As enrollment declines, colleges respond with technology, new programs and business partnerships

Faced with years of declining enrollment and financial difficulties, American colleges and universities are increasingly embracing technological innovations, career-focused programs and business partnerships, according to a new survey commissioned by Jenzabar, the software company and higher education services.

The poll, Innovating to create a more flexible pathway for higher educationis based on responses from 145 higher education administrators – most of whom held leadership positions on campus such as president, vice president or dean – to an online survey administered in August and September 2022.

The survey consisted of multiple-choice questions about technology spending plans for the coming year, competency-based curriculum options, and partnerships with local businesses.

Nearly half (45%) of respondents said their enrollment had declined over the past year, and according to other sources, officials in many states have observed particularly steep declines in the percentage of students graduating from high school. secondary school who enroll in university. Here are some highlights of how respondents said they are trying to meet this challenge.

Technology spending

Whether school enrollment is up or down, most schools increased their spending on technology last year, and most plan to increase their spending on technology again this year.

  • More than half (51%) of respondents have increased their infrastructure/technology spending over the past year.
  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) plan to increase their spending on technology in the 2023-2024 school year.

One of the main goals of this increase in technology spending is to increase flexible training paths related to skills acquisition and career readiness. A substantial benefit of improved technology is that it enables institutions to offer new courses more quickly, especially to non-traditional students.

More flexible programs and degrees

  • Nearly two-thirds (62%) of institutions offer or plan to offer non-credit courses.
  • More than half (52%) offer or plan to offer non-credit certificate programs.
  • 60% of these schools offer or plan to offer cumulative degrees.

Business partnerships

The majority of colleges and universities work with local businesses to provide more flexible learning opportunities for their students. More than half (53%) of institutions surveyed partner with local businesses to provide in-demand job training or workforce training.

The institutions surveyed that partner with local businesses (as opposed to those that do not) are:

  • Almost twice as likely to offer or plan to offer non-credit courses (71% vs. 40%).
  • Almost twice as likely to offer or plan to offer non-credit certificate programs (63% vs. 34%).
  • More than twice as likely to offer or plan to offer micro-degrees (51% vs. 24%).
  • Almost twice as likely to offer or plan to offer stackable degrees (66% vs. 37%).
  • More likely to invest in technology (67% vs. 61%).

“We are not surprised to see that institutions that partner with local businesses are the most likely to offer alternative routes to education. These are institutions that are in touch with their communities. They listen to students, listen to local employers, and see it as their responsibility to create more inclusive educational opportunities for students,” said Ling Chai, President, Founder and CEO of Jenzabar.

As college enrollment declines continue, institutions are stepping up their search for new sources of revenue. According to a recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), total post-secondary enrollment, including undergraduate and graduate students, has fallen by 4.1% – or about 685,000 students – in spring 2022 compared to spring 2021.

Added to the 3.5% decline seen in spring 2021, the overall two-year decline in college enrollment reached 7.4%, or nearly 1.3 million students since spring 2020, wiping out the hope that the worst of pandemic-era enrollment erosion was over. Instead, there are growing fears that other factors — such as skepticism about the value of college — are driving students away.

It remains to be seen whether the strategies documented in the Jenzabar survey will help turn around enrollment numbers, but they are well aligned with employers’ continued investments in worker education and skills training.

As Chai of Jenzabar notes, “higher education is under extreme pressure to change. Students need to see a stronger connection between their education and their career path. Many students are looking for alternative learning opportunities. The survey reveals what information institutions can leverage to chart their course into the future – and Jenzabar wants to help. We offer new ways for institutions to attract today’s students, and we hope that our partnership with institutions will give learners the education and life skills needed to help them bridge the gap between education and employment, and unleash their full potential.