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Top 5 Higher Ed Trends to Keep an Eye on in 2023

1/10/2023 8:00 PM

As a leader in higher ed technology, our goal in identifying this year’s top trends was to narrow down the topics to specific areas that will have the greatest impact on how your institution does business. While this is not an exhaustive list of every trend occurring at universities and colleges, these are topics that your solutions providers can and should be working with you to help improve and simplify how you support students and staff.

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TREND 1: Enrollment challenges vary greatly.

There’s been no shortage of recent headlines on higher ed enrollment being down due to multiple factors including drops caused by the smaller size of Generation Z. However, the story is more complicated.

While some types of institutions are seeing reductions, others are seeing record incoming classes. Enrollment can be impacted by the type of institution, location, the mix of undergraduate versus graduate programs, in-state versus out-of-state students, international students, and more.

Overall undergraduate enrollment is trending down, with institutions in the Upper Midwest and New England experiencing the worst drops. However, elite universities not only have seen steady registrations, but are increasingly popular, as measured by undergraduate applications received. Enrollment in graduate studies is up as well, but varies greatly by program.

HBCUs and online institutions are experiencing increases in enrollment, while smaller regional and private institutions are struggling. The number of students transferring between colleges and universities declined steeply over the past few years. Yet, the number of international students studying in the United States has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

The key takeaway is that universities and colleges should evaluate their individual enrollment trends and how those align with the strategic visions of their particular institution. There is no “one size fits all” model for higher education. Regardless, it is apparent that institutions need to be prepared to serve an evolving population of students.

TREND 2: Hybrid learning, hybrid work not going away.

It’s been three years since the pandemic turned everything upside down and one thing is clear – students and staff want flexibility in how they show up for class and for work, and institutions need to be prepared to offer services both in person and virtually depending on the needs of their population.

Several of the enrollment trends listed above impact the degree to which institutions are having to accommodate hybrid campus environments. It’s clear that many of today’s students want a flexible, hybrid approach to learning. Fully online institutions have seen a boom in recent years.

However, of the institutions that are experiencing record first year student enrollments, some are actually struggling to provide housing for all. This indicates that even though more students want virtual options, there is still a significant desire for in-person classes and the on-campus experience.

On the staffing side, employees increasingly want the opportunity for remote or hybrid work arrangements. Coupled with the desires of students for more flexibility, institutions need to reimagine student services to deliver a premium campus experience.

TREND 3: Mental health concerns on campus continue to rise.

Regardless of which study you review, mental health issues are affecting higher education students at an alarming rate. The Healthy Minds Study reported more than 60 percent of students exhibited behavior that related to at least one mental health problem during the 2020-2021 academic year.

While the rate of mental health issues among students has been growing for years, the pandemic exacerbated mental illness rates, with students reporting more stress, anxiety and isolation. Universities and colleges have been increasing staff and resources to meet demand, but unfortunately it’s difficult for institutions to keep up.

A compounding factor in the rise in mental health issues is the financial implications of withdrawing. According to the College Confidence Index 2022 conducted by GradGuard, a leading tuition insurance provider that helps institutions protect students from the risks of college life, and College Pulse, 53 percent of students say they could not afford the cost of an extra semester if they had to withdraw due to a medical condition.

To help address the need, many campuses are exploring various methods to support students through mental health crises, such as group counseling (versus individual) and training faculty as “first responders”. Despite progress made toward creating supportive learning environments, institutions are facing more pressure to keep students with mental health conditions enrolled, which begs the question of what responsibility institutions have to students experiencing mental health crises.

An increasing number of institutions are partnering with tuition insurance providers to proactively offer tuition protection plans to students that cover mental health withdrawals. This provides an avenue for students to protect their investment and a way for institutions to help students re-enroll when ready.

TREND 4: Data playing a key role in evolving campus operations.

Data and data analytics have been hot topics in recent years, but more and more we are seeing data change how higher education operates. With modern institutional systems, every interaction on campus creates data: every opened door, every time a student checks into class, every purchase, every library book checked out, every dining plan used, everything creates a record.

With the breadth of data on campus, it’s no wonder that institutions are putting more resources into its management. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that jobs such as institutional research analysts are being filled at above average rates and may stem from a “growing demand for data.” NACUBO has an entire division dedicated to helping institutions navigate and improve their use of data and analytics. There is so much good that can come out of analyzing that data, but how it is created, stored, protected, and used impacts an institution's IT team at the highest levels.

The importance of Chief Information Officers/Chief Technology Officers and their teams can’t be understated. IT staff and resources should support every area on campus, ensuring that all systems are securely operating at full capacity. EDUCAUSE recently identified the Top 10 IT Issues for 2023 structured into three building blocks, one block being data, a second being work and learning, and the third being leadership. CIOs need to have a seat at the table to not only help campus leaders make data-informed decisions on how to operate more efficiently, but also to ensure ethical data collection and usage, as well as, improve data security to reduce risk to the institution. The trends of hybrid work and learning make this more important than ever.

TREND 5: Risk of ransomware among top cybersecurity concerns.

Along with all of that data, the risk of cyberattacks in higher education has never been greater. As the world gets more connected, bad actors increasingly try to take advantage of organizations that store large amounts of personal and payments data – higher education among them.

According to the Cost of a Data Breach Report 2022 conducted by Ponemon Institute, education once again ranked among the top 10 industries for highest average cost of a data breach, with an average cost per breach of $3.86 million US dollars. While there are several common contributors to data breaches, the share of breaches caused by ransomware grew 41% last year.

The continued risk of cyberattacks against colleges and universities also underscores the added importance of strong IT leadership on campus. Institutions are investing in risk prevention, but with fewer resources than other industries many higher education institutions still find their defenses are limited.


In thinking through these trends, there are obvious challenges facing higher education. But within them are opportunities to reimagine how we approach the business of higher education. Regardless of if your institution is looking to better operate in a hybrid fashion, or structure student services to meet evolving populations and needs, or manage data and protect from cyberattacks, a good place to start is partnering with the right technology companies. The best software solutions can empower your staff to deliver premium services and experiences, while automating or even eliminating time consuming processes and securing your data.

As a leader in higher ed payments and ID management, we pride ourselves in not only simplifying the business of higher education, but doing so in the most secure and compliant manner. In addition to keeping our pulse on trends in higher education, we always have our eyes on innovation happening outside the industry as well.

Our parent company, Global Payments, just released the 2023 Commerce and Payment Trends Report. Download it now to learn more about what’s next in commerce and payments this year, as we all know today’s students expect the latest and greatest tech experience on campus.