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Higher-Ed Leaders Worry Most About Declining Enrollment, Survey Finds

Higher-Ed Leaders Worry Most About Declining Enrollment, Survey Finds

The Chronicle of Higher Education (Sept 17, 2014)

The accounting firm released its annual survey of 120 senior executives, mostly chief financial officers, chief academic officers, and controllers, at public and private colleges across the country.

Findings: 

  • Eighty-five percent of those surveyed said they were very or somewhat concerned about maintaining enrollment at their institution. That figure is 14 points higher than it was in last year’s survey and 19 points higher than in the 2012 results.

  • A major factor that could drive down enrollment is an inability to pay tuition, according to two-thirds of the survey’s respondents; it’s competition from other institutions, said half.

  • Eighty percent of those surveyed said their college would probably increase or maintain the size of its faculty. Only 13 percent said the institution planned to cut full-time faculty members and increase its number of adjuncts.

  • In response to cuts in state and federal money for higher education, 44 percent of the respondents said their college had raised tuition or planned to do so. Forty-three percent said their college would offer more online courses as a antidote to declining public support.

  • Many fewer of those surveyed said their institutions were taking measures to cut or contain their operational costs. Fewer than a third said their college would eliminate programs that have less demand, and fewer than a quarter said they would freeze faculty salaries or delay capital projects.

  • Only a third said that the leadership of their college would spend significant time and energy on strategic cost-cutting through shared services or outsourcing. Nearly half said the leadership would focus on improving student recruitment.

    Bottom Line: This year’s survey of higher-education executives underscores the dilemma that many colleges face as they deal with a declining number of high-school graduates (in much of the country) and falling state and federal spending on higher education.

    The increased competition for students compels colleges to maintain spending on academic programs and amenities at the same time that there is widespread concern about the rising price of tuition and about access for low-income students. 

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