By Dr. Kenneth E. Hartman, Principal Analyst
By nearly every measure, 2014 was a challenging year for higher education. Enrollments fell for the third consecutive year, funding to public institutions in 48 states remained flat or declined, and operating costs rose. We also saw an unprecedented increase in federal oversight, with heightened attention paid to the issue of access and affordability. In the coming year, the rhetoric of 2014 will become the reality of 2015 with the proposed reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the continued emergence of new and innovative learning models, the further expansion of the technology sector, and the ongoing need to clearly demonstrate outcomes.
- Competency-based direct assessment will pick up steam, but more conventional approaches to competency-based education will rule the day. This year, we will see a steady adoption of over 100 new competency-based programs. Twenty-five of these programs will be designed around the principles and practices of direct assessment. In all likelihood, however, direct assessment will not become the market norm. The contrasting credit hour equivalency model pioneered by Western Governors University will find far more acceptance. While most of these programs will also be offered wholly or mostly online and primarily for working adults, a number of competency-based models designed for traditional age students will also turn heads and reinvigorate longstanding debates about the necessity of more practically focused delivery models. Stay tuned for Eduventures reports on this topic in 2015.
- Higher ed spending on information technology will exceed $45 billion. The number of technology vendors entering the higher education fray has exploded in recent years, attracting billions in equity investments. We expect this market to pick up speed in 2015 as technology continues to offer the tools for transformation in academic institutions. Even schools with limited resources are investing in new technology initiatives in order to remain competitive. In many cases, colleges across the country are coming to the realization that technology is the key to survival. With this boom in spending, there will be notable failed investments in technology that offer little to no return on investment. Stay tuned for a series of Eduventures Deep Dive reports on technology in 2015 to help you make the right decisions in selecting and adopting new systems.
- Online learning will grow modestly. Eduventures predicts that enrollment in wholly online degree programs will be modest this year. We predict only 2% growth due mostly to uncertainty and indecision among adult learners. At the same time, the percentage of colleges entering the online market will grow very little, if at all. Growth will be stunted due to increased regulatory concerns such as state authorization, competition from large adult-serving providers, and enrollment strategies incapable of keeping pace with the savvyness of today’s adult learners. Institutions will back away from online programming to focus on blended learning and improving quality and access for traditional age students. Stay tuned for an Eduventures report on this topic in 2015.
- Debt will bubble over. The operative word for 2015 will be “debt.” Federal debt is currently $18 trillion, state debt is $4.7 trillion in unfunded liabilities, institutional debt exceeds $300 billion, and student debt is at $1.1 trillion. With interest rates at an all-time low, colleges are borrowing more money and betting that projected revenue (tuition, endowment, etc.) will cover their increasing debt service, which is up 88% since 2001. Rating agencies, however, are not being fooled. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of credit rating downgrades at colleges rated by Moody’s Investment Services outpaced upgrades by nearly five to one. We are at a tipping point when it comes to college debt and may see some notable defaults within academia.
- Reliance on non-alumni philanthropic support will grow. Institutional leaders will be more reliant on community members and friends outside of the alumni base than ever before. In 2007 and 2008, alumni giving comprised about 70% of total giving to universities from gifts of $1 million or more, while non-alumni support made up 29%. In 2012 and in 2013, it was 60% alumni and 40% non-alumni. Cultivating non-alumni donors has become more important than ever for philanthropic sustainability. Stay tuned for an Eduventures report on this topic in 2015.
- Outcomes will continue to lead the conversation. “Outcomes” will continue to be a key focus for students, parents, and the federal government. Eduventures research shows that in 2013, “career preparation” surpassed “academic strength” as the top priority for both students and parents in selecting a school. Adding to parent and student concerns, the government has increased its focus on this issue, including the possibility of Title IV funding consequences. Look for schools to become more aggressive in differentiating themselves in reporting outcomes data in 2015.
And so it begins…
Have a question about this post or a related topic? Contact Principal Analyst Dr. Kenneth E. Hartman directly or share your thoughts in the comment section below.