Three business people walking through a door in a giant book

A Transformative Time for Higher Education

Not a single president of the 262 private non-profit institutions responding to Inside Higher Ed’s 2018 Survey of College and University Presidents strongly agreed that non-elite private four-year institutions have a sustainable business model over the next 10 years. Only 23 percent of them could strongly agree they are confident their own institution will be financially stable over the next five years.

It’s not so much changes in these institutions’ operating costs that are stressing their business models, but rather marketplace constraints on their ability to generate revenue. A new book by Carleton College economics professor Nathan GraweDemographics and the Demand for Higher Education, forecasts 10 percent fewer college-going students by 2029. Seton Hall University higher education professor Robert Kelchen documents the growing skepticism about whether college is a worthwhile use of time and money in his new book, Higher Education Accountability. He attributes the tougher accountability pressures that colleges are facing to a combination of rising tuition prices and concerns about whether what students learn is valuable beyond graduation. Political polarization is also affecting attitudes about college value, and online social media is giving everyone unfiltered access to that narrative, as Campus Sonar’s Liz Gross points out in her new book, The Higher Ed Social Listening Handbook.

Taken together, the demographic, economic, and technological forces in the higher ed marketplace are straining and even wiping out business-as-usual practices at more and more colleges. Brian Mitchell, co-author of the new book How to Run a College: A Practical Guide for Trustees, Faculty, Administrators and Policymakers, says American colleges and universities clearly have a revenue problem, adding, “Trimming costs or enrolling more students, however, cannot cure what higher education faces.”

Instead, it appears the non-elite private non-profit institutions most affected by marketplace constraints on their revenue generation must enter a transformative phase of adopting a new model. Mitchell suggests it could mean changing their use of such things as tuition funds, underutilized real estate assets, temporarily restricted funds, and outside partnerships, among others.

Either way, innovative thinking must give way to actual change if higher education institutions intend to relieve their revenue pressures.


IHE Presidents Survey

Another key finding: Nearly one in eight presidents predict their own institution could merge or fold in the near future. (Inside Higher Ed)

Brian Mitchell Op-Ed

He argues the operating model where tuition increases are set to match expenses in order to balance the budget is archaic. (The Hechinger Report)

Summer Seminar 2018

Grawe, Kelchen, and Gross will be among the speakers delivering relevant market insights in Minneapolis on June 14-15. (Summer Seminar)



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A key takeaway from the Inside Higher Ed survey is that presidents feel their own higher education sector is misunderstood, and that perceptions rather than realities are driving concerns about college value.

Fact or fiction, perception is reality. Yet the sole historic focus of many higher education institutions has been on inside-out messaging initiatives without an authentic and empathetic understanding of what outside-in perceptions are. “Knowledge is power,” yet too many organizations and their leaders shape their base of knowledge in a very narrow manner.

Having a naïve perspective of the target audience’s views can result in counterproductive marketing efforts, so conducting research to actively learn about how your institution is really perceived is a necessity in today’s marketplace. Gathering authentic market intelligence to make informed decisions is market smart.