Five Trends Shaping Demand for Higher Ed

Published on Jun 17, 2020

Updated on Nov 3, 2022

Written by Remie Verougstraete

Five Trends Shaping Demand for Higher Ed

While COVID-19 may have accelerated the need to adapt, many of the changes that institutions are grappling with today connect to long-term shifts that predate the pandemic. As leaders transition from crisis response to strategic planning, it’s important to keep these larger trends in mind, especially in relation to skill gaps. In fact, recent interviews with community college and university leaders suggest that institutions should view this time as an opportunity — a chance to expedite innovation and make necessary changes to ensure the long-term success of their programs and their students.

To help institutions seize this opportunity, let’s look at five longer-term trends that are shaping demand for higher education. At each point, we’ll also consider how the new SkillsMatch platform enables institutions to respond by adopting a personalized, skill-based approach to student engagement.


Five Trends (and How to Adapt)


1) Shifting demographics projected to cause a significant decline in the traditional age student population

According to the work of Dr. Nathan D. Grawe, not only is the overall size of the prospective student pie shrinking, but an increasingly large slice of the pie is comprised of socioeconomic groups who tend to have lower college-going rates.

This makes it important for colleges and universities to expand their applicant pool beyond high school graduates. For example, SkillsMatch can help pivot your engagement strategy to one that’s more oriented towards working adults. By providing a way for learners to inventory skills they’ve developed from not only previous education but also previous work experience, SkillsMatch provides an on-ramp to learning that is more accommodating for adult learners.


2) The need for lifelong learning and upskilling to keep pace with a rapidly evolving economy

Across industries and occupations, technology has become an essential part of the modern workplace. As the tools businesses use continue to evolve, so must the people who use them. Even relatively recent graduates may wish to re-skill so they can pivot into a better long-term career fit. 

This trend is evident in recent calls for a “60-year curriculum.” As Americans live and work longer than ever, higher education will have an important role to play in building onramps to relevant learning opportunities. 

That’s why SkillsMatch is built for lifelong learners. And because the underlying Skills Library is constantly updated, it won’t get stale or out of date. Learners can revisit the tool at any time to add new skills they’ve learned or want to learn. When they do, they’ll see which of your programs are a good fit for their current needs, alongside live job postings that show the professional outcomes associated with those skills.


3) The rise of personalization across markets and industries

From product recommendations on Amazon to viewing suggestions on Netflix, curated content is the new norm. As consumer expectations are shaped by these experiences, it’s increasingly important for institutions to not simply present options, but to proactively help students navigate to the most relevant educational offering for them.

Rather than leaving learners to browse through department and program pages in search of something that might catch their interest, SkillsMatch enables you to proactively recommend the most relevant content to them based on their current and desired skills. Just as importantly, it enables you to provide this level of personalized recommendations at scale, without placing additional burden on academic advisors. 


4) The importance of work-relevance in determining the value of education to learners

Last year, Strada and Gallup worked together to survey over 340,000 individuals about their work and learning experiences after high school. Their research found that “relevant courses, not wages have the strongest link to how consumers assess the value of their education experience.” 

Institutions can leverage employer relationships and labor market data to help align curriculum with industry needs. Just as importantly, they should explore ways to help current and prospective students see this alignment. 

SkillsMatch can make a difference here as well. It provides an innovative way to make the work-relevant skills taught in your courses visible to prospective students. As mentioned above, SkillsMatch is built on the language of the labor market and shows prospective students the in-demand skills taught in the courses they are considering. It also displays relevant job opportunities that ask for those skills, so students see the clear connection between their goals, your courses, and real jobs.


5) A focus on shorter, skill-specific credentials vs. full-length degree programs

In recent years, microcredentials of various kinds have become increasingly popular with students, institutions, and employers. In a post-pandemic economy where education consumers are looking to reduce cost and get back to work as quickly as possible, it makes sense that demand for these types of credentials would grow. And recent survey data confirms this is the case.

Even institutions that don’t currently have a microcredential portfolio can adapt to this trend by using SkillsMatch to help students discover specific courses based on the skills taught. This approach enables your institution to attract students based on the learning content (and skills) of greatest interest and value to them. You can then work with learners to determine how those courses might roll up into degrees or credentials, including recommending related learning content that can help them continue to progress towards their goals.


There’s no question that these are uncertain and challenging times. Across America, individuals, businesses, and organizations are experiencing disruption — and higher education is no exception. 

But, this moment also presents a unique opportunity to innovate and grow. With SkillsMatch, institutions can begin to adapt right away. We’ll map your courses to Emsi’s library of over 30,000 real-world skills so you can engage today’s learners in a way that aligns with their evolving needs and priorities. As a result, you can help current and prospective students discover the right courses at your institution to help them fill their skill gaps and achieve their goals.


If you’d like to discuss using SkillsMatch to engage and serve adult learners at your institution, please let us know. We’d love to hear about the work you’re doing and explore how our data and tools can help.