Most would agree that 2009 wasn't a banner year in higher education. As the country dealt with a recession, colleges and universities were forced to find ways to make up budget deficits, at times increasing tuition and fees for incoming freshmen. Enrollments at some schools increased, but so did the number of financial aid requests. Several states were forced to cut aid programs at a time when students needed funding the most.
Could it get any worse? Some administrators think so.<
An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week describes many administrators' belief that schools will need to continue to weather the storm through fall 2010. At a meeting of the Council of Independent Colleges this week, about 60 administrators from schools across the country discussed "keeping morale up" in the wake of a persistent recession and competing with community colleges, where enrollments only continue to grow as more adults return to school to improve their skills and become more competitive in a weak job market. Some college leaders said they were even working more closely with their local community colleges to improve not only relationships among institutions of higher learning, but transfer rates between community colleges and four-year institutions. One president said she now had at least two recruiters focusing solely on recruiting on the community college level.
The administrators also said this past year wasn't as bad as they had thought, so perhaps their predictions won't come to fruition. Most met the enrollment numbers they were hoping for, despite community college competition, by getting creative - targeting more graduate students and returning adults. Unique academic programs specific by campus also did well, as did athletic programs. (Recruitment efforts of athletes on two-year campuses also increased.)
What do you think about the outlook of 2010? Is there anything for administrators, and perhaps more importantly, students, to worry about? Is this the year we'll see changes to the federal student loan program? Tuition rates will probably continue to rise, but that was happening before the recession. Will enrollments drop at four-year colleges? So far it would seem that even at schools where available financial aid has decreased, enrollment has remained steady. There are reasons to be positive, so even if college leaders think 2010 will be the tough one, the college-bound should never use that as a reason to put off going for a college degree, especially with all of the scholarship opportunities out there.