BA’s Top 10 Predictions for Higher Ed in 2021

Higher education faced some unprecedented challenges in 2020 and we were forced to adapt. But though 2020 is over, Higher Ed still has a lot of work to do. We must continue to adapt and transform—as we should be doing every year—to create a better future for students of today and beyond.

Here are our Higher Ed predictions for 2021, including the challenges still to overcome:

Online and hybrid education will be here to stay post-pandemic.

Schools will continue to use online and hybrid education to expand their geographic market and reduce costs. The quality of remote learning will continue to increase as faculty build up their skills and schools enhance their technical capabilities. The prevalence of online courses will make it easier for students to transfer between institutions. More students will continue to live off campus which will greatly reduce housing and fee revenue.

COVID mitigation protocols will continue to impact campuses through 2022.

Schools plan for the possibility that the pandemic won’t significantly ease and many COVID protocols become permanent. The appearance of more contagious variants and the slow roll-out of the vaccine will mean academic years 2021 and possibly 2022 will look a lot like Fall and Winter of 2020. The Federal DOE will issue comprehensive COVID guidelines and institutions will have to change their current protocols to meet the new nationwide standard.

Students will expand their choice of institutions beyond traditional boundaries and transfer credit will increase at 4-year institutions.

Student transfers will continue to increase. Remote education will make it easier for students to assemble their diplomas by taking relevant classes from a series of institutions. At the same time, responding to the drop in number of college age students, schools will increase recruiting Sophomores from other schools to become Junior transfers.

Many institutions will reduce their workforces (faculty/staff) and many programs will be sunset due to budget constraints.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty positions will continue to dwindle. Schools will soon have faculties made up entirely of adjuncts and short-term contractors. State systems will consolidate their smaller, financially weaker schools. All schools will start evaluating their programs and close low enrollment programs that are losing money.

ERP / SIS transformation projects will be scrutinized.

The technology budgets of state and private schools will be slashed over the next two years. As a result, schools won’t be able to afford 9 figure ERP/SIS transformation projects anymore. Instead, they will focus their resources on smaller technology initiatives with clear strategic goals targeted on specific processes. There will also be an increase in high-impact transformation initiatives that are not technology based.

Consulting firms dependent on ERP and SIS will downsize.

Without a steady pipeline of large ERP or SIS initiatives, consulting firms that specialize in technology implementations will have to downsize. However, firms that specialize in developing strategy, business process transformation, and the student experience will thrive.

Parents will be more critical of the ROI of sending their child to college.

Parents (and students) will question why they are paying pre-pandemic tuition and fee rates for their children to take online classes. As the pressure to reduce tuition and eliminate fees increase, schools will have to find ways to redefine the value students receive from their tuition investment.

Schools will struggle to maintain their campus affinity with remote learning.

Online learning makes transferring from one school to another significantly easier. Students will see an individual school they’ve attended as simply one stop of many on their way to a degree. This weaker affinity will make it harder for a school to develop its students into institutionally loyal, lifelong learners, supportive alumni, and long-term donors.

Enrollment of socioeconomically disadvantaged students will continue to drop, especially in community colleges.

Enrollment for both 4-year and community colleges dropped in 2020. Economic uncertainty, housing and food insecurity, lack of internet access, and having to teach their children at home are leading many people to put off enrollment. As long as these roadblocks remain, the downward trend in enrollment will continue.

Private schools will have to increase discounts.

In the Fall of 2019, the average tuition discount rate for private colleges was 53%. Institutional aid paid, on average, 60% of the published tuition price, leaving colleges in a tight financial bind. In an effort to keep their enrollments stable, colleges will continue to increase discount rates and institutional aid—further weakening their financial position and causing some schools to close.


Do you agree with these predictions? What other predictions for 2021 do you have?

Beyond the Post: 10/16/20

Beyond Academics asks to hear your thoughts, comments, and opinions on the topics we’ve covered throughout the week. Let’s keep the conversation about Higher Education going.

Matt Alex Talks Microlearning

Matt Alex, talks about microlearning and the new competition of Google and Amazon in the world of e-learning. Higher Ed provides the necessary social skills for people entering the workforce, but colleges and universities can also benefit from introducing microlearning into their curriculum.

Has your organization considered, or even introduced, microlearning options as part of the curriculum? If so, we’d love to hear about them!

Other Posts

“A Community College Reopens. At What Cost?” by Madeline St. Amour for Inside Higher Ed

Miami Dade College doesn’t rely on room and board and is located in a COVID-19 hotspot. So why are they reopening despite pushback from faculty and students? Their vice president, Lenore Rodicio, says it’s because “students have different preferences for how to learn.”

  • 73% of students, or 1,762, said they preferred face-to-face instruction.
  • In a more recent study, 51% said they have a preference for face-to-face instruction.
  • 600 out of 700 faculty are teaching remotely.

BA Bold Thoughts:

Should flexibility replace safety, especially in a place where COVID-19 cases are still very high? If not, when is the right time to reopen? (COVID hotspot or not.)

Read the full post >>>

“A Generation Defined by the Pandemic” by Greta Anderson for Inside Higher Ed

This article outlines how students are feeling about the fall semester and what they have found to be the most challenging thing about attending class during a pandemic.

BA Bold Thoughts:

Students in 2020 are feeling isolated, stressed, and are experiences feeling of self doubt. How can we as Higher Ed leaders ease these concerns?

  • We must create a campus affinity for digital learning so that students feel they are not in this alone.
  • We must optimize the digital campus so that students can continue to learn in the way they learn best.
  • We must create real value for digital campuses that go beyond what is offered at physical campuses: this includes more classes, more specialized classes, and learning that promotes both Human-Centric Values and real-world skills.

Read the full post >>>

Tell Us Your Thoughts

Comment on this post, reach out on LinkedIn, or submit your take on any of these topics via email. We want to talk with you about the future of Higher Ed.

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New Player in the SIS Space, can they shift the SPIN in a new direction?

As some of you may have seen the article about Columbia University and Unifyed bringing a new SIS to the market. Competition always creates better quality for the market so while I try to understand the potential impact of this, it is still always good for the consumer. This happens to be my wheelhouse for the last 30 years and I’ve seen the past 8 years of linear trajectory and little transformation in the student market.  I know Gaspare, I put him in the rarefied air of one of the smartest CIO’s in higher ed.  Put it this way, I’ve known him since his coding days and saw what he’s capable of. For this reason, he was not easily sold the cloud spin many have been. So, this move is really interesting to see. While I believe he’s incredibly smart, I do have my own perspective on if this could transform a student market beyond the traditional approach of digitizing back-office processes.   

This a great time to reflect on the following questions:

  • Does Higher Ed need another SIS Provider who will only digitize your 1990 processes?
  • Will they change the spin and move schools from the cross hairs of the pandemic?
  • Will they bring true ROI for the investment schools will have to put in?

Like a plow in a fleet of equipment to manage snowstorms for a city, ERP /SIS are just equipment for many Chancellors, Presidents and Provosts and really never considered it to be a brand differentiator.

News flash… students don’t care which plow is used or which SIS you use.  

They only care when it’s not functioning during peak times. For this reason, I believe no SIS will solely transform colleges or universities, it will only enable them to do their respective tasks during peak periods.

In a post pandemic era, below are the 4 factors that will keep schools sustainable.

  1. Academics that is designed ‘fit for purpose’ 
  2. Increase online presence
  3. Create a digital culture and learning that will rival online gaming
  4. Create an educational marketplace that will unbundle, personalize academic paths and foster greater access for all.

If you go through my list, none of those are driven by an SIS. The SIS just manages the back-office processes of them. Prior to 2020, all SIS were designed around core antiqued institution centric processes of the 1990s. Yes, 1990 when next-generation technologies were not available. Yet, folks are asking their modern solutions providers to replicate legacy.

When the so-called modern student solution providers decided to embark on designing a SIS they boasted about:

  • Better user interface
  • On single line of code for better reporting capabilities
  • Oh yeah, cloud

While the mantra was a modern student, none of them actually transformed universities or colleges. None of the schools that adopted these modern platforms withstood the impacts of the pandemic in March.  However, colleges who did adopt an online strategy invested in digital learning and made their offering accessible beyond the four walls of a campus fair far better.  This is what post-pandemic student systems should be addressing.  So, if Columbia and Unifyed can help foster these innovative approaches in an affordable way, they can change the market.  If not, they are just managing the back-office processes of old.

Three Mistakes

For a new player to make an impact, let’s recognize the mistakes of the past decade.

The first mistake the cloud vendors made was they made moving to the cloud as the transformation, which we all know is really not game-changing, it is just outsourcing infrastructure to reduce operational costs.

The second key mistake is they asked institutions who are not “future thinkers” to help them design a product for the future, many of these institutions where still managing processes manually so they were riding bikes when many others were in a Honda. You are now asking them to design an airplane. So, what you got was a modern Toyota driving on the same expressways as the Hondas.

The reality is none of them had a future of lens on. We just need to look at the recent engagements, the ones that went live and the ones that were paused. It’s evident that these schools were/are requesting what their legacy systems did. Check out the Client Gap (Blocker) list that the vendors were asked to design around. Many of the requests on the list do not differentiate campuses. Sadly, many of these list stalled projects and only increased the cost of the migration.

The final mistake is that the SIS vendors, underestimated the complexity of designing a Student System from scratch so the roadmaps painted an unrealistic picture of the transformation. Which also costed many early adopters dearly.

A modern system has to change what you do and not repave the same path. So, what I’ll be looking for from these campuses, who adopt this new sis, how will they enable the new normal. If it’s just to digitize pre-pandemic processes to remain on the same path, I recommend campuses save their money as you won’t move yourselves from the crosshairs of the pandemic. But if you are truly ready to change what you do and how you do it, this new player could be just what the market needed. 

7 Strategies to Create Campus Affinity in a Digital World

Welcome to the new normal. With the reality setting in that digital will become a part of the fall and beyond, many are struggling to attract students to their school without the actual campus aspect. Since online classes sterilize the in-person experience and level the playing field, numerous campus leaders have already expressed their concern on how they can foster their campus affinity through the digital layer. 

Without an immediate answer for them, I took some time to think about how other industries create online and social affinity for me. Immediately, Apple and Nike popped into mind.

So what makes Apple and Nike different in the market?

It is not their computer or shoes but instead what they stand for. If they solely focused on their products in their message, Apple and Nike would be like any other. Because there are numerous competitors selling electronics or athletic wear, they would get lost in the other advertisements.

Apple’s mission statement is “Bringing the best user experience to its customers through its innovative hardware, software, and services.”

They are also not the cheapest option, significantly higher actually. However, they have built a followership based on what they stand for: quality through simple design, in order to support your experience. Customers that buy their product know that they are purchasing quality products, and they continue to do so because of the personal connection they receive (‘Why’ statement).

Nike’s mission statement is “Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.”  

*If you have a body, you are an athlete.

In the higher education market, there is a lot of noise around “the best.” Nike and Apple do not come out and claim best. They let their consumers decide that based on the quality of their products and the accomplishments that people connected to them achieve.

Similarly, the ‘Why’ for schools need to be showcased. The reality is that most students do not choose a college because of “what” you offer: courses, dorms, majors, top faculty. Students want to personally be a part of a community that can inspire and push them towards success. You need to create a connection to WHY they should join and gain affinity to your campus.

Every school should try this 3 Step Campus Affinity strategy exercise in order to reshape your “Why” brand in the market:

  1. List the reasons that students should choose your campus.
  2. Do the same for a competing school. 
  3. Cross out the shared ones. The remaining ones under your campus are the WHY answers that you should focus on spotlighting. It is what will uniquely attract prospective students.

You need to unconsciously resonate to your consumers. For all of the struggling schools at this pandemic time, you need to stand for more than the knowledge you disseminate, the best faculty, top rankings, graduation rates, programs you offer and your campus. Instead, represent how your campus will transform someone’s life and develop a sense of community. You need to connect with the human that wants to attend your campus, not the number that they will fill in the institution-centric metrics.

Below are some strategies to foster campus affinity.

create digital campus affinity graphic