The Future of Student Success: 6 Factors To Navigate External Forces in Higher Education


In a recent webinar, Ed Venit, managing director of strategic research at EAB, highlighted six external forces shaping the future of student success in higher education. These factors, driven by public opinion, evolving strategies, and changing student demographics, are transforming the landscape of colleges and universities across the country.

The Future of Student Success: 6 Factors To Navigate External Forces in Higher Education

(Photo : PEXELS / Kampus Production)

1. Public Perception on Value

One of the key challenges facing higher education today is the perception of its value. Despite the rising cost of attendance, many Americans are skeptical about the return on investment of a college degree. This skepticism has led to a decline in the number of high school graduates enrolling in college, a trend that has been observed since 2016. To address this challenge, colleges must effectively communicate the benefits of a college education, debunk common myths, and highlight the career prospects and earnings potential associated with obtaining a degree.

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2. Changing Student Demographics

The makeup of college campuses is changing rapidly. As higher education becomes more accessible to different types of learners, colleges are seeing a more diverse student population, including more adults and working students. Additionally, Generation Z, the current college-aged generation, is the most diverse generation yet, bringing new perspectives and challenges to campuses. To support these diverse student populations, colleges must adapt their support services, teaching methods, and campus culture to be inclusive and accepting of all students.

3. Mental Health and Wellbeing

The wellbeing of college students' mental health is becoming an increasingly significant issue. Nationally, more adults are experiencing anxiety and depression, and college students are particularly vulnerable to these challenges. Addressing mental health issues is not just a personal concern for students but also a critical component of creating a supportive and productive learning environment. Colleges must invest in mental health services and support systems to ensure that students have the resources they need to thrive academically and emotionally.

4. Declining Academic Preparation

The shift to remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on student learning. National benchmarks show a decline in college readiness at all levels, with fewer students on pace for college math compared to previous years. To address this decline in academic preparation, colleges must identify and implement supplemental instruction programs, bridge courses, and innovative teaching methods to support students with diverse learning styles and preparation needs.

5. A Sustainable Scope of Business

Given the external pressures facing higher education, colleges and universities are reimagining their business models to be more sustainable. This may involve "doing less with less," as Venit puts it, by reducing output in favor of sustainability rather than focusing solely on growth. Leaders must develop strategic visions that align with their institution's mission, demand, and financial viability to ensure long-term sustainability.

6. Growth of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming higher education, impacting how institutions educate and prepare students for their careers, as well as how they operate. To prepare for the adoption of AI and other technologies, colleges must invest in infrastructure upgrades and embrace a cultural shift that values innovation while preserving academic integrity and equity.

A range of external factors will influence the future achievement of students in higher education. To navigate these challenges successfully, colleges and universities must communicate the value of a college education, promote inclusion for all students, invest in mental health services, identify academic supports, develop strategic visions, and prepare for innovation. By addressing these factors, colleges can better prepare students for success in the rapidly changing world of higher education.

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