The content in this article is pulled from the 2022 Annual Higher Education Outlook. For more insights, download your complimentary copy of the 2022 Annual Higher Education Outlook today!
What is top of mind to those making buy or return decisions for colleges? Amid declining enrollment, increased competition, demographic headwinds, and the aftermath of a global pandemic, the key question is: What do potential students really want? A single word sums up the answer: value.
Mr. Tosin Akintola published a summary of the effect of the pandemic on higher education, which was posted to the Third Way website. It summarized the results of their 1,000-student national survey. Key findings include comments on the following:
- The perceived value of higher education remains high despite the pandemic
- The pandemic has driven “value” as a selection criterion for prospective college students to become a higher priority among all factors being considered
- A large percentage of survey respondents agreed on the great need for affordable education
- Institutional survey respondents agreed they were willing to take steps to improve value and students' return on investment
A large majority (between 60 and 75 percent) of respondents to this large survey agreed with these ideas or comments.
Since the question "what do students really want" seems to be answered in the concept of value, how do you create and communicate that value? How do you monitor the ebb and flow of value over time?
While a thorough analysis and resolution of this issue would take more room than we have in this brief summary, perhaps the following will help provide a glimpse of a few experts’ thoughts on this topic:
“When I think about the value of higher ed, two questions come to mind. If I send my daughter or son to college, or I go myself at a cost to my family or me, will I learn something of genuine value? Second, will I finish? Will I get a credential that means I’ve earned something of genuine value?” —Kevin Reilly, president emeritus and regent professor at the University of Wisconsin System
"There is, appropriately, a robust amount of discussion about cost of higher education as well as the value of a college education. Occasionally, that conversation will extend into the difference between 'cost' and 'affordability.' What is surprisingly lacking from much of this conversation is a discussion on the concept of 'value' and measuring a student’s overall return on their educational investment. Cost is what education providers charge for their services. Value is what students determine, sometimes years later, the education they received is worth to them. If an educational program has genuine value, graduates will have mastered the latest disciplinary content, but also critical thinking, problem-solving, effective communication, ability to adapt to new technology and learn new skills, and, perhaps most important, the ability to keep learning. Those outcomes assure students that they can adjust and adapt to an ever-changing discipline, profession, and world." —David Harpool, J.D., Ph.D., President, Northcentral University
Despite the growing interest in value creation, a review of the relevant educational literature reveals that there is no generally accepted and empirically confirmed relational model of the student value creation process.
The figure below represents a summary of the thinking related to factors indicating the value of an educational institution’s higher education degrees and some thoughts on how to measure that value.