Private Higher Education Trends for 2015

The past several years have been marked by economic, demographic, and technological disruption, placing many senior administrators at private higher education institutions in a reactive position as they respond to marketplace trends. We strongly believe, however, that 2015 brings a time for more proactive, innovative leadership. So this year, we present our annual list of trends in the form of what we expect to see from institutions that are being “edupreneurial” in signaling their relevance, distinction, and value.

1. Line ’Em Up

Evidently there’s a mismatch between what faculty and employers mean by career-oriented learning goals. But in order for a college to provide a compelling value proposition, the outcomes of the experience must line up with the expectations of the marketplace. So institutions are exploring modularized course content, competency-based learning, and other ways to verifiably deliver specific market-driven educational outcomes.

2. Demonstrate and Translate

Measurement is a must for colleges when it comes to proving the cost-benefit of their value proposition, so they can demonstrate their students are learning what’s intended, graduating on time, and achieving their immediate post-graduation goals. Yet institutions should also help their graduates better translate (in terms that the marketplace understands) exactly how their academic experiences directly develop desired skills and abilities—especially when it comes to liberal arts majors.

3. Reduce the Burden

Institutions are exploring locked-in tuition rates for all four years, degree programs that can be completed in three years, four-year graduation guarantees, guaranteed job programs, dual bachelor’s/master’s degree programs, and more to help families manage the cost of college. And given that Sallie Mae finds 44% of families have eliminated an institution based on cost before even applying to it (so presumably, due to its sticker price), tuition “resets” can improve consideration along with financially benefiting some.

4. Guide the Way

Providing personal attention, listening and caring, and displaying a high level of responsiveness are the hallmarks of private institutions, especially those that are small-sized. These attributes reinforce value (and can improve yield), but families have come to expect them and will note their absence. So institutions are exploring ways to better guide their students’ success, such as by incorporating career mentorship or by utilizing data analytics to identify support opportunities.

5. Dare to Differentiate

To stand out in the marketplace, an institution must publicize that which converges in the sweet spot of being (a) something that is a genuine strength of the institution, (b) something that is relevant to and desired by students, and (c) something that clearly distinguishes it from its competitor institutions. When an institution can identify its distinctive niche, it can then go about targeting specific audiences that have a propensity toward appreciating its specialty.

6. Persuade With Precision

Tracking tools and data analytics are making it easier to capture information and make it actionable. Enhanced targeting capabilities enable institutions to send messages that are highly relevant to an individual prospective student—even those who haven’t explicitly made their interest known to the college. So institutions are exploring such practices as analyzing behavioral data to create predictive models and sending more sophisticated triggered emails.

7. Be All Over the Map

A convergence of population, ethnicity, and socioeconomic trends is straining “backyard recruitment” at many institutions, but at the same time technology tools are enabling them to more easily and affordably target students outside of their primary geographic market. So institutions are exploring ways to expand their recruitment markets by targeting nontraditional-age students, running predictive models, using lead generation providers, and retargeting online.

8. Do It in SoLoMo

Prospective students are using collaborative, location-based, and on-the-go (social-local-mobile) technologies to research colleges. Since this pushes institutions to deliver content where and how the audience wants it, colleges are exploring ways to make such engagement with students cost effective. And since audiences seek authenticity, institutions are collaborating with their alumni to leverage familiarity and favorability as they communicate with influencers of college-bound students.


Full version of “Trends for 2015”

We cite several statistics in support of our downloadable list of eight opportunities for gaining market share.

Outlook on college enrollment

University Business takes a look at the “perfect storm ahead” for higher education leaders in the coming year.

America as 100 college students

The Gates Foundation released an infographic showing various demographics of higher education participation.


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If organizations are going to become great, then they must “face the brutal facts.” So notes Jim Collins in his highly acclaimed book, From Good to Great. But in higher education, as the principle of tradition clashes with the need to respond to an evolving and changing marketplace, not everyone is willing to face the brutal facts.

The reality is that today’s higher education marketplace is focused on price sensitivity and investment value. It is imperative that colleges and universities respond to this reality and genuinely provide a more distinctive, value-added, outcome-oriented educational experience. It’s time for senior leadership and campus communities at colleges and universities to practice more edupreneurial behavior—to not just think about doing things differently, but do things differently.