How Can Vulnerable Institutions Weather Future Challenges?

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As institutions put the pandemic in their rearview, they look to prepare for the upcoming changes to higher education. Enrollment and retention issues, shifting demographics, rising interest rates and a possible recession—these are the challenges keeping administrators up at night, the challenges that have many in higher education asking, “What can we do to ensure our institutions remain resilient?”

In May 2022, the Chronicle of Higher Education, with support from Jenzabar, surveyed more than 400 administrators of small and mid-sized four-year colleges to understand how their institutions are responding to today’s changing higher education landscape. More than half of those surveyed experienced a decline in enrollments since the pandemic’s onset as well as a decline in revenue. Only 25% of those surveyed strongly agreed that their institution had the right strategic vision to thrive in a post-pandemic future.

Below, we briefly recount the survey’s key findings as well as uncover how Jenzabar’s award-winning solutions and services can help institutions future-proof their campuses and strengthen their strategic visions for the future.

Higher Education Student Enrollment and Retention Challenges

Institutions have been aware of—and many have been preparing for—the looming demographic cliff brought on by the decline in births around the 2008 recession. But the rising cost of college combined with rising living costs and rising interest rates are also impacting student decisions to attend and remain at four-year institutions.

In The Chronicle’s survey, of the 54% of institutions that saw student enrollments decline over the past two years, 25% experienced between a 5-10% decrease. Another 25% experienced decreases greater than 10%.

Institutions know they need to make student enrollment and retention strategy a priority, but many are still struggling to understand the particulars of the unique challenges plaguing their campuses. Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed disagreed that their institution had a good plan in place to retain students. Meanwhile, nearly one-third of respondents disagreed that their institution had an enrollment plan that considered shifting student demographics.

Defining and Understanding Issues of Resilience in Colleges and Universities

In their survey, The Chronicle found many definitions of resilience, but consensus seemed to be that resilience meant finding a way to continue operations while maintaining the institution’s mission and identity. When asking participants whether they thought their institution had become more resilient to revenue and enrollment challenges, almost half of the participants surveyed said “No.”

Many of those who said no indicated that institutions were still reacting to student enrollment and retention issues instead of attempting to proactively prevent them. They also said their institutions were still using old technology and didn’t yet understand their individual markets enough to adjust programs and practices accordingly.

In contrast, those who thought their institutions were becoming more resilient thought that decision-makers had invested in the right resources and technology and were engaged in agile and creative decision-making. Those who considered their institutions resilient also thought their campuses invested strongly in online presence and programs.

How Modern Tech Can Help Colleges Become More Resilient to Future Challenges

To stay resilient, colleges and universities need to continue to attract students to campus and retain those students. To do this, institutions need a clear understanding of changing student demographics and needs as well as the tools to organize and analyze their student data. The Chronicle survey is the latest in a spate of recent reports that suggest the best way to address enrollment and retention issues and stay resilient is to invest in modern technology.

Many modern student information systems and cloud ERPs are designed exclusively to respond to the challenges in higher education and to help institutions better enable student success. They not only give institutions the interfaces and experiences that today’s digital-native students crave, but they also give colleges and universities the tools necessary to unite and analyze student data. This gives institutions the information to make proactive decisions that will allow their campuses to thrive.

You can find The Chronicle of Education’s full research brief on Navigating Uncertainty and Building Resilient Colleges here.

CTA_Industry Insights_Navigating Uncertainty and Building Resilient Colleges


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