By David Laird

For more than two decades analysts have warned that changing demographics in higher education would induce major changes in institutions and their roles in our culture and economy. We now see the first wave of those changes in the projections of high school graduates through the next decade.

Higher education leaders who are hesitant to take unprecedented moves in the current marketplace may be limiting future choices while compounding the effects of major challenges. Below are some of the collective challenges which leaders and their boards should not overlook when establishing or adapting their strategic plans for the next decade or two.

High School Graduate Projections

 

Twenty-five states are projected to experience declines in high school graduation rates of 5 to more than 15 percent due principally to declining birth rates in the white population – rates that have remained below replacement rates for about twenty years. Only eight states are projected to show growth over the next decade. The states projected to decline also are states where retirement of baby boomers will leave significant gaps in the ranks of professionals.

Looking over the horizon, America’s changing population rates by race and ethnicity will alter the nation in many direct and subtle ways. As the principal source of well-educated leaders, professionals and high tech workers, higher education will be directly in the path of waves of change.


America's Changing Population

The increasing demand for more well-educated college graduates will focus on high school preparation and the financial ability of families to bear a realistic portion of the costs of higher education. There are a number of promising programs designed to help students (especially low income and minorities) prepare for success in college, but none have been tested on a statewide or national scale. As these adjustments were gaining traction, the recession beginning in … Read the rest

By Jon McGee

I studied political science and history in college. One of my brothers studied English. Another studied art history. The current conversation about degrees earned in liberal arts fields suggests that while we may be well-educated, maybe even interesting people, we also must be mostly unemployable in a contemporary economy. Social commentators today are quick to suggest that the future belongs to those with highly specialized skills and knowledge. A recent Star Tribune editorial applauding the rapprochement of MnSCU leadership and faculty asserted that “employers…need workers with technical and professional competencies as well as the ‘soft skills’ that liberal arts study imparts.”

 

We do students a grave disservice when we relegate the liberal arts, typically code for study in the humanities and social sciences, to afterthought. The idea that college ought to focus on the development of specialized and technical skills, and that the skills imparted by study of the liberal arts are just “soft skills” is simply wrong.

The liberal arts often are described as the opposite of a “practically oriented” education. The sentiment typically is expressed through the question, “What can you do with that degree?” Art history, political science, English. Dead ends, all. Only my own experience suggests that nothing could be further from the truth.

 

The best definition of the value of a liberal arts experience I have ever come across came from MnSCU Chancellor, Steve Rosenstone, when he was dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota. In a 2001 essay entitled The Idea of a University, he described a liberal education as one that enables students to think critically and creatively, provides them with an understanding of the core ideas that shape the world in which they live, empowers them to see the connections among seemingly … Read the rest

In “Reinventing College for a New Kind of Student,” Jon McGee talks with host Steven Smith about the major demographic, economic, and cultural forces pressing on higher education and their prospective impact on colleges and universities. He cites the imperative for meaningful differentiation in an increasingly crowded, changing, and competitive marketplace.

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According to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) the number of graduates nationally began to decline slowly after 2010-2011. WICHE’s projections indicate that the number of graduates will continue to fall through 2013-2014, a reflection of the small decline in the number of births in the U.S. in the mid-1990s. Though not a particularly steep drop—the number of graduates is expected to decline by just 5.6 percent between 2010-2011 and 2013-2014 before slowly beginning to rise again—the recovery period will take years. The total number of high school graduates in the U.S. is not expected to reach 2010-2011 levels again until 2023-2024.

What this means for institutions is that a shift has occurred in the higher education market from one that is seller-centric to one that is tailored to the buyer. This changing marketplace clearly presents students and their families with new college opportunities. Oft-repeated tales of students who receive college rejection letters in spite of 4.0 grade point averages, high board scores and extraordinary high school vitaes are more myth than reality, generally true only at a small number of extraordinarily selective private and public colleges and universities. Most institutions have neither widespread brand recognition nor the luxury of excess demand. Questions about whether they make their class most often trump questions of who is in the class.… Read the rest