Future Students, Future Revenues

Thriving in a Decade of Demographic Decline

Topics: Academic Affairs, Academic Planning, Online Education, Enrollment Management, Financial Aid, Admissions

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Executive Summary

While all universities have worked to find efficiencies and cost savings, no institution can sustain—much less enhance—its commitment to excellence without revenue growth.

Over the past decade, universities were able to grow revenue primarily by growing enrollment and increasing net tuition per student. But demographic and economic changes will make it increasingly difficult for all but a handful of institutions to grow tuition revenue at historic rates. Despite rising access rates, demographic projections suggest that the number of high school graduates will decline over the coming decade, leading to a dramatic drop-off in the overall rate of enrollment growth.


The traditional population of 18- to 22-year-olds will remain a majority at most institutions, but enrollment growth will come primarily from other student segments. Populations such as community college transfers, international undergraduates, professional master’s students, and adult degree completers offer the best opportunities to grow enrollment and tuition revenue. Serving them well requires significant investments, new organizational models, and cultural change on campus.

This can be done in a financially sustainable way—fulfilling the university’s mission to serve a diverse range of students while providing financial resources to support the core. This brief analyzes the forces that will shape higher education over the next decade and highlights the strategies and competencies that colleges and universities will need to be successful.

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