Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Five Ways Higher Education Has Changed in the Last Five Years

This content is brought to you in partnership with WGU North Carolina, an accredited online university offering affordable and flexible bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.

WGU North Carolina, the state affiliate of Western Governors University, was established in October 2017 to help working adults in North Carolina pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the high-demand fields of business, IT, healthcare, and K-12 education.

WGU North Carolina Chancellor Ben Coulter, Ed.D., has more than 25 years of experience in higher education, including serving as a professor and director of instructional technology at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. Dr. Coulter shared quick thoughts on five ways higher education has changed in the last five years.

  1. Online instruction is now widely accepted

Before the pandemic, about one-third of U.S. college students had online course offerings. In the spring of 2020, 84 percent of undergraduate students reported having some or all classes moved to online-only instruction due to the pandemic. According to the Harvard Business Review, 2,500 U.S. colleges now offer online programs.

  1. College enrollment has declined

This week, the National Student Clearinghouse released a report indicating that 1.5 million fewer college students are enrolled than before the pandemic. Adult learners 24 and older make up 35%-40% of higher education enrollment. Their numbers fell 3.4% last year, perhaps due to the ongoing struggles of balancing work, family obligations, time commitments, and educational costs. Conversely, enrollment is up at most major online-only schools.

  1. More colleges are offering non-degree programs

Responding to industry demands for employee upskilling, more colleges are offering “credential packages” (also called micro-credentials) that culminate in a certificate or other professional credential. For example, it’s quicker and cheaper for a working adult to take three classes and earn a certificate in marketing than to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program. However, their credits are often stackable toward a degree should they decide to pursue that option.

  1. Students are looking for a better ROI

With rising tuition/fees and enormous student debt loads, more students are looking for a better ROI for their educational investment. WGU introduced a Responsible Borrowing Initiative in 2013 (focusing on counseling borrowers to take out the minimal loan amount needed rather than the maximum that they qualify for) that has saved students more than $400 million in student debt.

5. More employers are paying for employees to earn degrees
Employers are getting more creative in developing benefits to retain frontline staff. About
48% of employers now offer tuition assistance as a benefit. In the past few months, companies like CITI, Amazon, McDonald’s, Papa John’s, Sheetz, PNC Bank, and more have
announced tuition assistance programs for frontline staff.

“The lifetime earnings potential for individuals with postsecondary credentials are still higher than for those with just a high school diploma,” said Dr. Coulter. “However, more and more adults seek affordable and flexible accredited degree programs that work with their schedules and budgets. That’s one reason why WGU North Carolina’s enrollment has increased 266% over the past five years.”

WGU North Carolina, an affiliate of online competency-based Western Governors University, offers more than 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. WGU has more than 6,600 graduates across all 100 counties in North Carolina. Learn more by visiting or speaking to an enrollment counselor at 1-866-903-0109.

Ben Kinney
Ben Kinney
Ben Kinney is publisher of Business North Carolina magazine. You can reach him at

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