The Power, Perils, and Promise of Higher Education
Dear AUPHA Colleagues:
The power, perils, and promise of higher education is a topic always at the top of my mind, and even more so since I’ve been traveling again the past six months - for campus visits, case competitions, and conferences. Higher education is one of the most powerful determinants for improving the lives of individuals and families, raising people out of poverty, providing them with greater economic opportunities, and realizing the dream of better lives for their children and grandchildren.
As the first person to graduate from college in my immediate family and only the second in my extended family to earn a graduate degree, I have benefited greatly from the power and promise of higher education. None of my four grandparents graduated from high school. My father went to college but could not afford to finish, even with my mother’s financial assistance while they were dating and she was working. My parents and grandparents were determined, however, that I would have any and every opportunity to pursue my higher education and career dreams and to make them a reality. As late as the early 1990s, my mother was still sending me a monthly check (to make sure I was eating!) while I was at U.C. Berkeley earning my PhD. I was fortunate; and I am - and forever will be - grateful.
Our undergraduate and graduate students in AUPHA member university programs often share similar stories with me about their family backgrounds, their challenges of accessing and affording higher education, and their hopes and dreams for the future - particularly as it relates to their career plans and aspirations. The expressions on their faces, the twinkle in their eyes, and the enthusiasm in their voices is inspiring; it’s always a gift. I know all of you experience this with your own students. They give me great hope because of their enthusiasm, desire to innovate, championing of DEIB and social responsibility, and high levels of collaboration. All related to their almost universal passion for making a difference in people’s lives, improving the human condition. This has always been the case with healthcare professionals, but it feels to me like it’s an even bigger priority among this emerging cohort of healthcare management and policy leaders.
In our most recent monthly meeting of the CEOs of the 17 organizations that make up the Federation of Associations of Schools of the Health Professions (FASHP), we had a guest speaker, George Hadab, the Founder and CEO of Liaison International, the organization that builds and manages central application systems (CAS) for almost all the health professions education fields, and business schools as well now. Liaison is AUPHA’s partner for HAMPCAS, our CAS for health administration, management, and policy. George shared a lot of rich information about the health professions higher education - historical and current data, and projections for the near future. George agreed to provide his slides for sharing with our associations’ members; I will post them on the AUPHA Network soon.
As my titling of this column suggests, there’s good and bad news, serious challenges, and possible ways forward to a brighter future for higher education, in George’s data and messaging. George’s framework for the higher education “landscape” includes enrollment trends, the coming demographic cliff, soft landing for the cliff, and non-traditional learners.
- Health professions graduate degree programs experienced a significant boost during the first two years of the pandemic
- Between 2017 and 2022, the percentage of college and graduate students from communities of color has been increasingly slightly
- Up until the pandemic, high school dropout rates had been steadily going down, dropping for every race and ethnic group between 2010 and 2019
- Between 2006 and 2018, there were steady increases in the percentage of the U.S. population attaining college or advanced degrees (four year college up by 4%; advanced degree up by 3%)
- Graduate applications have been resistant to business cycle fluctuations and have grown steadily over the past 20 years
- Overall college/university enrollment has been down in 2019, 2020, and 2021, compared to 2018 and before
- The demographic cliff means that there will be a 15% decline in college going students between 2025 and 2029; the cliff will first affect undergraduate programs and later graduate programs
- The coming demographic cliff will be further complicated by applicant preferences for alternative pathways for post-secondary education, high school dropout rates, college retention and cost of higher education, and a post pandemic culture
- Large schools and more selective schools are likely to fair better during and after the demographic cliff
- Projected demand for an educated labor force between 2016 and 2026 is higher for health professionals than any other group, with a 16% increase in demand for workers; good for growth, but where will the students and new careerists come from?
- Both the demand for a more highly educated work force and the gap in wages for higher education levels (between high school and college, and between college and advanced degree) has been increasing
- We can learn from past demographic cliffs, in the early 1970s and late 1980s/early 1990s
- Possibility of increasing access and enrollment rates by dropping requirements for standardized test scores (there is evidence that shows that making tests optional continues to negatively affect students from communities of color)
- There will be increases in demand for a more highly educated labor force
- There are almost always upsides for higher education with an economic downturn
- There is promise in better and more intentional management of retention strategies to reduce dropout rates
- Turn the pandemic into the “pandemic cliff of innovation” in higher education: online education; adoption of technology tools to deliver the curriculum; simpler and leaner application and admissions processes; tuition assistance; hybrid models; reliance on association initiatives
- More emphasis and focus on non-traditional learners (workers and the military), to increase the total addressable market of students for higher education (estimate of 36M non-traditional learners in the U.S. who desire a college or more advanced degree)
Sounds and feels daunting, yes? Alone, absolutely. But not so much if we work together, as the academy - as the inclusive, welcoming of all, and learning and sharing community that is AUPHA. With a unified purpose to move the field of healthcare management and leadership and health policy education forward - to realize economies of scale and high quality with regard to exploration of ideas, information, resources, and association services. The power of partnerships, the wisdom of the crowd. What I call “the brain trust” that is our AUPHA community. Together, we can… Together, we can do anything!