Higher Ed Pivoting to Stay Ahead 

A recession could be coming. Here’s how higher education can evolve to meet changing student needs.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jim Lummus 

Headlines are dominated by the latest round of layoffs, the continued rise of inflation and growing interest rates — factors that experts say point toward a potential economic downturn. 

Interest in higher education typically grows during a recession, with many professionals deciding to go back to school to improve their job prospects. However, we will have to wait and see whether this trend will hold true given the current strong labor market and the growing skepticism of the value of higher education.

‘…for many schools, there’s an opportunity to expand continual learning options and build off of online programs developed during the pandemic.’

It’s crucial for higher ed institutions to adopt a forward-thinking strategy. Today’s uncertain economic environment requires schools to be proactive in adapting to the changing market — and willing to evolve offerings to meet current and future student needs. 

4 Ways Higher Education can Pivot with the Economy

Higher ed has faced steady enrollment declines throughout the pandemic — and high tuition rates are largely to blame. In fact, almost half of students opt out of attending college because they’re doubtful that they’ll see a return on the cost and time invested into the degree programs. 

The rising costs of higher education could further complicate enrollment if a recession hits. That’s because tuition prices tend to increase even faster during economic downturns as state and local governments look to cut funding and higher education often ends up on the chopping block. 

However, there is a silver lining: The influx of new online education programs developed during the pandemic provides prospective students with a far wider range of options when it comes to furthering their education. It’s up to higher ed institutions to meet prospective students on their terms — and for many schools, there’s an opportunity to expand continual learning options and build off of online programs developed during the pandemic. 

As you work to address challenges of the uncertain economic outlook here are four ways to review, analyze and develop continual learning options that better serve students and professionals.

1  Reflect on your institution’s offerings

Institutions should consider the programs they’re already offering and how they meet prospective students’ needs. A great first step is evaluating the price of their programs based on the overall market. 

If a program is on the higher end of the range, how can that price point be supported? You can leverage strong ROI data, student services and even its alumni network to show the value of a program and how it will help students succeed in the long run.

2  Identify new programs to offer

Many employees may be evaluating their career path in the current recessionary environment — and institutions need to meet employees where they are. Consider what programs are currently offered and identify what options might draw in professionals craving career advancement and change. 

For some schools, that could look like developing fast-track master’s programs, offering micro-credentials or investing in non-credit certificate programs that are aligned with top in-demand skills in the market. These short-form courses or programs make it easier for students to commit to a program from a time and investment standpoint, while still enabling them to develop industry-related skills to become more immediately employable.

3  Prioritize flexibility throughout courses

Most importantly, institutions should prioritize flexibility throughout their degree and multi-program offerings. Remote learning doesn’t just allow students to learn wherever and whenever they can –– it also increases access to quality education. 

Analyze which programs, if any, can shift to remote or hybrid options. Purpose-built online learning provides an opportunity for prospective students who are unable to attend in-person courses because they are picking up more shifts at work, unable to commute to school, or can’t afford outsourced childcare to still earn a degree and advance their careers.

4  Look outside of institutions to create strong, unique programs

In order to create unique, distinctive programs, retain strong connections with alumni, industry professionals, and other potential advocates in the workforce. These resources can help identify and address changes in skills and needs — and how your curriculum can adapt. 

That could entail creating advisory councils with industry professionals to provide guidance, conducting regular alumni surveys and seeking out available third-party research that connects degree programs to job descriptions. 

With multiple price ranges, varied graduate degree routes, and more options for or short-form courses options like micro-credentials or certificate programs, students now have the choice to select a program that best fits their financial, personal and career needs. 

By expanding continual learning options, higher education leaders can create multiple pathways to learning and development that will supplement workforce needs. With an uncertain economy ahead, does your institution provide students with the options they need to succeed? 

Jim Lummus is SVP of Partnership Development at AllCampusConnect with him through LinkedIn. 


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