Private Higher Education Trends for 2016

The Lawlor Group conducts extensive qualitative and quantitative research for independent college and university clients throughout the United States. Based on recent findings from our proprietary research combined with several outside studies available to the general public, we’ve identified “Six Marketplace Demands That Influence Private Higher Education Enrollment” that we predict will have a significant impact during the coming year.

1. The Right Stuff
A crowded marketplace is requiring colleges to focus on their sweet spots where quality, relevance, and distinction overlap.

  • Students have difficulty finding the right college.
  • College websites play a big role.
  • Academic information is most important on college websites.
  • Quality and relevance still matter more than cost in selection.

2. The Power of Price
Walking the line between perceived prestige and sticker shock has become increasingly difficult given economic conditions.

  • Few parents have a personal frame of reference for private college pricing.
  • Private college pricing has far exceeded the rate of inflation.
  • Most students attend a college with tuition and fees of less than $12,000.
  • Many families judge cost based on sticker price.

3. Wants and Needs
Affordability encompasses not only the ability to pay for college, but also the willingness to pay among those who can afford it.

  • Average incomes have not kept up with average net price.
  • Student loan debt is viewed negatively.
  • Merit aid seems necessary for willingness to pay.
  • Discount rates at private nonprofit institutions continue to rise.

4. Many in the Mix
Because of some key demographic projections, recruiting only “traditional” undergraduates probably will not suffice.

  • Population changes by geographic region make a difference.
  • Postsecondary education options are widening.
  • The number of older students attending college is increasing faster.
  • Future growth in enrollment will come mostly from students of color.

5. Edupreneurial Evolution
Long-standing practices have become unsustainable, requiring proactive leadership and collaborative creativity to find solutions.

  • Many administrators are skeptical of their institution’s financial model.
  • Small colleges are at the greatest risk.
  • Reliance on tuition revenue is growing.
  • A greater proportion of students are being awarded institutional aid.

6. Track and Translate
Heightened demands for accountability require colleges to not only deliver but also prove and communicate successful outcomes.

  • Students are using social media to check what’s authentic about a college.
  • Most people attend college to boost their career prospects.
  • Many new college graduates are underemployed.
  • College outcomes by institution are becoming easier to access.


Full version of “Trends for 2016”

We cite statistics to support the private higher education trends we’ve identified and offer suggestions to deal with them.

Digital Marketing Trends

Our director of digital strategy, Brendan Mayer, analyzes which digital trends are relevant to higher education marketers.

Liberal Arts Illuminated

A solutions-oriented discussion of the marketplace challenges facing liberal arts institutions will take place at a summer conference.

Lawlor Recommends

Mapped along the customer journey, our six “Trends for 2016” mean a private college or university must:

  • Stand out to prospective students in a crowded marketplace
  • Showcase value to overcome sticker shock
  • Provide aid to surmount both inability and unwillingness to pay
  • Serve many different student niches to ensure adequate revenue streams
  • Continuously improve the educational experience to boost retention
  • Deliver outcomes that result in satisfied alumni

For specific suggestions of how to respond to these demands from the higher education marketplace, go to our online version of Trends for 2016 and click on the “Recommendations” for each item.