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5 Challenges Facing Universities That Affect Student Outcomes

There is major disruption taking place in the higher-ed space today.  As a result, traditional institutions of higher learning are facing major challenges. With changing demographics, skyrocketing tuition costs and elevated student expectations, colleges and universities cannot afford to ignore these important issues for very long. They must recognize their challenges and face them head on...or face extinction.

1.  Textbook costs are a deterrent to learning. Many students make the simple economic decision to not buy textbooks for certain classes where it appears to be cost prohibitive. The average cost of a textbook is around $150, although it can be as high as $400 for some graduate level courses. Students will hold off as long as they can without buying a textbook.  By the time they figure out that they actually need it in order to be successful in the course, it may be too late and they fail a test. This may force them to drop the course, or worse yet, drop out of school. This is where eTextbooks can help. While not the same as a real textbook that a student can take notes in, advancements in eTexts will drive costs down significantly and this should have a positive impact on student outcomes.

2.  Many curricula are not preparing students for the real world.  With the economy stuck in first gear for the last 5 years, employers can be very selective with who they hire to fill a limited number of open positions. Students need to graduate with the skills businesses need to compete in the global economy. This starts with a global perspective. Students need to understand how economies around the world are all inter-connected, interacting like one giant system. In addition, students need to graduate web-savvy in a way that helps businesses with global competitiveness.

3.  Faculty adoption of new classroom technologies. When a faculty member has been teaching the same way for 30 years, getting them to change their style and adopt new tools is difficult. Students expect to use technology in the classroom because they grew up with it. Professors who do not embrace technology in a meaningful way to teach and reach students, run the risk of adversely affecting student outcomes.

4.  Inconsistent faculty adoption of new technologies. When students have a great learning experience in one course and an old fashioned one in the next, they grow frustrated and despondent. Also, word gets around and the situation becomes very difficult to manage when students flock to the course taught by the tech-savvy professor and consistently avoid the course taught by professors refusing to update their styles and methods by incorporating the use of technology.

5.  Tapping into learning analytics to understand students and predict their behavior.   Higher-ed is one of the last sectors to embrace big data.  If harnessed correctly, this could lead to actionable intelligence around student retention and momentum.  For example, imagine the impact if, through analytics, universities could determine and predict that if the last day to drop a course was pushed by one week, they could increase student retention by 10%. These powerful insights will not only positively affect student outcomes, but will also improve the bottom line.

Universities need to move quickly to address these challenges because the rate of change taking place in the world is accelerating exponentially. If they don't start now, they universities run the risk falling so far behind that they will simple fade away into irrelevance.

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