2023 Higher Education Year in Review and 2024 Predictions:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 187 with Host Deborah Maue and Guest Dr. Drumm McNaughton

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Podcast 187- 2023 Higher Education Year in Review & 2024 Predictions
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

26 December · Episode 187

2023 Higher Education Year in Review and 2024 Predictions

55 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

The Change Leader's 2024 Higher Education Predictions and the 2023 Year in Review and addressing the greatest challenges in higher education.


Join us in our 2023 Higher Education Year in Review and Predictions for 2024.

In this sixth annual year-end podcast, Deborah Maue, Aurora University Senior Vice President for Enrollment and Marketing, takes the mic as our special host of the Changing Higher Ed podcast to interview Dr. Drumm McNaughton as they review (and grade) last year’s 2023 higher ed prognostications. The duo share their insights on 2023, discuss the unexpected developments, and what to prepare for with the higher education predictions for 2024.


Reviewing Dr. Drumm McNaughton’s Predictions for 2023

Continuing Decline in College Enrollment: A Closer Look at 2023’s Trends

2022 Prediction for 2023: College enrollment will continue to decline. Grade given by Deb Maue: A.

In 2023, college enrollment continued its downward trajectory. Despite a contrasting report suggesting a potential increase in enrollments, the broader analysis indicated sustained challenges within the higher education sector.

The federal government’s COVID assistance played a critical role in temporarily sustaining institutions, particularly smaller colleges, which otherwise faced the risk of closure. McNaughton cited an example of an institution that received $3.5 million in the first round of COVID relief funds, underscoring the significant impact of these aids.

The prediction was particularly acute for institutions with enrollments under 1,500 students. These colleges, unless buoyed by large endowments, faced severe sustainability challenges. This scenario has led to various strategic responses, including forming alliances and sharing resources. The University of Bridgeport and Connecticut State, for instance, began trading courses and professors to adapt to these challenges.

A leading financial ratings agency, Fitch, projected ongoing financial challenges for colleges in 2024, especially for those with lower enrollment figures. This forecast echoed the broader sentiment that smaller institutions were more vulnerable due to enrollment declines in the current landscape.

Several large universities, including West Virginia University and the University of Nebraska Lincoln, faced significant budget cuts. These reductions were indicative of the financial strain even larger institutions experienced, reflecting the widespread nature of the enrollment crisis.

Public confidence in higher education also saw a notable decline, with a Gallup poll indicating a drop in faith from 57% in 2015 to 36% in 2023. This decline in public perception added another layer of complexity to the enrollment challenges faced by higher education institutions.


Colleges and Universities Mergers and Closures: Analysis of 2023 Trends

2022 Prediction for 2023: More colleges and universities will close and/or merge. Grade given by Deb Maue: A

In 2023, the trend of colleges and universities closing or merging continued, reflecting the challenging landscape of higher education. This trend, as predicted by McNaughton, is largely driven by financial pressures and declining enrollments, particularly among smaller institutions.

Strategic Responses and Adaptations

In response to these pressures, colleges and universities have adopted various strategies. Some institutions, like Franklin University, successfully pivoted to online education and effectively managed articulation agreements with community colleges, showcasing a proactive approach to these challenges.

The Consortium Approach and Dual Enrollment

A consortium of seven schools demonstrated a collaborative approach to addressing these challenges. This consortium, which shares information and resources, is part of a broader trend towards strategic collaborations in higher education. Additionally, some institutions have experimented with dual enrollment programs and reduced the duration of bachelor’s degrees to three years as a means of adapting to the changing educational landscape.

The Bigger Picture: A Mature and Declining Market

Overall, the higher education sector is characterized as a mature to declining market, with flagship public universities and selective private institutions continuing to see favorable enrollment. However, regional public universities and smaller private institutions face more significant challenges.

McNaughton recommends taking a proactive approach to the above challenges by starting the merger or acquisition process while the institution is still attractive to prospective mergers, acquisitions, and strategic alliances


Hybrid and Fully Online Models in Higher Education: 2023 Overview

2022 Prediction for 2023: More hybrid and fully online models will emerge at colleges and universities. 

In 2023, the prediction of increasing hybrid and fully online educational models in colleges and universities was recognized as accurate. This shift, primarily driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, led to a substantial increase in the availability of such models across various institutions.

Addressing the Oversupply Issue

However, this transition was not without its challenges. McNaughton highlighted a significant issue: an oversupply of hybrid and online programs relative to the number of students. This imbalance created a complex scenario where the supply of online and hybrid courses exceeded student demand, posing sustainability concerns for these programs.

Maue offered a slightly different take, emphasizing that students, having adapted to online classes during the pandemic, showed a continued preference for such learning modalities. She suggested that students appreciated the flexibility of combining online and in-class learning, indicating a lasting change in student expectations and learning preferences.

The Challenge of Course Validation

An additional challenge is that many institutions have different sets of courses for online and face-to-face formats, which are not necessarily seen as equivalent or interchangeable. This disparity raises questions about the validity and recognition of online courses compared to their traditional counterparts, underscoring the need for institutions to address these disparities to fully leverage the benefits of hybrid and online learning models.


A 2023 Perspective: Overview of Political Impact in Higher Ed

2022 Prediction for 2023: Politics will continue to be an issue in higher ed. 

In 2023, the impact of politics on higher education was not only acknowledged but also emphasized as a significant issue by Dr. Drumm McNaughton. He astutely noted that the divisiveness present in the broader political landscape of the country directly influenced and posed challenges within the realm of higher education.

McNaughton highlighted specific instances where political influences had tangible effects. He pointed to the challenges faced in several “red states,” where political decisions and ideologies significantly impacted higher education institutions. The situation in Ohio, involving the appointment of a new university president, served as a poignant example of how political dynamics can deeply affect students and the overall university community.

In Ohio, the process of bringing in a new president was so contentious that it led to emotional distress among students, to the extent that a student reached out to McNaughton for assistance. This incident underlines the profound impact of political decisions on the campus environment and the well-being of its members.

The conversation also touched upon the complex issue of free speech in the context of higher education. McNaughton raised a critical point about the definition and application of free speech within academic institutions, acknowledging the nuanced and often contentious nature of this topic.

In 2023, the intersection of politics and higher education continued to be a source of significant challenges and debates. The experiences of institutions in states like Ohio, Florida, and Michigan, among others, illustrated the profound impact that political dynamics can have on the governance, policies, and campus culture of higher education institutions. As the sector moves forward, grappling with these political influences remains a crucial aspect of navigating the future of higher education.


Growth of Alternative Credentials in Higher Education: 2023 Insights

2022 Prediction for 2023: Badges, certificates, stackable certificates, and micro-credentials will continue to grow. Grade given by Deb Maue: C.

In 2023, the higher education sector witnessed substantial growth in alternative credentials, including badges, certificates, stackable certificates, and micro-credentials. McNaughton confirmed this trend, noting the significant expansion of these offerings. He mentioned the involvement of the National Clearinghouse and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), the accreditor for the Midwest, in developing methods to rate and accredit these programs, indicating a movement towards formal recognition and standardization. This involvement was seen as a positive step towards formal recognition and validation of alternative credentials, with Melanie Booth playing a key role in these efforts at HLC.

Challenges in Institutional Implementation

Maue highlighted a key challenge facing institutions in adopting these programs: the financial aspect. She pointed out that while these programs are in demand by students, they are typically small in scale and do not generate substantial revenue. The administrative costs associated with these programs can be high, posing a dilemma for institutions in balancing demand with financial sustainability.

Debating the Effectiveness and Recognition

The effectiveness and market recognition of these alternative credentials remain topics of discussion. Drumm acknowledged the demand from both students and employers but noted that the debate continues regarding the skills these programs impart. The crucial question is whether these alternative credentials adequately prepare students with the skills needed in the job market.

Viable Solutions for Alternative Credentials: Collaborative Efforts Among Universities

The discussion also touched upon the emerging trend of universities forming alliances, particularly for backend operations, to enhance efficiency and focus on core educational missions. Examples include the University of Bridgeport and Connecticut State collaborating to offer shared courses and faculty resources. Additionally, in Pennsylvania, groups of three institutions have formed alliances to share backend support without fully merging, aiming to reduce overhead costs and improve operational efficiency.


Increasing Complexity of University Presidents’ Roles and Decreasing Tenure

2022 Prediction for 2023: President’s roles will continue to become more complex and presidential tenure will continue to decrease. Grade given by Deb Maue: A.

In 2023, the complexity of the roles of university presidents continued to escalate, as predicted.  Presidential tenures have decreased by at least three years over the past decade. McNaughton emphasized the increasing challenges and complexities faced by university presidents, equating the difficulty of their roles to those in the healthcare sector. This comparison underlines the growing pressures and responsibilities in higher education leadership.

The complexity of these roles is exemplified by the range of issues university presidents must navigate, from internal governance to external political and social dynamics. McNaughton referenced situations like the Israel-Hamas conflict and its impact on campus dynamics and congressional testimonies to illustrate the multifaceted challenges faced by university leaders, noting, “I’m beginning to think that the complexity of the presidency is almost untenable at this point.” 

Maue concurred with McNaughton’s assessment, mentioning that the role of university president has become increasingly demanding, surpassing even the provost’s role in terms of difficulty. The growing complexities and pressures make the role challenging for a single individual to manage effectively.

The Emergence of Co-Presidencies as a Possible Solution

McNaughton pointed out an emerging trend toward co-presidencies in higher education to evolve the role of president to adapt to the increasing weight and complexity. However, he acknowledged that this solution has its own set of problems, emphasizing the need for university boards to play a more supportive role, balancing their oversight functions with consulting and assisting the president in managing the institution’s operations.

Going forward, it’s necessary for a collaborative approach to leadership in higher education, where boards and presidents work closely to navigate the complexities of running modern universities. This collaboration is crucial to address the evolving challenges and ensure effective governance and leadership.


The Role of Technology in Driving Innovation in Higher Education: 2023 Insights

2022 Prediction for 2023:  Technology will continue to drive innovation, and accreditors will more effectively support these types of initiatives. 

In 2023, technology, particularly Artificial Intelligence (AI), continued to be a significant driver of innovation in higher education. McNaughton affirmed this trend, acknowledging the transformative impact of AI on educational practices and structures. He noted that while accreditors had not fully adapted to these innovations, there was a growing necessity for them to catch up and start supporting such initiatives more effectively.

Maue highlighted a crucial challenge in the integration of AI into education: the knowledge gap between students, who are often more familiar with these technologies, and faculty or administration. This discrepancy presents unique challenges in curriculum development and teaching methodologies.

Shifting Faculty Roles in the Age of AI

McNaughton discussed the need for faculty to adapt their roles in response to these technological advancements. He suggested that faculty should transition from being the traditional “sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side,” facilitating learning rather than directing it. This approach involves leveraging AI and other technologies to enhance student learning experiences, including developing assignments that encourage critical engagement with AI technologies.

The conversation underscored the importance of not only integrating technology into educational curriculums but also teaching students to critically analyze and understand these tools. The goal is to foster critical thinking skills in students, enabling them to effectively navigate and utilize technological tools in their learning journey.

The year 2023 marked a pivotal moment in higher education, with technology, especially AI, driving significant innovations. While challenges remain in fully integrating these technologies and adapting to their implications, the sector is moving towards a more technologically enriched educational landscape. The ability of accreditors, faculty, and institutions to adapt and embrace these changes will be crucial in shaping the future of higher education.


Faculty Governance in Higher Education: Adapting to New Challenges in 2023

2022 Prediction for 2023: Higher ed will increasingly struggle with faculty governance now that AAUP and NEA have joined forces. 

Reviewing the last prediction: the increasing difficulty in dealing with faculty governance, especially in the context of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the National Education Association (NEA) joining forces. Contrary to his initial expectation, McNaughton acknowledged that he might have missed the mark, suggesting that the challenges in faculty governance were not as insurmountable as he had anticipated.

In 2023, the complexities of faculty governance, especially in the wake of AAUP and NEA joining forces, were not as challenging as initially expected. The situation revealed a more adaptable and dynamic academic landscape.

A significant report from AAUP, co-sponsored by a recent podcast guest, Hank Reichman, focused on Florida’s educational climate, offering a nuanced view of the state of faculty governance. This report was one of the few special reports produced by AAUP, underlining its importance in understanding the evolving dynamics in academic governance.

Achieving a shared vision among diverse groups within higher education institutions presented its own set of complexities. This challenge highlighted the intricacies involved in managing academic governance, where aligning multiple perspectives and interests is key.

The Evolving Nature of Higher Education Governance

Acknowledging the multifaceted nature of higher education, it’s recognized that managing faculty governance is an integral and complex aspect of the sector. This perspective underscores the importance of navigating the intricacies of academic governance.

The landscape of faculty governance in 2023 demonstrated an ability to adapt and evolve amidst new challenges. The year marked a period of learning and adjustment, with the sector showing resilience and flexibility in the face of changing governance demands. This evolution in faculty governance is a testament to the ongoing journey of adaptation in higher education.



2023 Higher Education Year in Review: Unexpected Developments in Higher Education

Intensified Political Involvement

The higher education sector in 2023 was notably impacted by significant political involvement, particularly in Florida. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) report, cast a sobering light on legislative actions in the state. Actions like the “Stop Woke” movement were seen as potential infringements on academic freedom, highlighting concerns over the First Amendment and the autonomy of educational institutions.

Leadership Changes at University of Pennsylvania

A major development was the resignation of the University of Pennsylvania’s president and board chair, which underscored the growing politicization in university governance. This event was indicative of broader challenges faced by academic leaders navigating complex political landscapes.

Shifts in Leadership at University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill and Michigan State University

Other notable instances included changes at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill and Michigan State University. Kevin Steitz’s involvement in these institutions pointed to the challenges of appointing leaders with varied levels of experience in higher education, reflecting a trend where political considerations influence leadership decisions.

Youngstown State University’s Leadership Transition

The departure of Jim Tressel from Youngstown State University marked another unexpected change in university leadership, raising questions about the criteria and processes involved in selecting university presidents.

The Situation at New College of Florida

New College of Florida also faced challenges due to political influences, though details were not extensively discussed. This situation was part of a pattern of political entanglement affecting multiple universities across the country.

Public Perception Continues to Decline

The year 2023 saw a significant decline in public confidence in higher education. A Gallup poll indicated a drop from 57% in 2015 to 36% in public faith, highlighting a substantial shift in perceptions over eight years.

A key factor contributing to this decline is the perceived gap between the skills graduates acquire and employer expectations. The trend of companies removing bachelor’s degree requirements in favor of practical experience underscores this sentiment, along with the growing emphasis on certificate programs and alternative education pathways.

The response from higher education institutions includes integrating advisory boards to better align curricula with industry needs. However, this approach sometimes clashes with the principle of academic freedom, raising questions about the balance between faculty control over course content and market relevancy.

Despite the overall skepticism, parents still largely aspire for their children to pursue college education. This suggests that, at a personal level, the value of a college degree maintains its significance despite broader public doubts.

The increasing cost of college education is another major factor affecting public perception. The comparison of current costs to past affordability, where a four-year degree was much more accessible, illustrates the growing financial challenge for students and families.

Student debt emerged as a pressing concern, with discussions about the affordability of degree programs and the reliance on financial aids like Pell Grants. The conversation highlighted the financial strain on students and the diminishing feasibility of self-financing education without accruing substantial debt.


Admissions and Enrollment: Changes in Affirmative Action Policies and New Admissions Trends

Related post: SCOTUS, Affirmative Action, and the Future of University Diversity →

In 2023, significant changes occurred in the admissions landscape of higher education, particularly with the Supreme Court’s decision to do away with affirmative action. This decision did not come as a surprise, considering the court’s composition and its previous rulings, such as the overturning of Roe vs. Wade. The discussion also touched upon the pushback against funding for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives in various states, as well as conflicts between state legislatures and university boards, like the one in Wisconsin.

Reflecting on historical cases such as the Bakke case in California, the conversation highlighted how states had previously navigated changes in affirmative action policies. California’s shift to a different model was mentioned as being beneficial for enrollment, suggesting that there are alternative ways to approach admissions that can yield positive results.

The discussion emphasized the importance of affirmative action in addressing long-standing structures that make it difficult for minorities, especially individuals of color, to advance. The need to ensure liberty and equality for all, regardless of financial capabilities, was underscored as a crucial aspect of fair and equitable admissions policies.

A new trend in admissions, direct admissions, was discussed. Deb mentioned that Aurora University was piloting this approach with a couple of their top feeder high schools. While initial results from other institutions were mixed, showing an increase in applications but not necessarily a boost in enrollment, there was optimism about the potential of this method. Direct admissions is seen as a way to engage students early and build relationships, potentially leading to higher conversion rates from acceptance to enrollment.

The conversation concluded with an acknowledgment of the challenge in converting acceptances into actual enrollments. The importance of establishing early relationships with prospective students, engaging them, and getting them excited about the institution was highlighted as a key strategy in the admissions process.


Crisis in Student Debt and Institutional Finance

2023 was marked by substantial financial challenges within higher education. Student debt, a key concern, reached approximately $1.7 trillion, with some reduction anticipated due to forgiveness measures. Nevertheless, the burden remained significant, with estimates around $1.5 trillion.

Fitch’s predictions for 2024 indicated financial difficulties, especially for colleges with enrollments under 1,500 students. These institutions, unless supported by large endowments, were at considerable risk. This situation was particularly pronounced for smaller Christian colleges and regional public universities, contrasting with the growth seen in flagship public universities and selective private institutions.

In response to these challenges, institutions were advised to concentrate on their unique missions and value propositions. For colleges facing enrollment declines, identifying and promoting distinctive programs was essential for overcoming financial hurdles.

In the liberal arts sector, colleges like Beloit College were recognized for innovative approaches to demonstrating the value of their education. Beloit’s method of integrating skills into the curriculum allowed students to articulate the competencies gained, particularly beneficial for degrees not directly linked to specific career paths.

The importance of students, especially from liberal arts backgrounds, being able to translate their education into skills appealing to employers was emphasized. This approach is crucial for showcasing the practical value of their education in the job market.


Financial Struggles and Budget Cuts at Major Institutions

In 2023, significant budget cuts affected large institutions such as West Virginia University and the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. These cuts had a substantial impact on the programs offered by these universities, reflecting broader financial challenges in the higher education sector.

West Virginia University’s Challenges

At West Virginia University, the approach to expanding programs was questioned. The projections for these new programs were overly optimistic, leading to financial strain. This issue highlighted the importance of realistic planning and alignment with public support for higher education. State funding for higher education, which saw reductions since the Great Recession, hadn’t fully recovered when considering inflation, adding to the financial challenges.

University of Arizona’s Budget Problems

The University of Arizona faced a severe budget problem, primarily due to miscalculations in departmental budget management. This led to significant overspending, estimated at about $45 million a year. Observations suggested that administrative growth might have contributed to this issue, with central administration expanding by 69% and other colleges by 31%. This situation raised questions about the effectiveness of decentralized budget management and the impact of regulatory and structural factors on financial stability.

Broader Implications for Higher Education

These cases exemplify the financial pressures faced by higher education institutions. The need for prudent fiscal management, realistic program development, and effective administrative structures is underscored. Institutions must balance ambitious expansion with financial sustainability, considering both internal management practices and external funding sources.


Board Interventions in Curriculum

In 2023, higher education boards increasingly intervened in areas of curriculum that raised concerns. Notably, in Florida, there was a notable conflict involving the College Board and AP courses, particularly regarding African-American studies. This situation was indicative of broader tensions between educational bodies and political entities.

Florida also passed the controversial ‘Parents’ Rights in Education’ bill, known colloquially as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which limited classroom discussions on sexual orientation and identity in early education. This move exemplified the growing intersection of politics with educational content, stirring debates about the role of political agendas in shaping curriculum.

The composition and influence of higher education boards were scrutinized, with concerns about the appointment of board members based on political affiliations rather than educational expertise. These boards often struggled to adapt to the changing needs of students, underscoring a disconnect between governance and the actual educational environment.

There was a consensus on the need for higher education institutions, including boards and faculty, to meet students where they are, acknowledging their evolving needs and expectations. This approach involves imparting wisdom while allowing students the freedom to make their own informed decisions about their education and future.

The conversation acknowledged the necessity for disruption in higher education. Ryan Craig, managing director of Achieve Partners, cited the lack of significant changes in college majors over the past decades despite drastic shifts in the American economy. This stagnation in curriculum development was seen as a hindrance to preparing students for the contemporary job market.

The discussion highlighted the need for higher education to provide clear payoffs, ensuring that graduates can secure employment in their desired fields. A study from Georgetown University indicated that many graduates do not attain a ‘good job’—defined as one that covers all expenses in their desired field—until their thirties. This delay impacts major life milestones, such as homeownership and starting a family.


Higher Education Progress and Transformation in 2023

Technology as a Driver of Change

Technology has been a significant driver of change in society and, by extension, in higher education. The evolution from the introduction of the personal computer to the advent of the internet, web browsers, the iPhone, and AI has continuously transformed various sectors, including education. These technological advancements are expected to persistently influence and reshape higher education.

Innovative Models in Financial Aid and Enrollment

Kentucky State and Bethany College have adopted a novel approach by outsourcing their financial aid offices, a significant move that could set a precedent for other institutions aiming to reduce expenses. Franklin University exemplifies innovation in enrollment strategies, with a systematized process for transferring credits from community colleges. Their approach, involving over 1300 articulation agreements, streamlines the transfer process, making it more efficient for students and the institution.

Curriculum Development Focused on Market Needs

Franklin’s approach to course development is also noteworthy. They conduct thorough market research before launching new programs, ensuring that their offerings align with current job market demands. This method is both financially prudent and responsive to the evolving needs of students and employers.

Community Colleges Collaborating with Four-Year Institutions

In Illinois, a new trend sees community colleges opening up university centers, partnering with four-year institutions to bring degree completion programs directly to their campuses. This model allows students to complete their education in their local community, making higher education more accessible and convenient.

Student-Centric Initiatives in Education

Initiatives like the Rapid Education Prototyping for Change (REP4) at Grand Valley State University, led by Philly Mantella, are significant in reimagining curriculum development. This initiative involves directly engaging high school students to understand their educational preferences and delivery methods, signaling a shift towards more student-centered educational models.

The Debate Over Dual Enrollment and Shortened Degree Programs

Dual enrollment programs and the concept of three-year bachelor’s degrees are gaining attention. While these models offer benefits like accelerated learning and potential cost savings, concerns about financial implications for institutions and the overall maturity and job readiness of students are raised. These innovations necessitate a balanced approach, weighing the pros and cons to ensure they meet the educational and developmental needs of students.


10 Higher Education Predictions for 2024


  1. Increase in Politics: Expect more political involvement in higher education, particularly as it’s an election year. This may lead to heightened political theater within the sector.

  2. Continued Enrollment Decline: Enrollment is predicted to keep dropping, particularly impacting regional institutions and small private colleges with less than a thousand students. Flagship universities are expected to maintain strong enrollment figures.

  3. Acquisition Targets: Smaller private institutions with low student numbers may become targets for acquisition. These colleges are advised to reach out early for potential mergers, especially if they are struggling financially.

  4. Public Perception of College Value: The perceived value of a college degree is likely to continue to decline, but this trend is not expected to be permanent. Changes within the sector could lead to a rebound in value perception.


  5. More Closures and Acquisitions: The market, being in a mature to declining phase, will likely see an increase in institutional closures and acquisitions, exacerbated by demographic changes and the impending ‘demographic cliff.’

  6. Impact of Technology and AI: Continued innovation and disruption from technology, especially AI, will significantly influence higher education. Online Program Management (OPM) companies may face challenges due to market saturation.

  7. Effect of the Presidential Election: The outcome of the presidential election will influence regulatory changes and the level of scrutiny on accreditors. The approach to regulation and accreditation will differ based on the party in power.

  8. Pandemic’s Ongoing Impact: The pandemic’s effects on education will lead to more scaffolding in curricula to accommodate high school graduates who lost educational time. There will be a push for professors to adapt their teaching methods to meet students at their current levels.

  9. Intense Tutoring Programs: Programs offering intense tutoring for a short period, potentially making up for a full year of lost learning due to the pandemic, will gain more prominence.


  10. Adapting to Student Needs: A shift in faculty mindset to more student-centric approaches, moving away from traditional attitudes and adapting teaching to students’ current academic levels.


We hope you enjoyed our 2023 annual review and predictions for 2024. 


Transcript: Chang Higher Ed Podcast 187 – 2023 Higher Education Year in Review and Predictions for 2024 with Special Host Deborah Maue and Guest Dr. Drumm McNaughton


Announcer: Welcome to Changing Higher Ed. A podcast dedicated to helping higher education leaders improve their institutions. With your host, Dr. Drumm McNaughton, CEO of the Change Leader, a consultancy that helps higher ed leaders holistically transform their institutions. Learn more at changinghighered.com. And now, here’s your host, Drumm McNaughton.

[00:00:30] Drumm: Hello listeners, and welcome to our annual. End-of-year review where we take a look back at 2023. It’s been one heck of a year, and guess who I’ve got? My regular host to do this–Deb Maui. Deb, welcome back to the program.

[00:00:49] Deb: Thank you, Drumm. I’m delighted to be here. I say this every year, but I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since we did this the last time.

[00:00:55] Drumm: No kidding. And it’s been a crazy year. You know, we just, before coming on air today, looking back and talking about some of the things that have happened, I don’t ever remember a year in higher ed like this. Do you?

[00:01:09] Deb: No. I’ve been in higher ed for more years than I like to think about 17 now, I guess.

Wow. And this is the craziest year I’ve seen. It’s been wild.

[00:01:22] Drumm: Well, there’s a reason that I have such gray hair and such little, I can’t understand why you.

Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t know.

[00:01:34] Deb: It’s okay. No. Well, you know, I do marketing and enrollment for a 6,000 student, a university in Aurora, Illinois, Aurora University, and it’s been a wild year of change for us. We have a new president and new strategies. We’re embarking on a new strategic plan.

So last year was a wild ride, and this year’s going to be another wild ride.

[00:01:58] Drumm: Oh, no kidding. And I’ve seen that happen so many times. When you get a new president in, especially after there’s been an incumbent there for a number of years, not only is there going to be a new direction based on market forces and other things like that, but new personalities to learn and work with, et cetera.

So yes, a lot of changes I can just imagine. Exactly.

[00:02:19] Deb: Yes. New president after our prior president was there for 23 years, so, wow. Yep. Exactly.

[00:02:25] Drumm: Wow. Your previous president was a woman, if I remember correctly.

[00:02:29] Deb: Yes.

Our previous president was a woman and our new president is a woman as well, and our first Latina president, which is wonderful.

Given that we’re a Hispanic serving institution, about 40% of our students are Hispanic, and so there’s just a lot of excitement from the students and the faculty and the staff.

[00:02:47] Drumm: That’s neat. That’s really neat. And bringing a new president in, if it’s done properly with good onboarding and things like that, it really makes that transition so much easier.

At the same time, new processes, new strategies. It’s a time of, can be a time of transformation for an institution.

[00:03:09] Deb: Yes. Our board was really intentional about the onboarding process and we had a strategic plan around the onboarding process and how everything was going to work and it really made a huge difference.

I think one of the. In talking to the search firm, one of the frustrations of new presidents is that they felt like they didn’t have enough onboarding. So, our board really paid a lot of attention to that to make sure that Susanna was talking, to all the people she needed to talk to and getting the information she needed.

[00:03:38] Drumm: We did a project like that for the University of South Carolina a little while back where the new president, even though he had been the provost there for a few years, then he went up to your neck of the woods at University of Illinois, Chicago. Coming back, a lot of things had changed, so we did probably 60 different interviews with people and really got a good lay of the land for not only him, but for the board, so that he was able to make the transition in almost seamlessly.

That’s great. It’s really important. It is. It is so well, I know. Based on what we did last year, the first thing I’m going to do is get graded, so we may as well get to it.

[00:04:19] Deb: yes. This is my favorite part is grading you on how you did. So let’s go through the list of your prognostications from last year and see how you did.

First of all, college enrollment will continue to decline.

[00:04:33] Drumm: Well, I think I probably nailed that one, even though there was one report that came out and said it’s finally turned around. But if you really look at the details behind that report it. Prognosticate, maybe not the best word to use in this, but prognosticate that we’re going to have some challenges and we’ll talk about that more.

But I would say on a scale of A versus excellent, and f being, I blew it. I’d say that was probably about a B.

[00:05:03] Deb: I think you got an A on that one. Oh. Oh. You gave yourself a B. Oh, I’ll give you an A on that one.

[00:05:08] Drumm: Okay. I’m a tough grader. Thank you.

[00:05:10] Deb: You’re a tough grader. Yes. Okay. Next, more colleges and universities will close slash merge or be acquired.

[00:05:17] Drumm: I’d say I did pretty good with that one. And it’s going to get even worse this year. With the demographic cliff with the finances. Again, we’ll talk more about this, but the bottom line is if you’re an institution with less than a thousand or 1500 students. You got a lot of work to do because you probably, unless you’ve got a huge endowment, you probably don’t have the sustainability that you need to keep going for very long.

[00:05:48] Deb: Yes.

I agree. I think if it weren’t for the covid assistance, we would’ve seen more colleges and universities primarily, as to your point, small colleges closing this year. But because they got that boost, it just delayed the inevitable for a lot of schools. So I agree with you there. I’d give you an A on that one too.

[00:06:07] Drumm: Well, those were pretty easy ones. Really.

[00:06:10] Deb: Okay. You’re right.

[00:06:11] Drumm: The Covid. Assistance made a huge difference and it kept these folks in business. I know one institution that I worked with, they got three and a half million from the federal government just on the first covid monies going around, and that certainly made a huge difference for them.

[00:06:32] Deb: Right. Yep. Alright. More hybrid and fully online models will emerge at colleges and universities.

[00:06:39] Drumm: Oh, yes, that is true, but there is an impending problem because everybody went to having some sort of hybrid or online program because of COVID-19, and now we’re looking at an oversupply. So, guess what? Too much supply.

Not enough. Not enough students. That’s not a good recipe.

[00:07:06] Deb: Agreed.

Although I guess I have a slightly different take on hybrid, and I just think we’re going to continue to see students wanting, because students got used to online classes during Covid. I think they like having online classes, and they like having a mix of in class and online.

So I think when you look at individual programs, you’re going to continue to see a mix of just learning modalities because I think people realize, even if it’s technically an on ground class, not every class has to be in person.

[00:07:44] Drumm: I agree 120% if that’s even possible. But here’s the challenge with that. Many institutions have different courses.

For online versus face-to-face. They don’t have, they’re not ubiquitous. And so being able to have students have, you know, just say an English 1 0 1 course, be able to take an English 1 0 1 course on the ground versus online, the on the ground folks may not say this is valid. So there’s still issues that have to be worked out that never were worked out during the covid time.

[00:08:25] Deb: Yes, agreed. Agreed. Alright. Politics will continue to be an issue in higher ed.

[00:08:31] Drumm: Well, duh. Yes. I’ve never seen, well, I don’t want to say that this is a function of the divisiveness in the country, but it is a function of the divisiveness in the country. They will continue to have problems. We’ll talk about this more, but if you take a look at what’s going on in a number of the red states, yes, it’s really challenging.

And even in Ohio, just recently with their bringing in a new president, that whole process, I actually had a phone call from a student. She was in tears about the whole process. And it’s like, how did you find my name? Oh, this is interesting. The union. The student union wanted to hire me to fix this for them.

And of course there’s nothing I can do. Right, right. But you’ve got Florida, you’ve got Ohio. North Idaho College, Michigan State even is there. But yes, it’s causing a lot of challenges and, you know, how do you if I want to get really snarky, it’s like. How do you define free speech anyway?

[00:09:40] Deb: Right. We could have a whole series of podcasts on that.

[00:09:44] Drumm: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

[00:09:47] Deb: All right. Next. Badges, certificates, stackable certificates and micro credentials will continue to grow. How many people will recognize these?

[00:09:55] Drumm: You know, that’s very true. They are growing leaps and bounds.

I’ve had folks on the podcast to talk about this. The National Clearinghouse, I think is a good idea. And HLC, the accreditor for Midwest. Starting just that, a good friend of mine, Melanie Booth, has taken over that, and they’re figuring out a way how to be able to rate and accredit the certificate program.

So I think this is moving in the right direction.

[00:10:23] Deb: I think the challenge there from an institutional standpoint is these programs are small. And each individual program doesn’t generate a lot of revenue, but there’s a lot of administrative costs with them. So how do you make it work from a financial standpoint?

Clearly you have to figure out a way to make it work because it’s what students want. But it’s challenging. It’s not like a launching a four year degree program or a new master’s program where it brings in a lot of revenue.


[00:10:51] Drumm: Yes. Yes, that’s a good point. The challenge being is like you say, student want these things and even employers want them provided they’re teaching the right skills.

And that’s still up for debate.

[00:11:05] Deb: So we’ll give you, I, we’ll give you B plus B on that one.

Yes. Okay. We’ll give you a B

[00:11:10] Drumm: negotiating with the professor.

[00:11:12] Deb: Right.

Some things never change.. More universities will begin alliances, especially backend alliances, so that they can focus on their core mission.

They don’t need to be cities under themselves.

[00:11:25] Drumm: You know, I’m seeing some of this, but I’m not seeing as much as I would’ve liked to. There’s a couple of groups out there. That do these type of things without giving commercials to anybody. There are folks out there that are doing it. What I’m starting to see though is universities banding together, whether it be with a system or it be.

Just banding together because they’re in the same city or the same geographic area, and starting to trade courses back and forth, trade professors, et cetera. So students might go to University of Bridgeport or they might go to Connecticut State for the course if it’s just not available. So I’m starting to see that, which is good, and it’s really needed.

[00:12:15] Deb: Well, you have the example of Pennsylvania where they’ve formed. Yes. Formed groups where three institutions are. They haven’t completely merged, but they’re sharing a lot of the backend support.

[00:12:27] Drumm: Well, that, was a necessity because they didn’t have enough students for all of those. So when helping to cut down on the overhead that the state was having to pay, but the ability to share and things like that, it also cuts down on costs significantly because you’ve got one president, you’ve got one provost, et cetera.

So it, it helps in that respect as well.

[00:12:49] Deb: Right, right.

So maybe we’ll give you a C on that one ’cause it, we haven’t seen that much of it. Yes, that’s fine.

President’s roles will continue to become more complex and presidential tenure will continue to decrease.

[00:13:03] Drumm: Oh yes. Presidential tenure has gone down at least three years.

In the last 10 years and the job is far more complex. Just take a look at the whole debacle around the Israel Hamas, the congressional testimony. It’s absolutely ridiculous. We’ll get into this in a little bit, but unfortunately, I have said for years that the university president ship is the most difficult, or second most difficult in industry anywhere.

I always said it was behind that of a hospital, but I’m not so sure anymore. Hospitals deal with life and death, but you’ve got a lot of university systems who also have medical centers. So I’m beginning to think that the complexity of the presidency is almost untenable at this point.

[00:13:55] Deb: Yes. They used to say that the provost was the worst job in higher education, but I think now it’s president, it’s just, it’s too much for one person.

Yes. Too complex.

[00:14:04] Drumm: You’re starting to see more co-presidents, but you know, even that is, is problematic. I think it’s a thing that the boards need to get far more, I don’t want to say involved. They need to be helping the president more. There’s two roles for the board. One is oversight and one is consulting.

And traditional higher ed is, you know, if it’s policy. It’s the board’s purview. If it’s operations, it’s the president’s. There’s gotta be a meeting of the minds to be able to help the president because it’s getting to be too complex.

[00:14:42] Deb: Agreed. I’ll give you an A on that one.

[00:14:45] Drumm: Oh, thank you.

[00:14:46] Deb: You are welcome.

[00:14:47] Drumm: You’re an easy grader.

[00:14:48] Deb: Well, yes. Well, I just give you a C on the last ones.

[00:14:53] Drumm: Yes know, but that was generous too.

[00:14:55] Deb: Technology. Technology will continue to drive innovation. Accreditors will begin to better support these types of initiatives.

[00:15:03] Drumm: Yes, definitely. AI is changing everything. People don’t know exactly what to do with that from the innovation perspective, from the accreditors.

 I don’t think the accreditors are up on this just yet, but they’re going to be catching up. They’re going to have to,

[00:15:21] Deb: Agreed. You know, I think it’s interesting, AI, that one of the challenges with AI is that the students know way more about it than the faculty or the administration. So that presents a lot of its own challenges.

[00:15:32] Drumm: Oh yes. Well, you’ve got digital natives. Who are your students and faculty? Just like everybody. We do things the way we were taught. We were taught lecture style, so. That’s how we learn. Why? Why is it any different? Well, faculty have to learn that they need to be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.

They need to be able to facilitate the conversation and they need to figure out how to use the technology in a way that drives student learning. IE give an assignment, make them do it using AI and then get them to look at it critically and say what makes sense, what doesn’t. So you’re teaching critical thinking and AI at the same time.

[00:16:20] Deb: Right. So, agreed.

Alright. And the last one, faculty governance will get harder to deal with than it used to be. Now that AAUP and NEA have joined forces,

[00:16:31] Drumm: I don’t know that this, I think I blew it completely on this one.

[00:16:34] Deb: Well, no one’s perfect.

[00:16:35] Drumm: Well close. I think we’re in the season of perfection with Christmas, but that’s, you know, this is not about spirituality.

This is about academics and higher ed

faculty governance. I am actually encouraged by what I am seeing. There are pockets there and usually it’s a reaction to what’s going on. AAUP and I had a gentleman, one of the co-sponsors of the report, Hank Reichman, AAUP, came out with their. A study just recently, it’s only their eighth special report they’ve done in their 120 years of being in existence.

The first one had to do with the Red Scare and McCarthyism, so that gives you an idea of the type of events they look at. This one had to do with the state of Florida and what’s going on down there, and it was sobering. Everything that’s going on. So, you know, I don’t know that it’s any harder to deal with, but I.

It’s still, you know, faculty governance and getting everybody on the same board. I’m going to revert back to the one that I got the a on for the president’s role being more difficult. As long as you have disparate groups having to come together to form a shared vision, it’s always going to be a challenge.

[00:18:08] Deb: Agreed. One of the things that makes higher ed interesting.

[00:18:11] Drumm: Oh yes. And that old Chinese curse, right? Mean you live in interesting times. Interesting times. Oh, and aren’t they now?

[00:18:19] Deb: Yes. Alright. Well, I think overall you did pretty well on your predictions.

[00:18:23] Drumm: I think you’re an easy grader.

[00:18:25] Deb: Well, you know. No, I think you did well.

So let’s just look at the year in review and the things that we didn’t anticipate or didn’t anticipate to the extent that they happened.

[00:18:37] Drumm: Well, I think as, even though you were really nice with your grading on the political theater for 2023, I think we’re going to get to a whole new level here in 2024. I just mentioned about the AAUP special report you did the podcast on with Hank Reichman here just recently.

Sobering, absolutely sobering of what’s gone on there in Florida. If you haven’t read the report, you can come up to the website, listen to the podcast. It’s, I don’t know another way to do it. This, I don’t understand how a government can come out and legislate Stop woke. Or things like that. To me, this is clearly a violation of the First Amendment.

The government shall not enact any laws prohibiting free speech. Florida’s tact is that they’re public institutions. The state quote owns them. We should be able to tell ’em what to teach. The higher ed model’s been based on academic freedom for years and years, and we have the top institutions. We have , the best system in the world.

I’m not saying this just because I’m an American and you know. Rah. Flag. We do the research. The teaching doesn’t need some tweaking now. Absolutely. But the reason it’s worked so well is because we’ve had great faculty that’s who have graduated from great schools to be able to continue this tradition.

So, you know, that’s enough about, about Florida. We’re also seeing the politics going into Congress resulted in the resignation of University Pennsylvania’s president and board chair. That was a sad event for me. It’s like free speech. Okay. If students want to protest what Israel is doing over there in the Middle East, they should have the right to do it.

Where do you draw the line? What makes it really concerning for me is the representative who’s in the Republican leadership who really took on the task of attacking these three women presidents. Saying one down two to go. It’s like. Come on folks. This is pure retribution. I mean, you’ve got North Carolina, and I know Kevin Steitz, who is the I don’t know if he is the former president of UNC Chapel Hill at this point, but he’s going up to Michigan State. Kevin, wish you all the best on this. You’re going from one great institution to another great institution, and I know you’re going to make a big difference, but here’s the challenge they put.

An interim present in there who has very little higher ed experience. You know, he’s an adjunct professor at Duke, which is a private university. So the politics is going to continue. Already Talked a little bit about Youngstown State. That’s, you know, Jim Tressel, who is the football coach from Ohio State, was the president there for years, and he left.

So they brought in somebody, you know, it’s like, okay. We’re seeing that New College of Florida, I’ve belabored the politics stuff enough. It’s, and you can feel the energy in the room going down talking about this. It’s let’s move on to some, let’s move on. Let’s move on to something even more negative.

[00:22:30] Both Drumm and Deb: Public perception of higher education.

[00:22:33] Drumm: I can’t believe what’s happened. And you know. It’s gone down to 36% last year in mid-year. Gallup poll from 57% in 2015. So in eight years it’s dropped a lot. I’m not going to do the math a lot. It’s dropped a lot. And those are people who they say they’ve got a great deal of faith in higher ed or quite a lot of faith.

I think it’s multiple things that are causing this. I think one, the perception of people they don’t feel, and owners, business owners and employers don’t feel that folks are graduating from college with the skills that they need. It’s been too much of an ivory tower. It’s improving. There’s a lot of institutions out there who are starting to use advisory boards, but there, and again, you start getting into the academic freedom portion of things that say, you know, course content is my purview because I’m the faculty member.

Well, you can’t live in a silo. You’ve got to start taking input in. So I think that’s. Part of it. What we’re also seeing is companies are removing the requirements for bachelor’s degree. You know, if you’ve got the experience, seven states have dropped the degree requirements. So we’re seeing that. We’re also seeing the certificate programs and the alternative education is growing up.

Some companies value these things. One report I read said 75% of respondents say their company values certificate programs, but there’s other skills that you’re learning in a four year degree, including social skills, things like that. Critical thinking. If you take a look at what AAC&U has done, you know the top skill is teamwork.

Followed by critical thinking, followed by being able to analyze data. So there’s good value. I think higher ed needs to change a little bit.

[00:24:58] Deb: The only thing that gives me hope here is that. Even though public perception of higher ed is declining, I mean, when they, you survey parents about whether they want to send their children to college, those numbers are still very high.

So sort of on a macro level, there’s a lack of confidence in higher ed, but I think the majority of people still feel like college is a good thing.

[00:25:25] Drumm: I think you’re right. I think one of the big drivers for this is the price of college at this point in time, it used to be college was considered to be a public good.

It was well supported through the states, et cetera. The California experiment, you know, had the uc system and it created the Cal State system, et cetera, and it was, you know, you could go to get a four year degree for under $10,000. You can’t get a meal pass nowadays for under $10,000 at many colleges.

And so we’ve got to figure out. How we make it affordable. And so kids are not coming out with significant student loans.

[00:26:12] Deb: Right, right.

It used to be that it was fairly easy for students to self-finance their education without a lot of debt, and those days are really gone.

[00:26:22] Drumm: Oh, absolutely. I was talking with one institution that their degree program, it’s an AA degree, is about $20,000.

And if they can get Pell Grants. For that Pell Grant, 7,500 about that.

[00:26:41] Deb: And then the state grant on top of it.

[00:26:44] Drumm: Students can get through the degree. But without that financing, it’s just, it’s too much.


[00:26:50] Deb: Agreed. So, alright, well let’s move over to enrollment Admissions and admissions Near and dear to my heart.

So the Supreme Court did away with affirmative action. Surprise.

[00:27:05] Drumm: No, not a bit. Given the makeup of the court right now and things like doing away with Roe versus Wade, which I know a lot of the Christian colleges who may be listening will probably be unsubscribing here and now don’t do that, by the way.

It’s not a good idea. It doesn’t surprise me. You’re seeing a lot of states doing away with funding for DEI initiatives. You’ve had the showdown of at the O.K. Corral with the Board of Regents and the Wisconsin legislature. We’re seeing a lot of upheaval. I can remember years ago in the state of California, a guy by the name of Bakke sued for reverse discrimination.

[00:27:51] Deb: I remember that case

[00:27:52] Drumm: and I don’t remember what it was, but I remember California did away with affirmative action at that point. But they moved on to a different model that has actually been beneficial from enrollment, whatnot. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that happened, but we’ve got to figure out, just telling people things like, oh, slavery.

You know, it gave people good skills. Oh, come on folks. That’s ridiculous. The structures have been in place a long time that make it far more difficult for minorities, especially blacks to move up. To me, the affirmative action was important. We’ve gotta figure out a way to be able to make sure that it is liberty and equality for all, not just those who can pay for it.

[00:28:47] Deb: Agreed. Agreed.

[00:28:49] Drumm: There is, there’s a positive thing going on, directive admissions, and that one’s I’m going to kick over to you because that. Is Aurora doing direct admissions?

[00:29:03] Deb: We’re piloting it this year with a couple of our top feeder high schools, so we don’t have any results on it yet because we’ve just started the pilot and it’s still fairly new.

Right. So there aren’t a lot of schools out there that have results. Sort of initial results are kind of. Meh in that you get a lot more applications, but it doesn’t necessarily boost enrollment, but it’s a, again, it’s still new. I think that there’s opportunity for improvement in how it is administered and like I said, we’re going to pilot it this year with a couple of our top feeders and see what we get from it.

So I’ll probably have more to say on that when we talk about the 2024 in review.

[00:29:44] Drumm: I look forward to hearing about that. Personally, I think it’s a great idea when you tell a student, yes, you’re accepted to come in. You’ve got to figure out a way to convert that person to actually coming. But it gives you a far greater opportunity versus having them apply.

[00:30:05] Deb: Yes. It’s a way to start the conversation and get them engaged. And then the earlier you can do that and the more you can establish that relationship, get them on campus for a visit, the better.

[00:30:16] Drumm: Absolutely. You get them excited about it. That’s the way to, to get them to enroll.

[00:30:21] Deb: Right. Exactly.

[00:30:22] Drumm: So from a positive note back to the downers.

[00:30:26] Deb: Yes. Finances and budget cuts.

It’s a mess. Oh my.

[00:30:30] Drumm: Yes. Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my. It’s a mess. It is an absolute mess. You know, student debt. Was up at 1.7 trillion. I don’t know what it is now with some of it being forgiven. It’s probably down about 1.5, I would guess somewhere in there wanting to do more.

Fitch is forecasting financial challenges for colleges in 2024. I personally think that if your enrollment is below a thousand or even 1500, you’re at risk. Unless you have a very large endowment and a lot of the, a lot of the Christian colleges do have large endowments, but there’s quite a number of colleges, Christian and otherwise that do not, and they expect, Fitch is talking about flagship public universities will continue to grow.

Selective privates will continue to grow. They’ll see favorable enrollment as the term they use, but. You’re seeing your regional publics. Struggling. And to me, the only way you can overcome something like that is make sure you’re laser focused on your mission and your value proposition.

What programs distinguish you?

[00:31:55] Deb: I agree. I also think it’s. It’s important, particularly for the small liberal arts colleges to help students understand how to talk about the skills that they learn from a liberal arts education and Beloit College, where my son goes, is an interesting example. They’ve gotten a lot of press lately for this skills, and I’m going to use the term skills infusion that, I don’t think that’s the term that they use, but mapping the skills that a student learns in each class.

So that a student comes out with the language to talk about what they’ve learned from their liberal arts education in a way to when they’re talking to potential employers. And obviously that’s for programs that don’t map directly to a specific career. So it, I think I. Schools are going to have to do that, particularly the smaller liberal arts colleges are going to have to do that to demonstrate the value of a liberal arts education.

[00:32:47] Drumm: Oh, I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s very challenging because students come out and they don’t necessarily know how to language what they’ve learned. I look at my Naval Academy, you know I, well, you know, I tell people I’ve had a technical training. I didn’t really get an education. But the Naval Academy, 80% of graduates have to be STEM majors.

I was a physics major. Go figure. I also had to take what we used to call bull courses, liberal arts courses. We, I took. Besides freshman English, you know, 1 0 1, 1 0 2, et cetera, where I learned to write, also took Chaucer and his age, took literature of the sea, things like that. I took political courses.

I took legal courses, so I got a well-rounded education. I personally don’t think, and I’ve talked to a number of presidents who agree with this, I don’t think. Going fully STEM is the way to do it. It’s gotta be a balanced education. And Dave Decker at Franklin University, who we’ll talk about them in a little bit.

David does the same way. It’s like we’ve got to be able to give students a good rounded education and get them ready for their jobs. I think that’s the number one thing. Why? That and cost is why the faith in higher ed has dropped. If students are graduating, they don’t know how to find jobs, they don’t know what skills they have, and the employers, you know it’s that same thing.

Plus of course, the cost.

[00:34:37] Deb: Agreed. So just back to the financial challenges we’ve seen. Huge budget cuts at some large institutions, West Virginia, university of Nebraska, Lincoln. Really huge cuts that will affect the programs that they offer. Thoughts about that?

[00:34:56] Drumm: You know it’s sad to see that they, you know I know Gordon Gee, I have the utmost respect for him at West Virginia.

From what I’ve read, I’ve not talked to him about this, what I’ve read. Is that they opened up a bunch of new programs and their projections were a little rosier than they needed to be. This is obviously an issue, but you also have to take a look at what is the public support for public higher ed at this point.

How much money are the state’s giving higher education? Those monies have cut back. They started being cut back significantly at the great recession. They’ve, in some states they’ve made it back, but when you take a look at from an inflation perspective, there isn’t so there’s a lot of competition out there.

When you’re bringing new programs on, you’ve got to make sure that they’re going to be viable. Have you gotten input from the. Business community, the employers, is this what’s needed? Some of the mergers, what I’ve seen, and this is a little bit aside there, some of the mergers, their colleges are acquiring other colleges to be able to develop world-class programs in say accounting or whatever, so that when you’re bringing a program on, when you’re making changes, it’s got to be needed and world class.

[00:36:31] Deb: Agreed. What’s going on at University of arizona?

[00:36:35] Drumm: Oh, very sad. Very sad. They’ve got a budget pro budget problem. They miscalculated. What I understand is that each of the departments, colleges took care of their own budgets. And there was a miscalculation as far as how much cash was on hand. It’s going to be ugly.

The CFO was already left, according to their president. They’re overspending about 45 million a year. Some people say it’s due to administrative bloat. Central administration is grown by 69%, other colleges by 31. This goes back to a lot of the regulation. But it also goes back to the structure of the colleges.

Do you have a centralized administration that runs things or do you push it down to the colleges and have better budget reporting? I don’t know. I haven’t dug into it that much, but it’s not good.

[00:37:32] Deb: No. Anything else you want to talk about on the financial and budget side of things?

[00:37:38] Drumm: Not really. It’s not good.

[00:37:40] Deb: It’s not pretty.

[00:37:41] Drumm: Not pretty at all. And I really think that institutions have got to find a way to make degrees more affordable. You’ve got to figure out a way of doing things with less people, I mean. Higher ed’s in a mature to declining market from market forces, there’s an oversupply of capacity and an undersupply of students or consumers, there’s going to be fallout.

How are you going to deal with it? And that’s what we’re, that’s what we’re seeing.

[00:38:15] Deb: Moving on, let’s talk a little bit about what you’re seeing in the area of curriculum.

[00:38:21] Drumm: Oh my board, sticking their noses into areas that they probably don’t belong.

[00:38:32] Deb: Back to Florida again,

[00:38:33] Drumm: back to Florida again.

A fight between the college board and AP courses, the African-American studies, the psychology back and forth passing a controversial. Parents’ rights and education, which essentially people knew that as, don’t say gay prohibiting classroom discussion, sexual orientation and identity, you know, kindergarten to third grade.

It’s not up to me to say whether that’s right or not, but they’re fighting with the college board. And the college board didn’t budge. Students didn’t want them to budge either, so, yes. It becomes down to the politics of higher ed and it’s unfortunate.

[00:39:17] Deb: Agreed. Agreed.

[00:39:19] Drumm: Before we go on, we’ve got you know, boards too, higher ed boards, who most folks are, I can’t say most folks legislate for public colleges. It’s the pre the state governors or the legislature who appoints. And I’ve seen too many instances where it’s the cronies that get put on the board, they get stayed on the board for a long period and they don’t change.

They want things to stay the way they are, but they don’t realize that the students have changed themselves. And so how do you meet the students where they are? This goes for the boards, this goes for faculty, whoever. We’ve gotta meet the students wherever they are, give them our wisdom, and at the same time, let them grow and make the decisions for themselves.

On what they want and who they want to be when they grow up.

[00:40:17] Deb: I agree a hundred percent. I also agree that, or I also believe that a lot of people on boards, they don’t really understand higher education.

[00:40:25] Drumm: No. No, they really don’t. And it’s sad, but in fact, it’s true that, I mean, one state that I know that the legislature got so mad at the board, they voted to disband the board for the system, and it took one senator in the other chamber to filibuster to make sure that didn’t happen.

[00:40:48] Deb: Yes.

[00:40:49] Drumm: But oh well.

[00:40:51] Deb: So I think that it’s clear that disruption. Is needed, but we’ve been saying that for, we’ve been saying that for years. What are your thoughts about that?

[00:41:01] Drumm: Well, Ryan Craig, who’s the managing director of a Chief Partners, and they’re a private equity firm that invests in new educational models, you know, ed tech, et cetera.

He, he says that it needs to be disrupted. He says, you know, and I’m quoting from an article in Inside Higher Ed, despite. Dramatic changes in the American economy. College majors have remained largely unchanged. The same majors that were popular 40 years ago remain largely intact today, so we’ve got to make some changes.

Technology is driving a lot of these changes, but. We also need to make sure that there is a clear payoff that higher Ed contributes to so students can get out and get a job. There was a study that came out of Georgetown University that said that students are not getting a quote, good job until their thirties Now they define good job as being able to make all the expenses, et cetera.

In their desired field. That’s concerning. The American Dream owning your own home, they’re having to put this off. They’re having to put, having children off student loans are impacting a lot of this.

[00:42:22] Deb: I read a statistic that a huge percentage of young adults in their twenties are still being supported by their parents to some extent, not fully certainly, but parents are still having to contribute.

That’s frightening.

[00:42:34] Drumm: It is. You know I jokingly say you have kids. I said, yes, and they’re the best kind. They’re grown, they’re gone, and they’re self-sufficient. But it’s typical, parents want their kids to have a better life than they did. And that’s not happening anymore. Or it’s being delayed further and further.

Now I don’t want to discount the, I want it right now mentality, lack of patience to work for things. I don’t want to discount that at all because it’s true. We’ve given our kids. Some people have given their kids everything they’ve wanted and that kids have an expectation that they should get it immediately.

I mean, you see this, a student calls student services and they want something at 11 o’clock at night. And it’s like this could probably have waited until eight 30 or nine o’clock tomorrow morning. The morning, right?

[00:43:32] Deb: Yes. Yes.

So what, when we talk about disruption, what’s needed or what are you seeing that you think are promising developments that are going to help to disrupt higher ed?

[00:43:44] Drumm: Technology is, obviously, technology’s been a driver in our society for many years now. I mean, you stop and think about it; in 2007, we had the iPhone introduced. That was what? 16 years ago. How has that changed everything? I mean, ai when you take a look at the major changes that we’ve had in society, the personal computer, initially when it came out, it was nothing until managers, you know, Lotus 1, 2 3, an accounting program came out, and they could do their budgets on their desk instead of having to go to the company mainframe.

The internet and the world wide web, the browser. It’s like that changed everything. The iPhone has changed everything. AI is going to change everything. We have no idea what it’s going to be. And with every change, there’s good, and there’s bad, but it is going to continue to drive everything. You know, I’m seeing a lot of innovation out there.

Kentucky State Bethany College they’re outsourcing its financial aid. Offices. Federal financial aid. That is a huge thing. I’ll be willing to bet that we’re going to see more institutions start to do that. To cut down on some of the expenses. David Decker at Franklin has a system. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like this.

Franklin actually increased enrollment. They’re about 90% online. They actually increased enrollment during the pandemic, and right now they’re at 10% increase or more every year over year. They have systematized transfers, community colleges. They have actually over 1300 articulation agreements and. They know what courses actually translate over.

They’ve got it all in the computer. So when a student says, I want to apply here, what’s your community college? Boom. These are the courses. Send me your transcript. These are all the courses that apply and you’ll get credit for it. So they know instantly what that works. I’ve never seen anything like that before.

Their course development too. What they do is they do all the market research. Say, yes, this is what’s going to work. This is good program. You have $4,000 to develop this course. Do it. It’s not an unlimited budget, et cetera. So the advisory groups, the costs, they make sure the curriculum does what it’s supposed to.

[00:46:29] Deb: One of the interesting things we’re seeing in Illinois with community colleges is community colleges opening up what they’re calling university centers. Which they’re partnering with four year institutions. To bring degree completion programs basically to the community college or to the community itself.

So, my own institution entered an agreement with McHenry County College with their new university center where we’re providing degree completion programs on-site. So that the old model of, we’ll go to community college for two years and then come to a new city. Come to a new town to complete your degree.

No, they want to stay there. So take the degree completion programs to them. So it’s an interesting thing that we’re seeing more and more of in Illinois, at least.

[00:47:12] Drumm: Yes, that’s really important to be able to do those kinds of things. Community colleges have gotten hammered for enrollment. But they’re starting to pick up again.

Make ’em relevant.

[00:47:26] Deb: What else are you seeing in terms of curriculum?

[00:47:31] Drumm: I’m seeing some interesting things with respect to getting student input. For example, one of my favorite people, Philly Mantella at Grand Valley State University, she has started initiative. It’s been going on now for about three, four years, called REP four, rapid Education Prototyping for Change.

They’re going out and asking students. Not college students, high school students. What do they want in their education? How do they want it delivered? Things like that. It’s making a huge difference and it’s not just Grand Valley. That’s doing this. There’s a consortium of now seven schools who are part of this and they’re passing this kind of information out.

That’s, I think that’s really important. The other one is we’re seeing far more dual enrollment. I’ve got mixed feelings on dual enrollment. I think it’s great that you can have students. Being able to take college courses, going through high school for credit and, you know, satisfy. But in some ways, you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.

You’ve got that. You’ve also got some colleges who are going down to a three year bachelor’s degree. Yes. If you can get everything, if you can teach all the skills, great. But there’s two things. One, you’re cutting your own thing, your own finances. Two, are the students getting what they need?

[00:49:08] Deb: Right.

[00:49:08] Drumm: From an academic perspective. And third, and people don’t really stop and think about this, are the students mature enough after three years or if they’ve been able to take, get an AA degree while they’re in high school after two years to be out in the workforce? Or are they going to be still living at mom and dad’s house?

You know, while they’re getting things. So there’s pros and cons to, you know, it’s life, there’s pros and cons to everything.

[00:49:33] Deb: Sure. Alright. Anything else you want to say about the year in review before we move on to predictions?

[00:49:40] Drumm: Oh my, we’re there already, huh? We’ve got to do a better job at controlling costs.

We’ve got to do a better job at creating a shared vision and we’ve gotta stop letting politics getting into. The university. It’s a reality of life. We’re in an election year you’ve gotta figure that. But come on folks, where you’ve got people in Congress who won’t talk to each other and they hate each other’s guts because they’re a Republican or they’re a Democrat.

This is not a good example for the rest of the world.

[00:50:19] Deb: Right?

[00:50:20] Drumm: Or for our students.

[00:50:22] Deb: Agreed.

[00:50:23] Drumm: So prognostications,

[00:50:25] Deb: yes, let’s have ’em.

[00:50:27] Drumm: I already started. We’re going to see more politics in higher ed. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. So it’s an election year. Get ready to attend the theater of the absurd.

[00:50:39] Deb: Agreed.

[00:50:39] Drumm: We’re going to see enrollments continue to drop. I think the flagships will continue to do great. Regionals will hurt more. If you’ve got a thousand students or less at a private, you’re an acquisition target if you do want to get acquired. If you think that’s the only way you’re going to do it, make sure you reach out early.

Nobody wants to bring on a college that has a really bad balance sheet. So reach out early. It’s a tough decision that universities have to make. But yes, we’re going to see it. The public perception of value of a college degree I think is going to continue to drop, but it’s not a forever drop.

It’s going to start going up when we start making some changes. We’re going to see more closures, we’re going to see more acquisitions. We are, you mentioned it earlier we are in a mature to declining market. We have too much capacity and too many students, and we’ve got the demographic cliff coming up.

So that is going to make things worse from an enrollment perspective, and it’s also going to make things from a mergers or closures perspective. Technology, it’s going to continue to create disrupt ai. Your OPMs are hurting right now. They’re, there’s four people out there and there’s going to be some significant implications.

The election is going to affect things. You are going to see more regulation if there’s a Democrat in the White House. Again, if President Biden is reelected, we’ll see less. If Republicans, if the Republicans take the White House, we’re going to see the accreditors. More on the hot seat than they’ve ever been. It wouldn’t surprise me with the Democrats as well, but you know, there’s a negotiated rulemaking going to be starting up talking about accreditors, so it’s going to continue to be a challenge.

And then the pandemic is continuing to affect things. I think we’re going to start to see from a curriculum perspective, more scaffolding. Because high school grads lost a couple of years because of the pandemic. There are programs out there. They found that if you have intense tutoring for four months, you can make up a full year.

But professors are going to have to be forced to meet students where they are. Instead of taking the tact of, you know, you’re in college now, we’re not going to spoon feed you.

[00:53:09] Deb: All right. There it is.

[00:53:12] Drumm: There it is. As usual.

[00:53:14] Deb: Look forward to grading you next year on how you do. Oh, it’s certain to be an interesting year.

[00:53:20] Drumm: It’s certain to be an interesting year. Deb, thanks so much for joining me today and putting you

[00:53:25] Deb: Oh, pleasure as always.

[00:53:27] Drumm: Putting me on the hot seat. So listeners, next time we get a real treat, we have Mary Papazian from a AGB who’s going to be talking about a special report that they put out with regard to governance.

It’ll be a great episode. Deb. Thanks again for being on the show and look forward to the next time we get together.

[00:53:53] Deb: Me too Drumm.. Thank you and happy holidays.

[00:53:56] Drumm: Happy holidays.

[00:54:00] Announcer: Changing Higher Ed is a production of the Change Leader, a consultancy committed to transforming higher ed institutions. Find more information about this topic, along with show notes on this episode, at changinghighered.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe to the show. We would also value your honest rating and review. Email any questions, comments, or recommendations for topics or guests to podcast@changinghighered.com. Changing Higher Ed is produced and hosted by Dr. Drumm McNaughton and post-production by David L. White.


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