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The democratization of education: ROI

Additional online learning methods will become more necessary as students demand more ROI from higher-ed institutions
By Jeremy Walsh, Vice President, Jenzabar
August 25th, 2021

Additional online learning methods will become more necessary as students demand more ROI from higher-ed institutions

When academic administrators get together, almost every conversation turns to the trendlines of decreased enrollments and declining revenue.

Reviewing recent survey data, it seems unlikely that the trendlines will change. About 84 percent of Americans say that tuition costs are too high. Meanwhile, 65 percent of students say that college does not give them the skills they need to succeed later in life. Only 25 percent of Gen Z high school students believe that a four-year college is the only path to getting a good job.

Taken together, it’s a storm warning that this could a terrible time for colleges. Institutions struggle when prospective users question the value of the product and its cost. It might be time for higher education institutions to re-evaluate their options and offerings.

By necessity, higher education institutions will have to look at additional online learning methods. Young professionals who have been accustomed to working from home and remote settings will expect to get the same service from their college of choice. This will put additional pressure on colleges as offerings no longer need to be location dependent, but like Amazon or other ECommerce providers, consumers will make choices based on finding the best offerings for their current needs.

Is college worth it?

Parents and students have become leery of taking on extraordinary debt to finance college educations. Roughly 36 million Americans left college without a degree. Many of those students took on debt and don’t have a receipt for the goods they paid for. “The pandemic reminded students that life happens and the college experience for many Americans was interrupted. For some of the students, it may not be possible for them to return to things the way they were.

This doesn’t mean that learners and parents think that higher education is dead. Rather, they want an education system that works for them. Younger and older learners will be looking for programs that are tailored to their needs.

High school students who follow the “traditional” four-year college track want to be exposed to possibilities that prepare them for their future work. Adult learners who are in career mode may recognize the skills they need to advance in their careers and want an education system where they can pick and choose the courses that will help them move ahead in their current careers or shift to a new profession.

These career learners want programs that are tailored to their needs, for example reskilling or programs that have partnerships with local large enterprises. Some of these learners are looking for certificate programs that they can add to their resumes.

Educators feel the pressure

Many institutions realize that the demographics of their student base are changing. They are experimenting with new plans and new strategies to meet the needs of those changing demographics. Some schools are partnering with local businesses to teach in-demand job skills and others are expanding their course offerings to meet other business trends.

For educators, the difficulty of bringing new programs to market is positively frightening. It can cost as much as $500,000 to bring one program to market and 63 percent of new programs produced 10 or fewer graduates in 2018. Speculating on what students want can be as difficult as speculating on the stock market. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Equally worrisome for educators is that the competition for students will increase as more students realize they can attend universities across the country. The pandemic has taught students that they no longer need to be physically present in a classroom to learn the skills that they need to move along in their careers. Colleges will need to finetune their offerings to compete against a wider set of similar institutions and nontraditional learning options.

Reevaluating options

Enrollment, which had been on a steady decline for several years, accelerated during the pandemic. There is real concern that the $183 billion financial loss for higher education due to COVID-19 may induce a shake-up in the higher education landscape. Many of the students who left college or did classwork remotely during the pandemic are reevaluating their options.

Those students are starting to place an increasing emphasis on ROI. As consumers, they are looking at a wider choice of institutions and offerings. And they’re looking for an education system and institutions that meet their needs. This changing trendline will alter how institutions meet the needs of the students, their customers.

About the Author:

Jeremy Walsh is a vice president at Jenzabar.

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