Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Moving Forward

It has been a hectic few years for colleges and a near impossible task of planning for the future of higher education. College enrollments have soared. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “In fall 2012, total undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions was 17.7 million students, an increase of 48 percent from 1990 when enrollment was 12.0 million students.” This was due in part to the growing importance of a college education, as well as the need for adult learners to brush up on their skills in order to improve their chances at landing a job in the recent economic downturn.

While economic conditions may have boosted enrollment, they played havoc on funding for higher education. As state support declined, tuitions and fees rose. As we pushed for increased access for students, the shifting burden from states to students made higher education unaffordable for many. As tuitions rose we experienced growth in the community college system, whose focus was on preparing students for transfer to four-year institutions, providing workforce development and skills training and offering noncredit programs. Recently, a number of pilot programs have been developed allowing community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in a limited number of fields.

For-profit institutions have also stepped in as an alternative. Many of these institutions serve students well, but others have brought about a barrage of negative publicity over deceptive marketing tactics, complying with federal-aid limits, higher student debt, lower graduation rates and poor preparation for the job market.

On July 22, 2014, President Barack Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law. WIOA is designed to help jobseekers access employment, education, training and support services. This means that the focus will continue on career and technical education and will require increased efforts by institutions to encourage employer engagement and partnerships with businesses to ensure the success of these programs. We will continue to hear more about an emphasis on S.T.E.M. (and in some cases S.T.E.A.M., where the arts have been added to the mix).

Will it be S.T.E.M or S.T.E.A.M? Have we priced students out of the market? Will alternatives to traditional education continue to pop up? Are we preparing students for life after college or just to find their first job? Will enrollments continue to rise as unemployment rates drop? The big question is: How do institutions effectively plan for an uncertain and ever-changing future?

This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

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