Each year, the higher education landscape continues to shift, and colleges and universities need to be ready to adapt. Predictions are made for what trends will shape the future of higher education, and they often come to fruition. For example, in 2017 we discussed 4 top trends we thought would influence the higher education industry, including: a focus on data, security as a priority, the issue of tackling student debt, and virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR). While VR/AR are lagging behind as a “mainstream trend”, we have most definitely seen the other three influence higher education over the past two years.

In 2018, we saw changes in the federal administration directly affect higher education, including the Higher Education Reauthorization Act, regulation, student loan and immigration considerations. Other topics that frequented headlines included, globalization, cybersecurity, tax reform, and mental health on campus. And of course, who can forget GDPR.

So what’s in store for 2019? We reviewed articles from experts and industry professionals from all over the web to predict what trends universities and colleges should be prepared for in 2019.


  1. Job readiness will become even more important.

Job readiness has been a priority for community colleges and trade schools for years, however, that hasn’t always been the case for 4-year public research institutions. With the recent emphasis on entrepreneurship and tackling student debt, 4-year institutions are starting to pay more attention to how their programs prepare students for the workforce. The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, whose members include University of Washington and UC Davis, recently published a report detailing their focus on supporting rural communities, establishing American leadership in advanced manufacturing, and bolstering innovation and entrepreneurship.  

A key to preparing student for the workforce is knowing what the workforce considers as “prepared”. A study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that 89.4% of students felt their work ethic was proficient, while only 42.5% of employers felt the same. To bridge this skills gap, colleges and universities need to focus on how the skills students acquire in college can go beyond the classroom and be applied in the professional world.


  1. Schools will partner with corporate businesses to deliver joint credentials.

In order to truly understand what the professional world means by “workforce ready”, institutions are partnering with businesses to develop students’ skills at the caliber employers are looking for.

Some examples include:

  • Northwestern University partnered with IBM to offer IBM-issued badge credentials towards three Northwestern professional master’s degree programs.
  • Google announced a partnership with 25 community colleges to offer students its IT Support Professional Certificate, which helps students become ready for an entry-level job in IT in just 18 months.
  • Similar to Google’s partnership, Northern Virginia Community College partnered with Amazon to give students the chance to learn about cloud computing in its information systems technology track.
  • 2U, who offers online programs at institutions like Georgetown, partnered with WeWork to allows students to use space at any WeWork location to take tests or meet with other students.

How can your college or university partner with businesses in similar ways? Make sure you have an education partners program set up, so that businesses are able to indicate their interest in a partnership. Leverage your alumni connections for introductions to local (or global) companies that might be a good fit for a career readiness partnership.


  1. Privacy rights of student data.

In the age of post-GDPR, privacy of student data will continue to be a priority for higher education professionals. Privacy was listed as one of the top issues that will shape 2019 for higher-education IT Leaders — but it doesn’t stop at IT. Marketing, alumni, student services, and even faculty departments will all need to start thinking more about the privacy of the student data they use and collect daily.

A great way to ensure all staff and faculty on campus are well-versed in best practices for data privacy is through an online training program. By partnering with an internal IT team or IT consultants, colleges can create an online training through Comevo’s LaunchTM Online Orientation Software that includes real-world scenarios and the latest details around privacy regulations.


  1. The continued rise of Online Program Management (OPM) providers.

Online Program Management (OPM) providers are for-profit organizations that help non-profit schools develop online programs, often Master’s level programs. Colleges and universities typically partner with OPM providers when they want to create a new online program, but they don’t have the internal resources to support the online program. Historically, higher educational professionals have been skeptical of OPM providers, partly due to their notorious long-term contracts and the fact that sometimes up to two-thirds of revenue goes to the OPM provider.

As online education continues to grow, OPM providers have started to develop more flexible packages, making it easier for universities and colleges to work with them. Previously, the norm was full bundled packages that were rigid. However, now we are starting to see OPM providers offer a fee for service model, that is more along the lines of a la carte. Some colleges have developed a hybrid online model, where they utilize an OPM provider for some services but keep others in-house. The best way to determine what structure your institution should have is to draw up your own ideal contract, considering what internal resources you have available, and bring that to OPM providers to see who is the best fit for your ideal partnership.

Many OPM providers have also started to focus on a specialization, like healthcare, which allows them to fine-tune their services and offer students a high quality education and experience. By specializing in specific topics or areas, OPM providers are able to differentiate themselves and optimize for their specialized area.

In 2019, we may also start to see more unexpected partnerships or acquisitions spring up, like Purdue’s purchase of Kaplan University, a for-profit online education business. While there were some critics of the deal, Purdue leadership felt that this acquisition would allow them to reach an important audience of online adult students who aren’t able to attend classes in a traditional campus setting.


  1. Non-traditional student enrollment will continue to grow.

Just as Purdue foresaw the need to serve the growing population of non-traditional students, other universities are also paying attention to this trend. A recent Lumina foundation report found that 38% of undergrads are over the age of 25, and that number is expected to continue to grow through 2025. For many non-traditional students, it can be very difficult to attend classes on campus, due to part-time (or full-time) jobs, family and financial obligations. Busy schedules tend to go hand-in-hand with non-traditional students, which is why it’s critical to offer online education options for these students in order to fit into their schedule.

In order to address the needs and promote success for these students, colleges have begun to implement the trends listed above, like partnering with businesses to promote job readiness or enlisting the services of OPM providers.

As schools start to see this demographic shift in the student population, they’ll also need to rethink the way they recruit and market to students. Student services may one day expand to include things like budgeting assistance, child-care, schedule management, and other services focused on a 360 view of a student’s life, not just their time on campus or in class.

Any trends we missed that you think will influence the higher education landscape in 2019? Email us at marketing@comevo.com and we’ll dive into the topic in an upcoming blog!