This hand holding a piggy bank with college savings demonstrates how higher education is under scrutiny.

Overcoming skepticism in higher education

As higher education faces growing scrutiny over mounting costs and massive student debt, institutional leaders must work to communicate the success of positive programs and initiatives

The promise of a college education, particularly in the U.S., has been viewed as a path to better job opportunities, higher income, and increased satisfaction in many areas of life.

Going to college is often presented as an important rite of passage to adulthood as well, and for many first-generation families, it’s a significant achievement. Earning a degree in higher education is laden with meaning–a symbolic and practical step toward independence, maturity, and self-sufficiency.

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For the past several decades, however, the cost of college has risen precipitously. The expense of earning a degree has left many students and their families wondering whether it’s still worth the investment, especially when a college degree might not be the career-gateway it once was.

The student loan debt crisis has caused many to rethink their approach to higher education and look for new ways to develop skills for the future, without saddling themselves with crippling debt.

As a “mega-trend,” the skyrocketing cost of higher education is driving other trends: the rise of transfer activity, expanding ideas on enriching credentials for career-readiness, and a growing focus on the meaning of student success.

Transfer activity

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, higher education’s fall enrollments dropped again in 2019 for the eighth consecutive year. Demographic shifts, decreased international student enrollment in U.S. schools, and reduced federal and state funding for higher education are all factors that have contributed to the shrinking student population.

However, it is also worth noting that after more than a decade of cuts, the funding trend is finally starting to change. In 2019, all but three states increased their higher education funding.

As institutions see a smaller pool of freshman candidates and an increase in drop-outs and stop-outs, transfer students have become more attractive. In fact, studies indicate that transfer students are more likely to persist and complete degrees than direct-entry students.

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