only underscore the consequences of falsifying data, either purposely or not.
“The question is if it is better to lie and hope you don’t get caught,” says Drumm. “What was shocking to me was that one of my guests on the podcast was telling me about how they were performing job and background searches through ADP and found that maybe 47% of all the resumes they came across were not correct because people had embellished some of the data on them to make themselves look better.” He continues: “This comes down to basic, critical human traits like truthfulness and integrity. That’s what higher ed has always been known for. Ratings have to be about truthfulness.”
Drumm also notes that exclusivity should not boost rankings since it doesn’t mean that the institution provides a better education. Rankings should reflect, for example, learning outcomes, job placement, and improving socioeconomic statuses of students.
2023 Higher Education Predictions
Moving into 2023, Drumm predicts the following:
- College enrollment will continue to decline.
- More colleges and universities will close and/or merge.
- More hybrid and fully online models will emerge at colleges and universities.
- Politics will continue to be an issue in higher ed.
- Board governance will get worse before improving. Boards will begin changing for the better, but not to the degree that’s required for their institutions, students, and the public. Accreditors will therefore have to enforce change themselves, especially at public colleges and universities.
- Badges, certificates, stackable certificates, and micro-credentials will continue to grow, but it’s unclear how many people will actually recognize them. Higher ed, therefore, needs to adopt a “national clearing house” type of model in order to succeed.
- More universities will form alliances, especially on the backend, to more effectively focus on their core mission – education and student transformation. They don’t need to be cities unto themselves.
- The role of the president will continue to rise in complexity but at the continued expense of presidential tenure. Higher ed should work to simplify the president’s role.
- Technology will continue to drive innovation, and accreditors will more effectively support these types of initiatives.
- Higher ed will increasingly struggle with faculty governance now that AAUP and NEA have joined forces.
Dr. Drumm McNaughton provides strategic planning, implementation, and transformational change management consulting for higher ed institutions.