The World of Higher Education: Looking Ahead of 2024 and Beyond  

Innovative solutions and forward-thinking strategies needed now more than ever. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Nicole Engelbert

NUTHAWUT SOMSUK

In the landscape of higher education, navigating the turbulent waters of enrollment, financial aid, and technological evolution has become increasingly complex. As we venture further into 2024 and beyond, institutions are faced with a myriad of challenges including declining enrollment, financial aid disparities, and the rapid evolution of technology. All which demand innovative solutions and forward-thinking strategies.  

Financial aid gaps will fuel the ongoing enrollment crisis

Higher education has been experiencing a decline in enrollment for many years, and the pandemic accelerated that decline. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the undergraduate college enrollment decline resulted in a loss of nearly 1.4 million students, between spring 2019 and spring 2023. Ongoing challenges with financial aid coupled with continuing enrollment declines will lead to an even greater enrollment crisis in 2024 and beyond. The FAFSA delay will significantly impact enrollment numbers. This will be particularly true for institutions that are heavily dependent on students receiving financial aid. Many schools will not be able to offer financial aid packages in a timely manner, further driving a decline in enrollment.

‘…the undergraduate college enrollment decline resulted in a loss of nearly 1.4 million students, between spring 2019 and spring 2023.’

To address this challenge, higher education institutions must effectively connect admissions and financial aid processes. Simplifying the entire admissions system and making it more student-centric will ensure that students have the right information at the right stage in the process. Leveraging intuitive technologies that create transparent, seamless processes for students, such as chatbots and self-service portals, will help boost student confidence in financial aid, admissions, and higher education as a whole. Improved automation and data analytics will enable admissions staff to ensure that no student falls through the cracks. 

The adoption and implementation of student systems will evolve as institutions weigh financial stressors with changing student needs

In the coming years, we will see continuing angst over the student systems market, partially due to the maturity of solutions. Structural financial issues in higher education will impact technology adoption and implementation decisions. Some schools will be more reticent to implement, while others with a more secure financial structure will be more eager to adopt cutting edge solutions. Info-Tech Research Group notes that while IT in higher education (79%) has a higher-than-average satisfaction score compared to other industries, the sector is still facing a challenge of low satisfaction for analytics and innovation. 

Institutions adopting emerging cloud, AI, and machine learning technologies offering students more control over their college experience, financial transparency, and a significantly closer link between their studies and professional success, will outpace the competition. Group buy and consortium structures will accelerate in adopting new systems and technologies as more institutions collaborate to future-proof against changing regulations and student behaviors.

Higher education will need to critically rethink certification, credential and other non-traditional degree options to adapt to today’s student

With public confidence in the value of a traditional four-year degree waning, student interest in credentials, microcredentials and badges will start to heat up. Higher education institutions will need to innovate quickly to figure out compelling and relevant certifications and badges, faster than the corporate sector. According to a Deloitte poll of 100 colleges and universities, more than half were offering microcredentials. In a survey by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), most employers (69%) were either extremely familiar or very familiar with non-degree credentials, but 65% wanted to see more proof of their effectiveness.

Schools must turn to cloud and emerging technologies to modernize their operations and deliver just-in-time education, teaching relevant vertical skills that give graduates a competitive edge in the job search. What’s more, they will need to leverage insights from data and analytics that show students and their prospective employers that these non-traditional options are effective and competitive. 

Generative AI will continue to gain traction in higher education 

Use cases will develop around AI-enabled teaching assistants to personalize academic delivery. We will also see a rise in AI-augmented digital assistants to help navigate university systems and processes, reducing frustration and increasing response accuracy. AI-enhanced analytics will help users gain more value from past investments in data warehouses and analytic tools. Additionally, research will be accelerated by the inclusion of AI tools in discovery.

University IT staff have a growing awareness of the role identity and access governance play in improving security and privacy. Automated tools will be deployed to help keep pace with this growing concern. The costs of long-term data storage and retrieval will continue to escalate for research institutions. Universities will band together via informal organizations such as CaRCC to address this issue systemically.

Nicole Engelbert is Vice President of Higher Education Development at Oracle, and a Member Board of Directors for 1EdTech Consortium. Connect with Nicole on LinkedIn.  

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