US Higher Education Challenges

Jan 1, 2020 by

US Higher Education is facing a myriad of challenges and they impact all aspects of education. Keeping up with changing trends and the increasing demands of students, the workforce, the government has always been a priority in Higher Education. Higher Education largely relies on traditional models and there is a widespread recognition that change may be beneficial, so they can fulfill their role in society. Below are the five most pressing challenges facing US Higher Education today and five possible solutions.

Increasing Enrollment

There have been studies that show that many universities are failing to meet their enrollment goals. There are a number of reasons for this, they include the fact that many young people believe that universities are out of touch with the real world. Increasingly, universities are becoming more selective with regard to applications. Moreover, many minorities feel that they are going to be marginalized in Higher Education.


Higher Education can streamline its application process to encourage more applicants. What we know is that application fees are a deterrent and not all students perform well on standardized test scores. Enter into the equation that admissions committees are just beginning to realize this. Some larger universities like the University of Maryland are not including application fees, SAT and GRE scores to lure students to their institutions. Game changer? Yes, indeed. Colleges and universities can engage in outreach programs to appeal to minorities.  Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos are still underrepresented in higher education, and they offer opportunities for universities to increase their student numbers. It is recommended that they demonstrate that they are relevant and can make a real difference in the outcomes of students.

Rising Costs

The cost of higher education has been increasing in recent years and this is related to the growing privatization of education in America. This has led to the current crisis in student debt. As a result, students are struggling to pay for their education and many universities are not adequately funded.


Higher Education should look to reduce costs. This can be done by more flexible learning and the use of online teaching to limit costs.  Educators could seek to secure more investment from the private sector to replace government funding.

International Students

Increasingly the US Higher Education sector is reliant on international students for enrollment and they are an important revenue stream. However, there is a challenge in attracting and retaining international students. This is because many American Universities are falling in the World Ranking tables. Recent changes to the student visa program mean that there may be fewer international students able to enroll in the future in American universities .


It is important to make a university appealing to international students and to develop programs that can support their learning goals.  It is not advisable for a university to become reliant on a small number of countries and it may be rudent to recruit students from a wide geographical area. It is also important that the Third Level sector should lobby against restrictions on student visas. International students are not only good for Higher Education but also for the economy.

Declining Retention

One of the most disturbing trends in recent years are the abysmal graduation rates. More and more students are failing to complete their degrees. This results in high student debt with nothing to show for it. Then many students take many years to complete a degree, up to six to eight years and this is much higher than the international average.


This is a complex issue and one of the reasons for the low completion rates is the high costs. Students are working 2-3 jobs just to pay for their education, so they are enrolling in one semester and working for the next two semesters just to pay for college. More financial supports and flexible learning could help more students to complete their education. It is recommended that there is a system for early intervention with regard to students who are struggling with their workload or adjust to life on campus. Competency-based education could be a solution. This approach allows students to demonstrate their skills and competencies in a non-traditional way. Competency-based education is popular with many students and is particularly suited to adult learners.

On Campus Life

Research in American universities is increasingly dependent on commercial organizations and as a result, some research areas are not getting the support required. This has raised questions with regard to the relationship between education and industry. Then there are issues such as maintaining a balance between free speech and security. Since the ‘Me Too’ movement began there is a growing concern about sexual violence and harassment on campus.


Every university can continue to be a center for free expression and one that provides everyone with a safe environment. It is important to collaborate with key stakeholders and businesses, but this it is recommended that is at the expense of traditional academic pursuits. Higher Education should consider introducing policies to create an inclusive environment where difference is celebrated. Then it is essential that mechanisms are put in place to report sexual violence and harassment.

Keywords: higher education, colleges, universities, student debt, graduation rates, retention rates, Higher Education funding, international students, higher education enrollment

Comment: Why do you think that higher education is facing the challenges outlined in this article? What else do you think are possible solutions to these ongoing issues in higher education?


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