5 Things We Learned About Higher Education in 2017

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There were several changes and developing trends in higher education in 2017 that are important to note. This consists of the rapid growth of online learning to even shifts in the way schools are staying relevant and delivering value to students.

The following are five things we learned over the course of 2017 about higher education:

1. Online course enrollments are on the rise

In 2017, higher education experienced a significant shift toward distance learning. In fact, according to a report from Babson Survey Research Group, online course enrollments increased for a 14th straight year. The study also shows 6.4 million students are now studying online and 31.6% of all students took at least one online course last year.

The trend of increasing enrollment in online higher education is expected to continue. Colleges and universities are responding by expanding distance learning options for students.

traditional university

2. Traditional college enrollment continues to decrease

Although online college enrollment is on the rise, traditional colleges have been experiencing a decline in overall enrollment for the past six years. According to research from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, U.S. higher education enrollments have fallen by 8.5% between Fall 2011 and Fall 2017.

It appears, however, that overall postsecondary enrollment losses may be slowing, according to the study. In fact, 2017 saw the smallest annual decrease of enrolled students compared to the previous year since 2012. Overall enrollments for Fall Semester 2017 were also down only by 1% from over the previous year.

Some of the many factors contributing to this decline include:

  • Concerns about rising tuition and student debt
  • Skepticism about the value of an investment in a college education
  • Changing demographics of today’s student

College and university administration officials are facing the difficulties of declining enrollments, and are actively searching for new and innovative strategies to attract students and deliver a valuable education.

job

3. More colleges are helping students get a job

One example of colleges providing students with added value is by giving them an advantage in the post-graduation job search.

Brandon Busteed, Gallup education expert, suggested in 2017 that we are entering a “new era … of higher education, in which the ultimate accomplishment [for students] will be the successful transition from college to life outside of college.”

According to research by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup, over eight in 10 (83%) college and university academic leaders surveyed reported that their institution is “focusing more on the ability of their degree programs to help students get good jobs.” Many schools are doing this by enhancing career services, integrating work-based or project-based learning, and by expanding opportunities for mentorship and internship experiences during college.

By doing more to align higher education with the skills and talents required in today’s workplace, colleges and universities are becoming more marketable and competitive.

nontraditional specializations

4. Increase in highly specialized degrees, nontraditional credentials

In today’s highly competitive business environment, many professionals are looking for ways to develop needed skills to advance their career outlook or even shift fields. To compete, many institutions began tailoring degree and certificate programs to meet this demand in 2017.

In addition to more traditional offerings, such as degrees in business management or nursing, schools are also offering credentials in highly specialized areas of interest that are relevant to the skills needed in new career paths.

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5. Students may be awarded less financial aid than expected

Several new changes in federal financial aid went into effect in 2017. Under new guidelines from the Obama Administration, income is now verified based on taxes from two years ago (or the ‘prior prior year’). Even on their blog, the US Department of Education admits that information submitted on the FAFSA student aid application “doesn’t always accurately reflect a family’s financial situation.” As a consequence, you may receive less financial aid than you are expecting.

Other recent changes to federal financial aid, however, may be beneficial to new college students. For example, the FAFSA application form is now being made available three months earlier (in October). As a result, many schools are changing their timelines and procedures around financial aid and letters are reportedly going out to students earlier.

Many students are anxious to know how much financial aid they’ll receive as they plan their future. Receiving their financial aid offers earlier will help students make decisions regarding which school to attend and how they will afford the costs of a college education.

As colleges and universities strive to adapt to the changing landscape of higher education in the U.S., we expect to see institutions strive to reach greater numbers of students, and deliver maximum value for a student’s investment in new and innovative ways. We will continue to watch these trends as well as other new developments in 2018.

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