The Board of Governors met last week.
The main discussion item was a presentation by Dr. David Attis, one of our EAB consultants, titled “The Changing Higher Education Landscape: Challenges and Opportunities for Missouri State University.” I participated in this presentation by providing MSU-specific data and examples, and our board and a variety of administrators, faculty and staff contributed to the discussion.
Dr. Attis focused on seven themes. First, he discussed state support. The reality nationwide is that state support has failed to keep up with the rising cost of college. This has left universities more dependent on tuition.
Last year’s equity appropriation helped our situation at Missouri State. However, we still receive substantially less appropriations per student than our peers in Missouri and throughout the nation. It is unreasonable to assume that state or federal funding will dramatically improve for any universities in the years ahead.
Competing for students
Second, Dr. Attis discussed demographics and enrollment. As you know, enrollment has already declined.
Missouri State has beaten that trend for many years, but the demographics have begun to catch up to us as well. In 2026, the national population of 18-year-olds will fall off sharply. It is more important than ever that we work on retention, recruitment, diversity and expanding opportunities for non-traditional students.
Third, Dr. Attis discussed student success. New practices have emerged in strategic financial aid, career development, degree progress and next generation advising. We are on the cutting edge, having implemented many of these practices, but more work remains to be done.
Fourth, Dr. Attis discussed changes to competition. Prospective students are more price conscious than ever, and free tuition programs are proliferating.
We will also have to navigate a new environment as the federal government recently required NACAC to change its ethics requirements, allowing “poaching” of students already enrolled or committed to a university.
Affordability and value
Fifth, Dr. Attis discussed affordability. Gen Z brings a different prospective student than we have encountered in the past. They want easy access to information. They compare prices when deciding on a college and have serious concerns about student loan debt.
Missouri State is ahead of the curve, beating national trends on default rates and amount of student loan debt.
Sixth, Dr. Attis discussed return on investment. The value of a college degree has never been higher — bachelor’s degree holders earn $1 million more than high school diploma holders during their lifetime. It is important that we find ways to communicate this value to our prospective and current students.
We can do this by enhancing experiential learning opportunities, boosting career counseling, and measuring and communicating outcomes.
Finally, Dr. Attis discussed adult and online education. Continued growth in the graduate degree market will be strategic rather than widespread. To thrive in this environment, we must anticipate future markets, develop competitive infrastructure and maximize the bottom-line impact.
We can buck the trend
In sum, the landscape ahead of all universities throughout the United States is complicated and difficult. Enrollment projections nationwide will be down for several years.
Competition continues to intensify. Retention efforts and demonstrating return on investment will become ever more important as we move into the future.
The good news is that our university is already working to implement changes and initiatives to manage this landscape. Missouri State has had success in the past at bucking nation and statewide trends. I am confident we can succeed in the future as well.
Thanks for all you do for Missouri State!
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