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Top Trends in Higher Education in 2020

Industry Advice Education

There are many reasons people choose to work in higher education, from the highly rewarding nature of the work to the variety of available career opportunities in the field.

With these benefits in mind, it’s no surprise that higher education administration is a rapidly growing field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of postsecondary education administrators is expected to grow by 7 percent, equating to roughly 13,500 additional jobs by 2028. 

If you want to break into higher education administration—or advance your current career—you will need to be able to stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends and adapt to changes that will inevitably occur. 

Below, we explore four top trends to look out for in 2020, as well as tips for staying current with the latest developments in the field.


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Emerging Trends in Higher Education

1. Increase in Capital Campaigns

According to Dr. Mounira Morris, assistant teaching professor and lead faculty member for Northeaster’s Master of Education in Higher Education Administration, one of the biggest trends in higher education is the increased focus on capital campaigning in recent years. 

“A lot of colleges are not receiving as much state funding as they did before. As a result, we’re seeing more capital campaigns seeking funds from private donors,” she notes. 

In fact, states have collectively cut annual funding for public two- and four-year colleges by more than $7 billion. On average, states spent about $1,500, or 16 percent, less per student in 2018 than in 2008. 

In response to this decline in government funding, the industry is shifting focus towards capital campaigns as a way to raise funds—and those looking to break into the field should be aware of this fact. 

Morris points out, “Employers would like to see employees have this skill set and be able to initiate capital campaign and fundraising efforts.”

2. Diverse Student Populations

As institutions are becoming more focused on welcoming diverse student populations, administrators are faced with understanding how they can meet the needs of all students, no matter their background. 

Morris notes, “We still have areas for improvement, but student populations are becoming more diverse. Institutions are becoming not only more racially, ethnically, and gender diverse, but we are also seeing an increase in adult learners.” 

Diversity is important on college and university campuses; having a wide array of perspectives and backgrounds brings forth new ideas and teaches students to value the opinions of one another. However, with all of these different backgrounds at play, administrators are faced with the challenge of ensuring that all cultures are respected and the needs of all students are met. 

In addition, “We are also seeing more online education programs,” Morris says. “We see more students interested in these experiences because they are flexible, and allow students to work and learn at the same time, as well as take care of their families and other personal commitments.” 

As leaders in higher education, administrators must also pay attention to the needs of their online students in order to ensure that they can achieve educational success, especially with distance and digital factors involved.

3. Data-Driven Decision Making

While it is no surprise that colleges and universities are collecting more data than ever before, an emerging trend in higher education is the increased use of data for strategic decision making.

According to a report from the Educause Center for Applied Research, analytics is widely viewed as important in higher education, but data use at most institutions is still limited to reporting. The findings stress the need for institutions to define strategic questions and develop plans to address their questions with data.

“Now colleges and universities are really asking their employees to show the data. They’re asking questions like, ‘How does the data support a new program?’ and ‘How can you use data to improve learning outcomes?’” Morris says.

For those looking to advance their careers in higher education, becoming well-versed in data-driven decision making will play an important role in preparing for the current industry climate.

4. Preparing Students for the Workforce

Due to the many stakeholders involved, from students and their families to employers and the workforce, higher education is becoming more and more focused on creating workforce-ready graduates. To do so, colleges and universities are beginning to offer more opportunities to earn alternative credentials. 

In general, alternative credentials like certificates, badges, and microcredentials are ways to recognize a student’s achievements or skills at a more granular level than a traditional degree. The purpose of such credentials is to demonstrate a student’s specific skills in a particular discipline, which are often recognized by employers.

Morris explains that institutions are offering more of these opportunities because “we want to see that during a student’s time at a college or university, they have developed skills that will make them more marketable in the field.”

Tips for Staying Up-To-Date With the Latest Trends

1. Read Industry Publications

To stay on top of the latest trends facing higher education administration, Morris first suggests subscribing to industry publications such as The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed. Other publications that are specific to the sub-field of your interest, like enrollment management or leadership, are also valuable sources of information and a great way to monitor new developments.

Many of these publications offer their subscribers weekly or monthly newsletters so that they always have access to the latest industry updates. Expert opinions and industry research are also often highlighted in these magazines and journals. Be sure to do your research to find the industry publications that are most helpful for your specific interests. 

2. Attend Conferences

Morris also suggests taking advantage of higher education-focused conferences. Whether at the local, regional, or national level, professional conferences are a great opportunity to share your ideas and learn from others, as well as build meaningful relationships with others in your field. 

Just like industry publications, there are conferences that discuss higher education as a whole, as well as those that hone in on a specific subfield within the industry. Some popular events include the American Council on Education’s Annual Meeting, the Advancing Improvement in Education Conference (AIE), and the NACAC National Conference.

3. Shadow a Professional

If you want to learn more about a specific role in higher education administration, shadowing someone in that position is a great way to get a glimpse as to what they face on a daily basis. For example, shadowing a dean of enrollment can be a great way to learn first-hand about the challenges and opportunities facing this role today, and how someone in this position has had to adapt over time. 

Even if you don’t have the chance to shadow someone, networking and building strong relationships with professionals in your field allows you to exchange ideas with others and learn from their experiences.

Breaking into Higher Education Administration

If you’re interested in advancing your career in higher education administration, earning a master’s degree gives you the foundations needed to apply theory to practice. Having this background also provides you with an understanding of the fundamentals of higher education while allowing you to remain responsive to changing industry trends.

With any graduate program, it’s always important to learn from peers and faculty. In Northeaster’s Master of Education in Higher Education Administration program, the majority of faculty members are practitioners who are working in the field while they are teaching. These practitioners offer unique perspectives on the field, are knowledgeable about current trends, and can teach through their own experiences. Additionally, networking with your peers in a graduate program is a great opportunity to build relationships and exchange ideas. 


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