Supply and Demand Dictate the Future of Higher Education

06/30/2015 05:23 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2016

Today's education landscape has become a buyer's market for students seeking a college degree. In the U.S., the number of higher education institutions continues to increase while enrollment has declined. Pair that with shrinking funding at the state and federal level for education and these economics require that universities evolve or become irrelevant.

Look at the numbers. Back in 2011, there were 7,021 post-secondary institutions in the U.S., an increase of 257 over the previous year and more than 500 over the previous decade (2000-01). While the number of education providers is on an upswing, enrollment declined between 2011-2012 and between 2012-2013 for a cumulative drop of 930,000 students.

While many factors affect a student's choice, these options are noteworthy:

Influx of online offerings

  • Educational technology advancements have enabled universities to make their coursework available online. Students are responding positively with recent statistics showing that the number of students taking at least one online course is nearly 5.5 million. This would suggest that the gap in perceived quality between online and traditional on-campus coursework is closing.
  • The 2012 Survey of Online Learning found that 69.1 percent of chief academic leaders say that online learning is critical to their long-term strategy.

Prior Learning Assessment

  • Universities offer credits to students with professional experience outside the classroom so that they don't need to pay for coursework where they may already be proficient. At Western International University, we offer a complimentary Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) to evaluate a student's experience to determine if they meet the requirements for academic credit. It is surprising that many students do not take advantage of this great service that would allow them to earn credit and shorten their time to graduation and overall cost.

Access to information on cost

  • Never before has information been so readily available about the cost of going back to school as well as the potential debt that may accompany that degree. Students need to be savvy when searching for a program that meets their goals as well as their pocketbook. They need to ensure they are looking at the full program cost and fees as some universities may only publish "per credit" cost and also have separate fees for books, technology, activities, and graduation.
  • At my university we assist in financial budgeting by bundling tuition so it is one fixed program cost for tuition, books and fees for the entire degree. To help with transparency of information we publish a tuition comparison chart that provides students with a snapshot of total costs at a variety of institutions. Not only does it include overall tuition costs but it also provides information on cost per credit hour.

Given the current landscape in higher education, we need to provide options that meet the needs of all types of students. Otherwise, we might find ourselves on the wrong end of the supply/demand curve.