Critical Public Policy Issues Impacting Higher Education from 2019-2024
Identified in our Delphi Study (Anderson, 2019), as well as in many of the articles researched is tension between the need for adequate funding to transform the current educational model and the rapidly increasing and unsustainable cost of higher education. How to cover this gap and fund a higher education ecosystem that is increasingly reliant on technology is the primary public policy issue facing higher education over the next five years.
Moody’s Investors Service notes in their 2019 Higher Education Outlook that aggregate expense growth in higher education is likely to exceed aggregate revenue growth for many universities – both public and private – from 2020 forward (Shaffer, 2019, p.5). This unsustainable situation is further exacerbated by declining student enrollments, declining international student populations, and financial strain due to decreasing state funding and student debt limiting the ability to increase net tuition (The Top Challenges Facing U.S. Higher Education, 2018) (Harris, 2018) (Allaire, 2018). How to address traditionally underserved demographics, reverse international enrollment trends and facing the reality that supply of higher education in its traditional form likely outstrips demand for the next several years due to declining enrollments, birth rates and completion rates will be the largest single public policy issue faced by higher education institutions in the next five years.
Piggybacking on the challenges of limited resources faced by many higher education institutions is the need to make significant investments in technology and facilities. Though not identified by the Delphi Study, it was a choice available to participants. The fact it did not make the second round of the study indicates that the importance is misunderstood and likely misprioritized.
The 2008 financial crisis and subsequent financial and demographic challenges faced by colleges and universities led to administrators leaning on deferred maintenance of facilities and technology to help balance budgets. The ability of the university to raise funds for routine maintenance and upgrades to campus management or learning management systems is limited (Strikwerda, 2015). However, the amount of personal information – including medical and disciplinary information – contained on students and staff make these vulnerable and aging systems high value targets for hackers. It will likely take only one or two high profile hacks to raise the awareness of the need to invest in these systems and bring to light the true cost of the long term failure to invest in maintenance and upgrade of these systems. How states and private universities respond to this ticking time bomb and reverse the trend to defer maintenance and fund necessary upgrades to technology infrastructure will be a critical issue over the next five years.
3 graphs that explain how higher ed needs to design for the future of work. (2016, December 22). Retrieved July 15, 2019, from https://eddesignlab.org/2016/12/3-graphs-that-explain-how-higher-ed-needs-to-design-for-the-future-of-work/?gclid=CjwKCAiA0IXQBRA2EiwAMODilxvbJ6zoeIo8D0tF7KYPC2KGgRQ3jS6PMICfiga2I-KghV4ynvyzmBoCEzQQAvD_BwE .
Allaire, J. (2018, January 15). Five issues facing higher education in 2018. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from https://www.cornerstone.edu/blogs/lifelong-learning-matters/post/five-issues-facing-higher-education-in-2018 .
Anderson, D. M. (2019, July 11). Delphi Study – Final Results [E-mail].
Craig, R. (2018, October 24). The Top 10 Higher Education Issues We All Agree On. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancraig/2017/01/20/the-top-10-higher-education-issues-we-all-agree-on/#2f076ffffa87 .
Harris, A. (2018, June 05). Here’s how higher education dies. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/06/heres-how-higher-education-dies/561995 .
Reynolds, D. (2019, April 15). 9 critical issues facing higher education. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from https://riskandinsurance.com/9-critical-issues-facing-higher-education/ .
Shaffer, S. (2018, December). 2019 higher education outlook. Speech presented at American Association of State Colleges and Universities 2018 Higher Education Government Relations Conference in Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from https://www.aascu.org/meetings/hegrc18/Shaffer.pdf .
Strikwerda, C. (2015, October 23). Crucial higher ed issues: The elevator speech. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2015/10/23/what-are-most-important-issues-confronting-higher-ed-essay .
The Top Challenges Facing U.S. Higher Education. (2018, September 20). Retrieved July 15, 2019, from https://edservices.wiley.com/top-higher-education-challenges/ .