Changing and Challenging Trends in Higher Education — The 4 D’s

The opening panel at the CASE District III conference featured distinguished college and university presidents who talked about the changing and challenging trends in higher education – or, the four D’s.

Fortunately these weren’t final grades, but the latest trends in higher education:  Demographics, Disruption, Disintermediation, and Dollars.

Joe DiPietro, President of the University of Tennessee, spoke to the challenges with changing Demographics. He mentioned the increasing number of Hispanics in the recruitment pool. He spoke to having to make the case for the value of a college education, the greater need for scholarships, and crafting a message for the entire family, not just the student.

DiPietro referred to the necessity to engage other university resources to ensure student success, such as additional academic advising, stating “access is one thing, success is completion.” Hispanic students’ completion rate lags 15-20% behind the overall average.

In response to the question about the institution’s stance toward undocumented students, DiPietro stated that 95% of their students complete a FASA form so they have a social security number, adding that if they are “born in US, then there is a social and individual benefit to educating these individuals.”

He emphasized that only 32% of Tennessee’s population has post-secondary education. The governor’s goal is 55%. Encouraging re-entering students, many of whom have an average of 80 credit hours, could move the needle substantially.

Debra Townsley, President of William Peace University, spoke to Disruption, particularly MOOCs, stating “one can’t afford to be online; one can’t afford to be not online.” She said that faculty thought it was a passing fad.

Based upon online research from five years ago, learning is slightly higher with online classes. The current cost structure of on-campus classes is not sustainable. Her suggestion was to use MOOCs for standardization and competency-based learning as in a model of a MOOC lecture, followed by a live discussion led by the professor.

She mentioned that for-profit college and university student numbers are dropping. Regulations have hit them hard as they have the not-for-profits.

However, she did cite the success of for-profit institutions in garnering new students. “We have a lot to learn from for-profit marketing for admission and efficiency. They do a good job with that.  At William Peace, we are instituting some of these practices successfully.”

Rob Watts, Interim President of Georgia Perimeter College, addressed Disintermediation. There is a desire to bypass cable TV, etc., by circumventing normal content delivery, and streaming online content.

Is a traditional college campus necessary anymore? Watts recalled a quote from a former unidentified Chancellor of the Univ. System of Georgia who said, “As long as kids have hormones, they will want to go to college.”

Nevertheless, content can be delivered in many formats and by channels that didn’t exist ten years ago. The competition is fierce. He said that the value of a liberal arts education is “in what you remember once you’ve forgotten everything you learned in college.” Content can come online; however, form is also important.

One of the drivers of disintermediation is that the cost of providing a college education has been rising faster than family income and GNP. The question remains: can this be halted or reversed?

In order to maintain quality we have to keep increasing tuition, but we have to stop double digit percentage increases. The more that we can transition away from state funding, the better it is. He stated that, “Philanthropy will make a difference as some of the easiest dollars to raise are for scholarships.”

This led to the discussion on Dollars and the challenges facing development operations across the country. Solicitation calls to landlines are less and less successful. Twitter, Facebook and other approaches are going to have to step up and be more successful; however, no one has truly mastered using these other channels as a complete replacement for telephones. Advancement is becoming a revenue center, a strategic investment. Watts stated that he is spending 1/5 of his time on this, even as an interim president.

What are your thoughts on the 4 D’s, and other changing and challenging trends in higher education?