While the world economic picture looks strong for 2018, higher education seems to be in flux or transition. Despite political unrest and consumer economic uncertainty, many sectors are expected to grow. The question remains … “Is higher education keeping pace?”

As director for UPCEA’s Center for Research and Strategy, I am in a fortunate position of having access to information and data and learning from the experiences of our institutional members and corporate partners. My perspective on 2018 and our professional, continuing and online (PCO) education community is:

  • Millennials will find their voice and increase their influence. Given events such as the “Me Too” movement and legislation that negatively impacts this generation, Millennials will rise up more visibly in 2018. To date, they’ve been fairly quiet and with a presidential election due in a few years, Millennials will have greater influence politically and within their workplaces. As they gain power, it is likely that they will further challenge traditional academic standards and policies.
  • Alternative credentials will rise as a result of Millennial influence. UPCEA and Pearson have surveyed the higher education community and have found that our constituencies have started investing more into badging, microcredentials and certificates. As the traditional parts of the academy see stagnating or declining enrollments and revenues, they will seek new streams of revenue and alternative credentialing, like online education has been over the past decade, to offset losses. Expect MOOC enrollments to continue seeing double digit growth, online degree enrollments to continue to slow with single digit growth, and more badging and certificates offered in 2018.
  • Business and higher education will become better partners. Over the past few decades, business and higher education have tussled as to whether higher education is responsive enough while higher education has tended to try and fit business and industry’s needs into a two-year or four-year box. Higher education compromised with at least delivery flexibility through online programs and degrees, while not changing the product or content at a fast enough pace. The gap ultimately caused business and industry to invest in other education and training solutions. Expect that to change over the next few years as higher education has shown more compromise in not only online delivery, but in developing new, more aligned programs. Expect more badging, certificates and new approaches to advisory boards and corporate engagement.
  • Business and industry will push for more STEM degrees and graduates, but with that comes opportunity in other disciplines. With advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicles, healthcare technology and the financial sector, there will be continued demand for highly prepared graduates in the science, engineering and business fields. Major shortages are anticipated in many occupations which force both employers and the higher education community together in a more balanced fashion. This will certainly happen with STEM employees, however, some institutions may also find ways to adapt their liberal arts curriculum in more connected ways, such as educating a new wave of professionals to manage the future workforce, communicate to a global workforce and address societal issues related to a more intergenerational and diverse workforce.
  • Focus on enrollment, retention and inquiry management as marketers figure out major technology and traditional marketing shifts. There are two major ways to influence enrollments, one through marketing and the other through enrollment or inquiry management. Marketing was turned on its head in 2017 with many new developments in search engine, digital, social media and even broadcast marketing. This coupled with new marketing technologies and generational shifts toward Millennials as the new adult learner, PCO marketers and enrollment managers may place greater emphasis on what should be fairly stable … conversion and inquiry management methods. Expect a stronger diagnosis on managing and converting inquiries, improvements to processes and further investments in their CRM systems. Some marketers may also get an early jump on their competition by realigning some of their media and approaches to start engaging Generation Z graduates in 2018. Gains in improving marketing automation and the use of analytics should also be a focus in 2018.
  • Content will become closer to the customer through technology. The fast growth of more MOOCs and slower growth, but larger scale online degree programming, will fuel demand for more instructional designers and media specialists. A 2017 study by UPCEA’s eDesign Collaborative shows a large need and dependency on the instructional design community to bridge faculty expertise and online enrollment goals. If PCO units do not address a potential lack of supply of these workers, long and short-term enrollment goals will certainly be impacted.
  • Competition will force higher education to explore previously ignored, underleveraged or untapped markets. Few institutions have focused beyond the U.S. for new streams of revenues. Some will become more aggressive by creating new products/programs for workers not requiring a degree, but requiring some form of education in the form of alternative credentials or noncredit training. Many in 2018 will start exploring previously ignored markets for PCO education, such as Generation Z or young Millennial stop-outs by offering them credit stackable certificates or by offering new graduates credit post-baccalaureate certificates or noncredit training. Alumni will no longer be viewed as give-back or development-only prospects. A model for lifelong relationships will develop for an institution’s graduates which may also develop upstream at the P-12 learner. While this development will go well beyond 2018 planning, as competition heats up and revenues suffer, higher education institutions will explore dual degree possibilities with high school students and more academic youth camp experiences with younger students.

Jim Fong is the Director of the UPCEA Center for Research and Strategy.

The National Adult Learner Coalition wrote a letter to US House of Representatives leadership of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce regarding H.R. 4508, Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, and our concerns. We are particularly concerned about this bill’s major structural changes to federal financial aid, and how adult learners may be impacted by it. While all the details of the bill have yet to be realized by many inside and outside of Congress, we are seeing widespread elimination of federal loan programs and other benefits, immediately causing the cost of an education to increase for a large number of current, past, and future students. We also address issues relating to adult learners like the 90-10 rule, prior learning assessment, and greater data and information measures. We are also concerned by the overall speed of the bill’s movement, without deliberate analysis or additional time for input from stakeholders.

Click here to read the full letter.

Date/Time: Thursday, January 25 from 2-2:30 p.m. ET

Topic: What’s an eDC ThinkTank?
Zoom Linkhttps://zoom.us/s/8187994674

In January, we will be talking about the idea behind an eDC ThinkTank. What they are, who attends and what we try to accomplish. Our next eDC ThinkTank is in February at Utah State University. We’d like to provide conversation around what to expect. Join us!

The eDesign Exchange is an ongoing series of informal, online meetups where members of the eDesign Collaborative can dialogue and brainstorm about a wide variety of relative topics, build connections with other members of the community, and learn from one another through idea-sharing, problem-solving, and collaborating on best practices.

Note: December’s eDesign Exchange will be cancelled due to the holidays, but we will start back up in January 2018.

National Adult Learner Coalition weighs in on PROSPER Act House HEA Legislation movement

UPCEA, along with the National Adult Learner Coalition, joined with many other higher education organizations to join in chorus to urge cautious and deliberative movement on the US House of Representative’s push for a re-authorization of the Higher Education Act, H.R. 4508, Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act. The speed by which the legislation has been moving from initial release has not provided for proper analysis or input. Furthermore, the letter is concerned about the potential for the changes in this bill to cause the cost of higher education to go up for many families. There are also major concerns raised regarding the lack of safeguards the bill would create. It could open federal dollars to support programs with little or no protections for students or taxpayers.

Click here to read the full letter.



Generation Z has been inappropriately and ignorantly labeled by other writers from the other generations as Generation Z-ombie. These authors have drawn a conclusion that the generation may be focused selfishly on themselves and their sustenance. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Generation Z is a wildly informed group that moves very quickly, not like the zombies traditionally portrayed in the movies. Being focused on the things that matter most to them, and not to be distracted, is often confused with selfishness or seeking the blood of others.

We’ve defined the iGeneration as a subset of Generation Z, those 14 to 22 years of age. The one zombie-like quality is that this generation moves in packs. They have strong social and family networks to draw on and they have the power to change. However, much of this power has yet to be unleashed. It is estimated that between 1.5 and 2 million Gen Z’er’s will graduate this Spring with about 15 million currently in college. There are also another 8 million that bypassed college who are already in the workplace.

Most have had mobile technology at their fingertips for over a decade now. During that time, they learned how to research brands and products and have become loyal to a small set. They have a strong resistance to not shop for brand alternatives as a result, unless their current brand fails them. Their iPhones work, there’s no reason to shop Androids. Snapchat meets their peer communication needs, why invest in Facebook? However, with new products, Generation Z will intensively research alternatives. They are a data-driven generation seeking information to make the best new product decisions or to stay with a faulty incumbent. In fact, when Chipotle had issues with food quality, leaders at the company were transparent to Millennials and Generation Z and replaced lost perceived value from issues related to sanitary conditions and food poisoning with information that they’ve fixed the problem and a free burrito offer after a nationwide one-day restaurant closure for cleaning.

Generation Z is a force to be reckoned with. They are part of a peer-to-peer sharing economy that ride-shares, home-shares, and even clothing-shares. The marketing and credential development of higher education will not be immune to this sea change. UPCEA released a draft of the new whitepaper “An Insider’s Guide to Generation Z and Higher Education” at the 2017 UPCEA Marketing and Enrollment Management Seminar last week. Our membership will have access to it beginning in January and the general public in February. The guide addresses how product preferences, brand, social media, housing, transportation and other factors impact how this generation interacts with higher education and how higher education will need to change.

Most conferences have the format of bringing people away from universities to share what they are doing… however, much is lost without seeing things in context. Ours is a “Flipped Conference Model” where we bring people to universities and show them how things work in real time. We meet the team, tour, and then spend time in panel discussions and Q&A to learn more. So why attend… to have a behind the scenes look at a university, network with those in your similar situation, and workshop best practices to bring home. Here’s the lineup for 2018:

  • April 12, 2018 – Utah State University (virtual conference)
  • June 18-20, 2018 – Georgetown University (in Washington DC and virtual)
  • September 21, 2018 – Oregon State University (virtual conference)

Mark your calendars for the 2018 Roadshow! Details and registration information available here: