Higher education faces an uncertain future. Even before COVID-19, it was under strain, facing a looming demographic cliff, rising student debt, reduced government financing, and attacks over affordability and value. The pandemic has intensified these challenges. Universities with strong brands and online programs will likely prosper, while others may face significant belt-tightening or worse. Some may be forced to merge, a trend we expect to intensify.
In the near term, the response starts with transforming university finances by growing and diversifying revenues while creating operating efficiencies. At the same time, universities must continue to improve academic outcomes, integrate technology effectively, and ensure effective board governance and stakeholder engagement. Over the longer term, a more fundamental reimagining of higher education may be required, rethinking conventional wisdom around value proposition, diversity and inclusion, student experience, business models and delivery channels.
Universities still have a great deal of value to offer. The economic and health benefits of earning a college degree remain clear. And higher education will become ever more important with increasing automation in the future of work. Our insights cast light on how the higher education sector can adapt to fulfill its mission of educating a more diverse population more cost effectively and equitably, lead innovative research to illuminate society and address pressing global challenges, and strengthen local communities across the world.