The state of higher education: Challenges and opportunities in 2020

Perspectives in higher education

This year’s report acknowledges the uncertain times we find ourselves in and shares our annual Washington update. The report also addresses external forces on higher education including: the impact of COVID-19, foreign influence in research, and M&A activity. Additionally, we discuss internal challenges such as donor risk and compliance, governance over IT implementations and how to harness data more effectively. Lastly this year’s report focuses on timely workforce matters, including how to retain talent and the future of tenure.

Higher Education students graduating


As the pace of change within higher education continues to accelerate, institutions face increased risks which generally fall into one of the following four categories:

  • Brand preservation and reputation – Actions or events attributable to an institution that may damage its ability to fundraise and attract and retain the best faculty, staff and students. How institutions respond during the current crisis will shape how they are viewed for future generations.
  • Information security – Incidents that compromise sensitive information and can result in significant financial, regulatory and reputational consequences. Often these are the results of cyber attacks, data-rich environments, and the decentralized nature of higher education institutions. This has become increasingly important in a near-virtual world.
  • Regulatory – The risk of noncompliance with laws and regulations can be challenging given the number of rules that must be adhered to. Additionally, disparate systems can create limitations to efficiently monitoring compliance on a proactive basis. The rapidly shifting policy landscape adds further challenges as institutions navigate those regulations that could have lasting impact beyond the current pandemic.
  • Operational – Colleges and universities are large, complex and decentralized organizations that strive to balance student life needs with teaching and research functions, all while navigating a resource constrained environment. Revenue models are being challenged and institutions will need to rethink operating models.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss this report and its recommendations with you.

Contact us

Margaret Stover

National Higher Education Advisory leader, PwC US

Christopher Cox

National Higher Education Assurance leader, PwC US

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