These smiling happy international higher ed students sit in the library.

What’s ahead for higher ed in 2020?

Higher ed saw many changes in 2019--and 2020 will bring new developments in virtual learning and tech integration

Higher ed experienced some significant landscape shifts in 2019, with institutions responding to continued debt issues, budget pressures, and reduced numbers of incoming students across the country.

To remain competitive, universities and colleges have embarked on digital transformation initiatives and are using various cloud technologies – including AI tools – to fully understand what drives student success, as well as to maximize their student recruitment and engagement opportunities. They’ve also expanded their horizons on diversifying revenue sources.

Related content: 20 edtech predictions for higher ed

On the whole, we expect to see a continued focus on technology investment across public and private institutions offering both four-year and two-year degree options in 2020. Here are some major trends that we see heating up next year.

Solving the tech integration puzzle

It’s no secret that colleges want technology solutions to solve enterprise-wide problems across their institutions. To keep up with today’s fast-paced higher ed environment, teams need immediate access to information to help them make more informed decision around enrollment, finance, talent management, etc. all together.

Research shows that larger universities typically prefer a best-of-breed solution approach with hand-picked departmental tools, e.g., student information, finance, and HR, while smaller institutions often opt for a single technology vendor to provide a full enterprise administrative suite.

Regardless of which path they take, one thing remains clear: Technology integration is a stumbling block for many teams and it is incumbent upon vendors to make this easier. As many solutions are now hosted in hybrid cloud environments with tools being hosted by different cloud providers, e.g., AWS, Google, Microsoft Azure, it can be tough to seamlessly connect the various solutions.

Unfortunately, this challenge can prevent institutions from realizing the full benefits of innovation and hinder their ability to drive overall student success. For example, if a student success solution doesn’t interface well with the institution’s student information system, it becomes difficult to guide a student’s progress at the institution. As advisers, faculty and other stakeholders rely on various information systems that guide students toward degree completion and post-degree career success, smoothing out the technology integration bumps will be a big priority for campuses in 2020.

Diversifying revenue sources

Two of the biggest problems facing today’s institutions are flat or reduced enrollment and the continued reliance on discounted tuition rates. Incoming full-time freshmen students are currently paying less than half of their full-price tuition at private, nonprofit colleges and universities, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). Also, many students are entering college with more course credit than ever. Both of these factors significantly impact lifetime student revenue potential for colleges or universities.

As a result, retention and diversification of target students becomes more important than ever for both private and public institutions. While an institution may have previously designated its primary target student population as 18-year-old traditional students, this is no longer a sustainable revenue model. We are seeing major shifts as recruitment teams are now branching out with stronger efforts to serve the “post-traditional learner” as a critical revenue source. For example, more than 36 million people across the country have earned partial degree qualifications.

These individuals represent an opportunity to re-engage former students as they have already invested in part of their higher ed degree. To meet the needs of more nontraditional student segments – including those returning with partial credit and perhaps others who are motivated by employer tuition reimbursement programs – we are seeing more institutions modifying their learning delivery approaches to include stronger online and hybrid enrollment and learning options.

As another revenue source, we expect to see more public-private revenue sharing partnerships for higher education housing, parking systems, and other infrastructure and non-academic-operational-related areas. This provides an additional revenue stream while allowing third-party companies to partner with institutions for mutually-beneficial monetary benefits.

Virtual access for international students

International students have traditionally played a key role in U.S. institutions’ global community and have long served as a major revenue source. However, as international student enrollment numbers have declined over the last few years, we see universities and colleges looking to tap into new ways of connecting with the international community – namely through online, virtual learning platforms that cater to the learner on their turf. Companies like Cintana and Avenu Learning will offer U.S. institutions the ability to recruit and deliver courses to students who remain in their home countries while they pursue their degree.

Overall, as higher ed continues to evolve, with student populations and needs becoming more diverse, we expect to see ongoing changes from institutions in 2020 in response. Ranging from technology investments with a higher priority on integration, to branching out to new revenue sources and serving international and remote students more robustly, U.S. colleges and universities have major opportunities in 2020 to tap into new areas that will help their valued students succeed in and the actual institutions thrive in the new higher ed landscape.

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