Trends in student affairs and higher education are influenced by rapidly changing global, societal, political and economic forces. To stay relevant, institutions of higher learning must be positioned to adapt quickly, leverage technology and deliver education in new ways. Identifying trends is an important part of strategic planning and preparing for the future.

Changing Demographics

A projected decline in the number of high school graduates is expected to impact college recruiting and retention efforts. Greater emphasis will be placed on the needs of all students, particularly growing numbers of adult learners, veterans, ethnically diverse students, low-income students, immigrants and students with disabilities. As noted in a 2010 College Board report, colleges and universities will need to reduce the academic and financial barriers that often stand between underrepresented students and a college education. Student affairs play a major role in advocating for affordability and scholarship opportunities.

Innovative Technology

Many students will continue to seek place-bound instruction on campus while others will prefer online and distance education. Arguably, the most revolutionary trend in technology is the proliferation of free access to online classes taught by distinguished faculty at prestigious universities. An April 5, 2013, article in the "Washington Post" reported that for-profit online providers are considering ways of generating revenue through charging nominal fees. Profit sharing with campuses could defray operating expenses and contain spiraling tuition costs.

Shifting Costs

Since the early 1990s, state support for higher education has been declining. To compensate, colleges and universities have steadily increased tuition and fees. This situation is likely to continue due to the impact of the recent recession on state budgets as documented in a 2012 report published by Demos, a nonpartisan research and public policy organization. For many students and families, this cost shift has meant incurring unprecedented debt that will be burdensome to repay.


External stakeholders, particularly elected officials, will continue to expect quantifiable results and transparent reporting of student retention, career readiness and job placement. More focus will be placed on assessment and data-driven decision making in the curricular experience. Closing the achievement and completion gap between majority and underrepresented students will be critical to continued public support and funding.

Mental Health Concerns

College counselors are seeing more students with significant mental health conditions necessitating adequate counseling and support services. Depression, anxiety and stress interfere with academic success and personal adjustment. The Jed Foundation estimates that approximately one out of every 10 college students has considered committing suicide. In isolated cases, a suicidal student can also exhibit homicidal tendencies. Behavioral intervention teams have emerged on most campuses to intervene early when a student appears to be distressed or distressing to others.

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