Higher Education

What Higher Education Will Look Like in 2030: From Challenges to Change

Leaders in higher education face many challenges. From the recession to supreme-court discussions on affirmative action, high staff turnover and student retention difficulties. With challenges compounding, school officials make tough choices to meet their institutional goals.

One of the biggest challenges driving choices is financial restraints. Decision-makers in universities and colleges react to problems caused by economic drivers. In a recent survey of 700 higher education professionals, the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 74% of respondents say the most significant challenge facing their school is financial constraints.

In addition, 60% of respondents worry about their financial stability and 79% worry about meeting their students’ increased financial aid needs.

In a changing landscape of the workforce, the demand for education is changing as well. Those in higher education are seeing a shift towards micro-credentials. Students are taking a less traditional route to education, and schools are responding.

These challenges are shaping the future of higher education. In this article, we’re exploring these topics and other challenges current school leadership is facing. We’ll also look at what higher education will look like in 2030—from challenge to change.

Supreme-Court Decision Impact on Higher Education

When it comes to decisions being made in the Supreme Court, the decisions that involve ethical college admissions are among the biggest considerations for higher education leadership. With racial diversity preferences on trial, it opens the door for questioning all admission practices. Schools could face making sweeping changes in regard to admissions in areas such as athletic and donor-based preferences to controversial legacy admissions.

The decisions made by the Supreme Court of the United States shape the nation, including higher education. Recent cases challenge long-standing precedents. 

“Overturning the court’s precedents that race can be one factor of many in making admission decisions would have profound consequences for the nation that we are and the nation that we aspire to be.” – Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar. 

Supreme Court cases like Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. (SFFA) vs. Harvard College and SFFA vs. the University of North Carolina (UNC) have significant implications for institutions. Private and public race-neutral policy development could require reassessments of financial aid packages or institutional scholarships for students of colour. Decisions from this case will change recruitment, outreach, and student support programs.

Future Outlook: 

Leaders in higher education are paying close attention to arguments brought to the Supreme Court and resulting decisions. If and when laws change, it will impact school policies and procedures. Challenges to admissions policies are just one of the factors that leaders face in recruiting students. 

Financial Challenges

In the United States, the recession has caused many states to cut back on their funding for public colleges and universities. As a result, tuition has increased and there have been cuts to programs and services. This has led to declining enrollment, especially among low-income and minority students.

The National Education Association reported that 32 states across the US spent less on public colleges and universities in 2020 than in 2008. This involved an average decline of nearly $1,500 per student, resulting in students paying (and borrowing) more. 

Universities and colleges have reported a strong fundraising fiscal year in 2022. Some mega-donors played a role in the uptick. MacKenzie Scott and Michael Bloomberg donated staggering amounts to their preferred schools and causes. Yet, in general, fundraising efforts are impacted by high inflation rates and prior debts the schools must factor in. They are cautious of what the unstable economy will mean for fundraising in future years.

Financial challenges hit all aspects of higher education. The effects are felt from recruitment and retention all the way to departmental cutbacks such as campus services, maintenance, and cuts to budgets in Information Technology (IT). Schools may also put on hold any large construction or facility upgrade projects. This has an impact when it comes to new recruits. Higher education leadership must balance creating a desired and forward-moving culture on campus within the financial constraints they’re facing.

The impact of the recession on higher education has been significant. In order to ensure that higher education remains accessible and affordable, it is important for colleges and universities to undergo a transformation. This transformation includes a focus on increasing access for low-income and minority students, as well as increasing private donations.

One of the biggest challenges facing colleges and universities is the ever-increasing cost of tuition. The rising cost of tuition is pricing out many students, especially those from low-income families.

For the average student across all institutions, tuition has risen. The increase in tuition rates has risen faster for average students than for students in four or two-year colleges where rates have increased up to 53%

Higher tuition fees are a reflection of the increase in costs to service-based industries. It costs more for schools to operate. Some of the increase in tuition is a result of added services. 

Students these days need an array of student services to support them through their education. These are things that students fundamentally want, such as access to tutors, advisors, and coaches, and specific learning departments such as a writing department. These are important services that enable students to succeed in higher education.  In order to make college more affordable, institutions need to find ways to cut costs and increase financial aid.

Future Outlook: 

Colleges and universities must save money and bring in more revenue, especially from grants. To do this, they should work together to find ways to reduce costs and increase income. One way to do this is by taking advantage of grants and other funding sources. Another way is to optimize tuition pricing models. Schools will be watching the competition and strategizing how to stay relevant in a competitive market. 

Student Recruitment and Retention

There is a troubling trend in higher education enrollment during a recession. It is becoming more and more common for students to be unable to pay for college. More students are not enrolling and many are forced to drop out.

National undergraduate enrollment has seen an 8% drop since 2019. (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center) (NSCRC).

School administrators will face budget cuts and restraints during a recession. It is imperative for schools to change their recruitment strategies during economic downturns in order to remain competitive.

A recession does not have to prevent higher education administrators from enrolling or keeping students. By providing more financial aid and scholarships, and making a concerted effort to reach out to students, universities can meet strategic goals.

Past recessions have taught us the importance of nurturing a strong recruitment and retention program. Society depends on higher education institutions. They serve the important purpose of developing the up-and-coming generations for growth in the workplace and leadership roles.

Future Outlook:
Institutions are meeting the challenge with a focus on value, support, student success, and positive changes in technology that support success in higher education. Schools will offer more flexibility in how students apply, qualify for admission, and access enrollment services. This will accommodate a more diverse and less time-bound student body.

Higher Education: From Challenges to Change

The landscape of higher education is changing. Administrators keep up with low enrollment numbers, high expectations, economic limitations, and high staff turnover with employees at risk of leaving their jobs

Higher education employees are looking for transformation as well. Leadership needs to meet staff where they’re at and provide a culture of increased flexibility to retain talent. Employees are looking for a hybrid work environment that changes the rules from having to be on-site 100% of working hours. 

A changing workforce parallels the challenges universities and colleges experience. A big driver of change is the evolving workplace environment. Advancing technology and automation, a desire to have flexible environments, and the need for employees that have both hard and soft skills, create this momentum.


The workforce is constantly changing. Technology is a big part of that. Businesses are looking for employees with the right skills to match the rapidly changing requirements. To keep up, higher education has to adapt as well. This means that students need to be leaving college with knowledge and abilities to be successful in the workforce. As society continues to change, higher education will need to keep up.

Businesses are looking for workers with a different mix of skills than they used to, creating new types of jobs. The right mix of hard and soft skills can help students enter the workforce successfully. In addition, people in the workforce are upskilling and need to learn new skills as they adapt to the changes. 

According to the World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report 2020,” 97 million new roles will be created by 2025 as a result of automation. These new roles will be in areas such as business analytics, solutions specialties, product design, digital marketing, social media marketing, and digital sales specialties.

Higher education can prepare students better for our changing world. Schools can give them a well-rounded education that teaches critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In addition, colleges and universities can partner with businesses to give students real-world experience.

Universities will make changes to keep up with the needs of employers. New courses and offerings will provide learners with options to acquire new skills without committing to full or even part-time studies.


As the world of work changes, schools are making fundamental changes in how courses are offered. Students are looking to develop both hard and soft skills in an effort to be competitive when they graduate. In addition, students are looking at micro-credentials to supplement a skills gap. They’re not looking to commit to full-time school, nor do they need a full degree.

Micro-credentials are short courses that help individuals achieve new skills and competencies. These programs once completed will provide certification as proof. The individual will carry that with them throughout their career.

There is a demand for up-skilling and re-skilling the workforce. It presents an opportunity for higher education institutions to bridge the skills gap. In this way, higher education can help drive an innovative and competitive economy.

Higher education continues to adapt to these changes that help prepare students to enter the workforce. They also provide resources and support so that students have access to more opportunities. 

76% of Canadian post-secondary institutions offered online courses for micro-credentials in 2019, and that number continues to grow.

Higher education must prioritize keeping pace with the changing needs of employers. In this way, they attract and keep new students through lifelong learning opportunities, and they help move the needle on the economy forward. 

The Future of Higher Education: 2030

In 2022 at the World Higher Education Conference, the ‘Roadmap to 2030’ was announced. This came after much deliberation between 120 roundtable discussions, 86 higher education talks, and youth-led activities. The result is the acknowledgment that transformational change is happening. In the future, universities will be change agents, and schools will be student-centric.

The outcomes of the global conference echo the trends we’ve been seeing across higher education over the past decade. The focus of higher education will involve guiding principles as it moves forward. They are inclusion and diversity, academic freedom, public accountability, critical thinking and creativity, integrity and ethics, sustainability and social responsibility, and cooperation vs competition. 

“Cooperation over competition, diversity over uniformity, and flexible learning over traditionally well-structured, hierarchical models of education”, said UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini. She went on to say, “But openness was critical too. You need an open system of higher education to build bridges and promote partnerships around the world.”

These are overarching ideas that impact the day-to-day of those in higher education. Things are changing in all areas of higher education, from enrollment to graduation.

A recent report from Hanover Research highlights key areas that are shaping higher education today. These trends will transform higher education in the future. In 2030 the landscape of higher education will look very different from what we’ve known. 

Through the challenges, higher education will change. The cultural shifts throughout society will continue to drive changes at the university and college levels. Schools will be:


With new technology, advancement in automation, machine learning, and a demand for the workforce to acquire new skills, higher education will change.  Colleges and universities will adapt their programs to ensure that students are prepared for the new era of work. This may include changes to course offerings, learning outcomes, and tuition structures. 


Schools will accommodate a diverse population. They will focus on inclusion and enable access in regard to how students apply, qualify, and start their higher education journey. Universities will meet the needs of the changing student body reflective of societal changes.

Value Driven

Institutions will increasingly make it clear what makes them unique and why enrolling and completing studies there will be beneficial for students. Schools will focus on student retention and attainment through quality student success departments. Robust offerings and easy access to services will support the success of the student body. Student success centers offer academic advising and coaching, counselling, tutoring support, supplemental instruction, and learning centers (such as a writing center). 

Financially Focused

Colleges and universities will look for ways to reduce costs and generate new revenue, especially from grant funding. 

It is important for colleges and universities to work together to find ways to reduce costs and increase revenue. This can be done by taking advantage of grants and other funding sources, as well as implementing new tuition pricing models. Benchmarking can be used to assess the competition, and optimization studies can help identify ways to maximize revenue.

Data Driven

Schools will look at their data to find ways to measure how well they are doing in terms of reducing equity gaps and increasing diversity and a sense of belonging on campus. Universities will use technology to support student retention and success. Early alert systems will continue to help schools produce high-calibre graduates. 

QuadC works with higher education institutions to help them deliver and scale student success services so they improve engagement and retention.

If you’re looking to improve student retention, read College Student Retention: Best Practices for Success. We’re happy to help you with retention solutions. Our software helps you schedule, connect and deliver your academic support and is data-driven to help you measure and analyze critical information.

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