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US presidential nominee Hillary Clinton recently announced a proposal to eliminate tuition at in-state public colleges and universities for families with annual incomes of up to $125,000 as part of a broader set of proposals aimed at making higher education more affordable and accessible. No matter who wins the election in November, increasing accessibility to higher education will feature heavily in education policy. Who pays for this is still unclear, but it is unlikely that there will be a substantial increase in funding to support accessibility. An increase in accessibility, albeit positive, will mean that institutions will have to think more strategically about how to do more with less for a potentially larger student population.

Institutions shouldn't fear the unknown; rather, they should prepare for it

According to the Federal Reserve Board at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), tuition has increased by 54% since 2005, and student debt has surpassed $1.2 trillion, but the percentage of high school graduates going to college has remained relatively flat for the last decade. This means that although the cost of higher education has increased, access has not. Hillary Clinton's proposals are ambitious and will be met with uncertainty until well after the November election. However, what is clear is that the issue of the affordability of higher education and its impact on access has been prominent in the Democratic campaign, and will continue to be. On the Republican side, although the proposals for higher education have been different, the underlying goal is the same, which is to encourage students to enter higher education and focus on helping them to succeed. Therefore, if more people enter higher education, institutions should not worry about what will happen with this influx of new students; rather, they should develop the appropriate strategies to deal with it now.

Over the past decade, the institutional focus has shifted from access to success because government agencies have increasingly been tying funding to performance outcomes and retention. Until institutions are told otherwise, funding will continue to be provided in this way. However, according to data from the NCES, only 59% of students complete a bachelor's degree within six years in the US, and even of those students that do graduate, it's questionable whether that degree will mean anything to employers. Therefore, with potentially more students, institutions will have to work diligently and strategically to ensure that this increase in access has a positive impact on success. This begins by focusing on finding, engaging, and enrolling the right students that will go the distance to graduation. Additionally, institutions will need to find institutional efficiencies and improve student services, all while building the capacity for innovation. Most decision-makers and stakeholders recognize and embrace the idea that IT and technology will be pivotal to an institution's ability to accomplish these goals. This will result in significant opportunities for vendors across a range of solutions and services to support institutions during testing times.


Further reading

Ovum Decision Matrix: Selecting a Student Success Solution for Higher Education, 2016–17, IT0008-000273 (June 2016)

2016 Trends to Watch: Higher Education, IT0008-000256 (November 2015)


Navneet Johal, Research Analyst, Education Technology

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