Higher Education Trends


Below are some trends in higher ed that I try to keep track of.  I thought I’d post them here to:

  1. Share the info and sources with anyone who might be doing research.  It’s a pain to gather and vet this info — hope this helps.
  2. Make the research more collaborative.  If you have research on the trends below or similar trends, please share via the comments area.  I’ll do my best to keep this up-to-date.

Increased Online Enrollments

The SLOAN Consortium has been tracking online enrollments since 1999.  They do this by counting the number of students who have taken at least one online course in the surveyed term.  In their 2008 survey (of Fall 2007 students), 3.9 MM students were taking at least one online course, up 12.9% from the 2006 numbers.  According to SLOAN, online enrollments have grown in double digits since they started tracking the data.  Compare this to their estimate of 1.2% of overall enrollment growth.  Online enrollment as a percentage of total higher education enrollment has grown steadily as well, and now stands at over 20%.


Budget Cuts and the Rising Cost of Education

Over 48% of institutions participating in a 2009 Campus Computing survey reported budget cuts, compared to 30.6% in 2008.


According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at least 21 states implemented budget cuts to public colleges and universities in 2009.  The result is cuts in faculty and staff and (in more than half of those states) tuition increases of 5 percent to 15 percent.

Following cuts to state university budgets, tuition increases have been announced in Alabama ( 13 percent), Maine (10 percent), New Jersey (4 percent to 9 percent), Oklahoma (9 percent to 10 percent), South Carolina (6 percent), Tennessee (6 percent) and Virginia (average increase of 7.3 percent when fees are included).  California is raising in-state tuition by 7.4 percent to 10 percent as part of its October  budget deal, and in November the governor called for additional 10 percent cuts to universities.

Other states making cuts in higher education operating funding include Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Utah, and Vermont. Large tuition increases are likely in some or most of these states.


The share of educational costs represented by student tuition has also risen from just over one-third to nearly one-half at public four-year institutions.  Average tuition and fees have risen 51 percent at public four-year institutions and 30 percent at community colleges since 1995.


Less Full Time Faculty; More Adjuncts and Graduate Assistants

In 1960, 75 percent of college instructors were full-time tenured or tenure-track professors; today only 27 percent are. The rest are graduate students or adjunct and contingent faculty — instructors employed on a per-course or yearly contract basis, usually without benefits and earning a third or less of what their tenured colleagues make.”

According to the American Federation of Teachers, the amount of part-time and adjunct faculty and graduate assistants have grown at 4 times (41% and 38% respectively) the rate of full-time tenured faculty (10%) since 1999.


Insufficient Courseware Training and Resources for Instructors

In a 2009 survey by the NASULGC-Sloan National Commission on Online Learning, 85% of responding instructors indicated that developing online courses was more difficult than traditional face-to-face courses.  64% of instructors indicated that teaching an online courses was more difficult.


I think that Carol Twigg, at the National Center for Academic Transformation, sums it up well:

Most campuses have simply bolted new technologies onto a fixed plant, a fixed faculty, and a fixed notion of classroom instruction.  Under these circumstances, technology becomes part of the problem of rising costs rather than part of the solution. In addition, comparative research studies show that rather than improving quality, most technology-based courses produce learning outcomes that are simply “as good as” their traditional counterparts.


Increased Cost of Educational Materials

This is a controversial one.  The highly quoted CALPIRG numbers have been challenged by the Association of American Publishers.  This 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office seems objective and indicates that textbook prices have risen at twice the rate of inflation for the last two decades.


This report from CollegeBoard indicates that the average cost of textbooks and supplies is over $1,000 annually.


Less Prepared Students & Higher Drop-Fail-Withdrawal (DFW) Rates

In 2009, only 44% of college students attending public universities completed a bachelor’s degree in five years or less.  Completion rates have been on a steady declining trend since 1998, when ACT began tracking the statistic.


This is a particularly interesting study by economist Mark Schneider, in which he compares the well-documented failure rates of U.S. high schools with the lesser known and worse retention rates of U.S. colleges and universities. His term: “Failure Factories”.


Meanwhile, there is a perception among college professors that students are entering less  prepared.  In a 2006 survey by Zogby International, 55% of college and university instructors responded that freshmen students currently entering college or university are unprepared for college study.  45% of respondents indicated that the preparedness of entering freshman had “gotton worse”.



4 Responses to “Higher Education Trends”

  1. Thanks – this is a helpful synthesis of trends.

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