Benchmark This!

Latest Trends Impacting Marketing and Higher Education
from Director of UPCEA's Center for Research and Strategy, Jim Fong

Jim Fong’s 2018 Predictions

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.

Jim Fong, UPCEA

Lead consultant Jim Fong, the founding director of UPCEA’s Center for Research and Strategy, has extensive background in marketing at Penn State, as well as experience in private industry. Jim brings a rich understanding of the dynamics driving today’s higher education leaders, providing research-driven strategy and positioning. Jim often presents at UPCEA’s regional and national conferences, sharing vital information with attendees.

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