Finding innovation while universities brace for tightened enrollment through 2025


University enrollment pressures increase as job growth improves and unemployment remains low.

Students are searching for knowledge, and they are not afraid to leave the school they initially attended to get it. University CIOs prepare to support an even more demanding student population.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center recently published the 2016 Completing College: A State-Level View of Student Attainment Rates Report, their tenth annual national study on college completion. According to the report assessing the six-year outcomes of 2.9 million students, about 13 percent of students who started at a four-year public institution, completed at a school other than the starting institution. Also, in 21 states, students who started in four-year public institutions had a higher completion rate elsewhere. Thirty-two percent of students who started at public two-year institutions and completed did so at an institution other than the one where they first enrolled, nationally. In 10 states, over one-third of all completions for two-year public starters happened elsewhere.

While the total completion rate percentage across all 2.9 million students was 53 percent there was variability based on the institution for example four-year public (61 percent), four-year private non-profit (71 percent), four-year private for-profit (32.75 percent), two-year public (38 percent), two-year private non-profit (45 percent) and two-year private for-profit (61 percent).

University enrollment pressures

Throughout the recessions of 1980, 1991, 2001 and during the great recession of 2008, people turn to higher-education for answers – for a way out.

When we observe actuals and a forecast of college enrollment in public and private institutions in the U.S. between 1965-2025, based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), we can note that during recessions enrollment was up for example 1980 (4 percent), 1991 (4 percent), and in 2008 (4 percent). However, when we average college enrollment in public and private institutions, between 2009 and 2015, it’s .81 percent, almost flat. It would appear that job growth may correlate to college enrollment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics U.S. Department of Labor in late 2015 released the Employment Predictions— 2014-24 report, stating that “the civilian labor force is projected to reach 163.8 million in 2024, growing at an annual rate of 0.5 percent.” Also, the report cited that, “The labor force continues to age. The median age of the labor force was 37.7 in 1994, 40.3 in 2004, 41.9 in 2014, and is projected to be 42.4 in 2024. At the same time, the overall labor force participation rate is projected to decrease from 62.9 percent in 2014 to 60.9 percent in 2024.” With an aging population will the target student change for universities? The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) estimated college enrollment growth to average 1.4 percent between 2016 and 2025.

New ideas and new ways to learn

Colleges and universities will need new technology rolled out far in advance of the trend to ensure professors are best positioned for success.

Flipping the classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Videos, research, and the core material are viewed by students at home before class sessions. This allows the in-class time to be devoted to exercises, projects, and discussions. Tools like Tegrity make rapid course content delivery more efficient, highly personalized, and affordability deployed campus-wide.

Massive open online courses (MOOCs), are an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. Coursera is one platform that offers college and universities an environment to run MOOCs. Major colleges and universities are offering MOOCs including Stanford University (126 courses), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (104 courses), Harvard University (94 courses), University of Pennsylvania (93 courses), University of California, Irvine (74 courses), and John Hopkins University (63 courses). Princeton University recently offered a course titled, Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies from Princeton University are available through coursera.  The course was quite popular, with over 35,000 students attending to learn about crypto and computer science.

Red pens are out, and personalized video is in. At the University of Washington Tacoma, professors provide, “veedback.” This medium provides in-depth explanatory feedback and makes the veedback more intimate and conversational.

New ideas are emerging. Getting technology into campus life and breaking the learning curves make adoption challenging. Professors and students want tools that offers flexibility and mobility. Innovation increases the possibilities.


Paton, G. (2014). Education standards “in decline” at overcrowded universities (online image). Retrieved July 18, 2016, from

Peter B. Nichol, empowers organizations to think different for different results. You can follow Peter on Twitter or his blog Leaders Need Pancakes. Peter can be reached at pnichol [dot]

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Peter is a healthcare business and technology executive, recognized for Digital Innovation by CIO 100, MIT Sloan, Computerworld, and the Project Management Institute. As Managing Director at OROCA Innovations, Peter leads the CXO advisory services practice driving digital strategies.

Peter was honored as an MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award Finalist in 2015 and is a regular contributor to on innovation. As Head of Information Technology, Peter was responsible for Connecticut’s Health Insurance Exchange’s (HIX) industry-leading digital platform transforming consumerism and retail oriented services for the health insurance industry. Peter championed the Connecticut marketplace digital implementation with a transformational cloud-based SaaS platform and mobile application recognized as a 2014 PMI Project of the Year Award finalist, CIO 100, and awards for best digital services, API, and platform. He also received a lifetime achievement award for leadership and digital transformation, honored as a 2016 Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader.

Peter has a B.S. in C.I.S from Bentley University and an MBA from Quinnipiac University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. He earned his PMP® in 2001 and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt, Business Relationship Management Professional (BRMP) and Certified Scrum Master. As a Commercial Rated Aviation Pilot and Master Scuba Diver, Peter understands first hand, how to anticipate change and lead boldly.