The state of higher education: Challenges and opportunities in 2024

Perspectives in higher education

Colleges and universities continue to deal with financial, compliance and political challenges. In just the past few months, congressional hearings, proposed federal legislation, and investigative inquiries have placed heightened attention on the sector. For instance, the government has continued to focus on such items as diversity in higher education and oversight of discrimination on campus, as well as ongoing discussions on student loan debt relief. On top of legislative acts, demands placed on universities by donors, students and other constituents have added to the pressure on trustees and administrators. The spotlight placed on the industry, compounded by world events, has affected both short- and longer-term institutional strategic and financial plans.

Responding to the numerous challenges has been difficult. Related to world events, universities have been forced to navigate free speech versus the safety of their students, while informing interested parties of the university’s viewpoints on the issues at hand. Crisis communications protocols have been tested, including the timeliness of responses to protests on campus and determining who accurately speaks on behalf of the university. All actions taken have been scrutinized by the press and the public.

On top of this scrutiny, institutions are faced with a myriad of other items affecting the higher education sector. These items range from the effect that artificial intelligence is having on the learning environment, to the expectations that employees have when coming to work, to the wide variety of challenges within college athletics. In the 2024 edition of Perspectives in Higher Education, we not only highlight these items but also explore such topics as the current public perception of the industry, viewpoints on campus real estate, and the risks and opportunities around sustainability. Finally, we provide our annual update on the happenings in Washington and provide thoughts on how trends within the industry are affecting all institutions.

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Margaret Stover

National Higher Education Advisory leader, PwC US

Christopher Cox

National Higher Education Assurance leader, PwC US

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