Doing Our Homework Is Essential
We are fortunate to work with several of the country’s leading higher education institutions. We’re often asked about this category, which is a focus for us at Fahlgren Mortine. From concerns over the sluggish economy to increased concerns over student loan debt and often-limited job prospects for recent graduates, today’s higher education institutions are facing a growing list of challenges. In addition, with only one in four students attending a residential institution full-time, colleges and universities are being challenged to integrate more convenient and flexible delivery models to meet the needs of their increasingly time-pressed commuter and online students. Here’s a summary of what we’ve observed during our years of experience in this category.
- Higher education’s value proposition. Questions are being raised about the value of a college degree, particularly in light of rising tuition, increasing levels of student debt and sluggish job markets. Colleges are constantly challenged to provide their return on investment.
- College completion rates. As technology continues to transform the workplace, increasing the number of young people earning college degrees or other credentials of value in the marketplace has never been more important.
- Alignment of higher education curricula and workforce knowledge and skill needs. Skeptics are questioning the relevance of higher education programs of study in terms of meeting workforce needs and providing viable career paths for both traditional and nontraditional students. There is a growing demand for colleges that have a strategic focus on career readiness and industry-endorsed experiential learning.
- Evolving views of the value of arts and humanities. Across the country, we are witnessing a heightened emphasis on producing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) graduates and increasing questions from some policymakers, business people and opinion leaders about the continued value of the arts and humanities. There is a large contingent that supports the idea of STEAM, integrating arts since research in neuroscience shows that the arts activities enhance creativity, problem solving, memory systems and analytical skills – all critical for achieving STEM success.
- Growth in online education. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) Digest of Education Statistics data shows the median age of a college student is closer to 27 than 19. In fact, in the next 10 years the adult student undergraduate population (over 25 years old) is anticipated to grow faster than the “traditional” college student. The study’s data shows that the majority of students — whatever the age or reason — are opting to pursue their education on a part-time basis.
- Cost of higher education. There is no question that the cost of obtaining a college degree has increased dramatically over the past few years. While the published tuition and fees at public and private colleges increased in 2013, the growth was smaller than it has been in past years. At public, four-year colleges, for example, published tuition and fees increased by 2.9 percent – the smallest one-year increase since the mid-1970s. But net prices – what students and families actually pay after grant aid, scholarships and tax credits are subtracted – have increased since 2010 because the growth in financial aid has not kept pace with the increase in college tuition.
- The growth of for-profit colleges. A number of for-profit universities are now competing for students and many question their value in light of negative publicity and deceptive marketing practices.
- The rise of MOOCs. MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses that allow students to take classes from the some of best colleges and universities in the world without having to go through an application process, getting “stuck” just taking classes from one school, or paying anything.
As higher education evolves to meet these challenges, branding, marketing and communications are more important than ever.