Regional comprehensive universities reduce barriers to higher education, while expanding access and impact locally and state-wide. Despite the opportunities these institutions afford, they’re facing a grave future of steadily declining enrollment rates that run parallel to changes in demographics.
While elite universities with high price tags don’t seem to be affected, smaller, regional colleges are fighting for the decreasing pool of college-aged prospects. See what the challenges are and discover the solution for staying competitive, in order to stay alive, in today and tomorrow’s educational landscape.
What are Regional Comprehensive Universities?
Regional comprehensive universities are aptly named for their location, program offerings and ability to create advancement opportunities for students. While you won’t find these public institutions on the Forbes top 50 list, you will recognize them by their involvement with, and allegiance to, local communities. With about 430 regional comprehensive universities across the U.S., these pillars of the regions they support provide more than just college degrees.
The benefits of increasing access also serve the local communities surrounding these institutions as they work together to better the region.
- * Staff public education systems
- * Promote upward mobility among low-income individuals
- * Respond to regional workforce needs
- * Provide cultural opportunities for residents
According to the Scholars Strategy Network, regional comprehensive universities enroll the largest proportions of underrepresented students, including military veterans, adult learners, ethnic minorities, first-generation students and immigrants. Additionally, they educate half of all school teachers, 26% of all veterans receiving GI benefits, and 27% of active duty servicemembers receiving Department of Defense Tuition Assistance. Despite only being one tenth of post-secondary institutions, regional comprehensive universities grant 30% of all degrees.
Changing Demographics Threaten Regional College Survival
Nationally, higher education enrollment rates have been falling for the last decade. Institutions have had to raise tuition rates, decrease faculty, sell off portions of their university and campus, or close their doors completely. While the catalysts for this phenomenon are varied, involving rising college costs, access, demand and program availability, economists looking toward the future, don’t see the trend changing.
Due to declining birthrates, some economists predict a 15% plus drop in the college-going population between 2025 and 2029. While expensive, prestigious universities aren’t believed to be affected – due to the niche community they target and an increasing Asian-American population who value exclusivity in education – regional universities might not be so lucky.
Unfortunately, demographic shifts in certain areas are also affecting enrollment rates. Since well before the Great Recession, people were moving, and continue to move, away from the Northeast and closer to the South. As a result, declining enrollment numbers by 10-20% have been seen in areas that are becoming less desirable due to lack of employment opportunity and affordable housing.
Falling enrollment rates not only reduces the number of tuition dollars coming in, but these signs of stagnation or failure can make it difficult to get state funding. With financial resources drying up, less college-potentials to choose from, and population fluctuations threatening on-campus attendance, it’s crucial that colleges meet the demands of modern learners in order to get their attention.
Regional University Success Depends on Ability to Grow
So what’s a regional comprehensive university to do? It’s no surprise that the answer is to grow, adapt and respond to the demands of the students you want to attract.
With skyrocketing tuition rates, college-aged individuals are questioning their return on investment for a four-year university degree. Getting a job, or better yet, a career after completing a degree is the goal, but many students are finding their degrees aren’t getting them as far as once thought. One major foundational problem is that many college degrees don’t impart directly employable skills.
While accounting, engineering and teaching degrees provide specific skills that align with the duties and responsibilities of a defined professional environment, liberal arts, business, management and communication programs aren’t so specific. Instead, they cast a wider net on the learning outcomes that will be valued and sought after for definitive career growth.
Unfortunately, regional universities need to cut their losses on less popular, or less career-driven programs, and put their efforts into creating a future for their students. With the right curriculum development partner, existing programs may be able to transition into the programs modern students are seeking today.
It’s important for a university to project future-based messaging to students, with evidence of success among graduates in their fields. Students will not only feel better about their investment in their education, but they will be more likely to complete their degree with a university who has their best interest in focus. The shared understanding that college is a stepping stone to a long-term career, rather than an obligation or a resume necessity, will draw serious students who are set on graduation.
Online program availability
Having the right career-based programs is important, but providing the curriculum in a manner that is accessible, flexible, convenient and fit to the demands of modern learners, is even more crucial. You can lead a student to a program, but you can’t make him or her attend.
Universities around the world are scrambling to offer eLearning or online courses to their students as a way to increase enrollment, retention and graduation. According to Forbes, the global eLearning market is expected to reach $325 billion by 2025, up considerably from $107 billion in 2015. Modern learners aren’t your average college students, and they need a format that works with their busy lives in order to make higher education possible.
With a median age of 34, many working full-time jobs, and juggling the demands of a family, today and tomorrow’s college students are increasingly dependent on online access. It’s mandatory that regional comprehensive universities expand outside of the classroom in order to recruit the students they need to stay in business. Not only do eLearning solutions attract more potential students, but they can offer a number of additional benefits without much cost to the university.
Reduce overhead costs without the necessity of a physical location, desks, whiteboards and other supplies mandatory for traditional learning.
Lower employment costs by employing more part-time faculty who enjoy the flexibility of contract work, but don’t require full employment benefits.
Offer lower tuition rates for eLearning programs without diminishing the learning outcomes achieved or the quality of instruction students receive.
Grow your potential student pool outside of the region with online access to asynchronous programs that invite students to complete their degree on their time.
Increase enrollments by remaining competitive with other universities who already have online options for students.
University ROI for Student ROI
Whether regional comprehensive universities are ready to face these challenges or not, they’re here, and they’re not as difficult as you might think to address. Beyond Campus Innovations (BCI) helps regional comprehensive universities and other educational institutions to provide students with custom online eLearning solutions, educational services and infrastructure.
With experienced and cost-effective experts as your partner, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. In fact, whether it’s career-specific program expansion – using existing curriculum or building from scratch – or taking courses out of the classroom and onto the internet, BCI has been there. Collaborate with known experts in the field of online learning to make the most of your investment in your institution’s long-term future.