Things that Keep Higher Education Leaders Awake at Night

By Dean E. Hoke Co-Founder Edu Alliance:  2017 has been a very difficult year if you are a higher education leader. With enrollment declines, changes in tax laws, and numerous articles by pundits and politicians stating higher education is out of touch with its community, no wonder you stay awake at night.  However, if you were surprised, you haven’t been paying attention.

There have been many warning signs that a change in attitude toward higher education was coming. For example, Michael McDonald of Bloomberg in early 2014 wrote an article with the headline “Small U.S. Colleges Battle Death Spiral as Enrollment Drops” in which he reviewed the Moody’s Investor Service ratings of higher education and warned of an increase of small U.S. colleges and universities who would close or merge.  Others expressed concerns, and some political candidates  (local and national) started questioning if higher education was worth the time and money. Was there a positive Return on Investment if you went for your bachelor’s degree?

iNSIDE HIGHER eD GRAPHDoug Lederman, the editor of Inside Higher Education wrote in July 2017 an article called “The Culling of Higher Ed Begins” in which he said,  “It has become trendy to predict that higher education is on the verge of a major collapse, what with enrollments falling as loan debt and rising tuition cause students and families to ask harder questions about the value of a college credential.”

In December 2017 Moody’s Investors Service revised the 2018 outlook for US higher education from stable to negative. The revised outlook is due to indicators of adverse fundamental business conditions over the next 12-18 months. “The annual change in aggregate operating revenue for four-year colleges and universities will soften to about 3.5% increase and not keep pace with expense growth, which we expect to be almost 4%,” according to Moody’s Vice President Susan E Shaffer. “Excluding academic medical centers, sector-wide revenue growth is projected to be under 3% for the outlook period.”  At least 15% of universities will be forced to cut costs in response to stagnant or weak revenue growth.

Higher education institutions depend on a number of resources to generate funds, and it is clear the new federal tax laws, will negatively affect philanthropy and some endowments. In enrollment, we are seeing a slow decline in first time full time freshmen and foreign students. On the legislative front, Congress is moving forward to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which governs all financial aid programs. Potential changes to Pell Grants and the direct student loan program could impact higher education affordability and access, and cuts would further suppress net tuition revenue growth.

In the August 2017 public opinion poll by the Gallup organization,  people are increasingly questioning the confidence of higher education. If you have lost sleep thinking about the future of higher education, I can’t really blame you.

Gallup Poll US adults

Yet, when I talk to people in the US who do not work in the higher education field and have children in secondary school or attending college, most if not all believe higher education is worth the investment. They may complain about the tuition and future debt or worry their child may not get the job they want but they all still believe in higher education is worth the money and sacrifice for their children.  As a person who worked for years outside the US, I can guarantee you parents everywhere believe that their child earning a higher education degree is vital to their future and knows the path for a good paying job and lifestyle.

Our firm Edu Alliance, which is a boutique consultancy focusing on higher education believes everyone deserves the opportunity to get a post secondary degree.  The facts are the higher the level of education; the more likely a person will economically succeed, be a productive citizen, and make their country better.  Those in the corporate world will tell you a primary consideration in expansion is the availability of educated workers.

We believe higher education institutions need to become more aggressive in showing its importance to its community, region, and country.  We believe their needs to be a mix of institutions, big, small, private, public and even for-profit.  We also believe schools need fresh thinking in how they operate and present themselves to the public and government leaders.

In 2018 we will present our views on meeting theses challenges and path forward in the following areas:

  1. Student Recruitment
  2. Retention
  3. Finances
  4. Marketing – Branding
  5. Fund Raising
  6. Community Engagement
  7. Corporation-Community Partnerships
  8. Accreditation
  9. Staff Recruitment
  10. Legislation
  11. Governance
  12. Student Services
  13. Distance Education
  14. Educational Technology
  15. Optimization of Institutional Research
  16. Rankings and Ratings

We have asked our advisors and close colleagues to write on these areas and what they see as the challenges and possible solutions.  We hope you will join the conversation by giving us your views to each article.

Edu Alliance will become much more active in speaking at conferences, presenting workshops at higher education institutions, and writing opinion pieces for the media both in the United States and internationally.  Our co-founder partner Dr. Senthil Nathan will be at the UAE Policy Forum in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates on January 15th serving as Moderator for a Round table discussion titled “PPPs, a catalyst for reform or commercialization of a public service?” Our US partner Dr. Chet Haskell will be moderating the closing session for the Council for Higher Education Accreditation on February 1st in Washington DC, and I will be presenting at the American Association of University Administrators annual Leadership seminar in Philadelphia in early June.

If you have suggestions for subjects, we should address, or if we can be of service to your institution, please feel free to write to Edu Alliance with your thoughts.

Edu Alliance is a higher education consultancy firm with offices in the United States and the United Arab Emirates. The founders and its advisory members have assisted higher education institutions on a variety of projects, and many have held senior positions in higher education in the United States and internationally. Our specific mission is to assist universities, colleges and educational institutions to develop capacity and enhance their effectiveness.

Client services

  • Developing market intelligence for the university / college in focus, studying past enrollment trends of major demographic groups of students typically enrolling in that institution to project enrollment scenarios for the next 2 to 3 years.
  • Improve student retention
  • Provide business intelligence and strategies to enhance marketability, branding, and communications
  • Improve your image and message with your local community, alumni, and government
  • Improve revenue generation including fundraising
  • Executive Recruitment of senior academic and administrative members
  • The US and international accreditation assistance
  • Workshops with key and leading staff to brainstorm and develop strategies to assist internal team in specific subject
  • Institutional Task Force audit team to determine state of institution, strengths, and weakness and next steps
  • Specific issues as identified by the institution and design a go forward plan with implementation steps
  • Improve your institution’s Internationalization plans

Contact: Dean E. Hoke 502-257-1063



2 Replies to “Things that Keep Higher Education Leaders Awake at Night”

  1. During my recent Interim Presidency at Fairmont State University (, we welcomed Dean Hoke (and Nancy) to our campus to examine ways we might aggressively attract and retain expanded international enrollment. We dug deeper in a subsequent meeting, and I believe paved the way for the incoming FSU President (Dr. Mirta Martin; 1/1/18) to exploit FSU’s multiple comparative advantages. My contention — nothing is more important than LEADERSHIP — administrative and Board. My thanks to Dean and Edu Alliance for leading important discussions about institutional viability in very competitive times!

    Stephen B. Jones, PhD (Natural Resources Management; Applied Ecology)
    CEO Great Blue Heron, LLC: Nature Inspired Learning and Leading (
    Author focusing on nature-inspired learning and leading; Books: Nature Based Leadership (2016): Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017)
    Nature Based Leadership Institute Founder
    Former CEO: Fairmont State University; Antioch University New England; Urbana University; University of Alaska Fairbanks
    Former University of the Arctic Board Chair

    (603) 903-9575 (iPhone)

    Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.

    Robert Louis Stevenson


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