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The Higher Ed Trends That Will Matter in 2022

  • 5 Min Read

A library of forecasts covering tuition, holistic learning, diversity, and digital learning trends in higher ed for 2022.


Every New Year since 2006, I have been asked to make predictions about what will face higher education in the upcoming year. So, while this will be my first shot at staring into the crystal ball as the Chief Academic Officer at D2L, my predictions for 2022 sit in a library of forecasts that have accrued over a decade and a half of informed speculation

Obviously, as we head into the new year, we are building on the foundations of the past—both good and bad. While the recent past has seen some serious issues (enrollment scandals, racial lawsuits, school closures, etc.), the pandemic context now dominates our thinking and strategies.

Now, this certainly is not a prediction of what is to come in 2022, but I hope it serves as a barometer for the trends that seem to be ramping up or have simply become so ensconced that we now have to accept them as a norm. Here we go:

Costs Will Continue to Change

I know, I know…but before you skip to the next trend and file this one under “duh”, let me explain. Not only are we seeing more and more states put a cap on tuition prices, textbook costs, and other expenditures (forcing some private institutions to also cut costs in order to stay competitive), we also have more insight into how the “giants” of online education spend and/or price their offerings.

So, we know that public (online) colleges and universities allocate 60% of their budget to people—staff salaries and benefits. By contrast, the online giants only spend 48% of their budget on people. Similarly, while faculty hires represent the largest increase in people at the public online institutions, online giants use their money to hire staff—advisors, counselors, and other student service workers.

In other words, the cost of eLearning is not going to lessen any time soon. At the same time, good-quality online education—just like its face-to-face counterpart—is highly dependent on idiosyncratic people, which is hard to scale. But, as accountability partners push all educational contexts to cheapen, it is becoming more and more about getting students to the finish line, which can be life changing.

Holistic Learning Is Gaining Ground

For years, researchers have understood and (eventually) proven that holistic learning requires attention to more than what happens in the classroom. Students are not simply vessels for a brain, but whole people who need support in terms of resources, productivity, and even belief. The COVID-learning context has really shone a spotlight on the need to look at more than just a student’s cognitive abilities—we must find ways to support them affectively and conatively.

A 2021 survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse highlighted the things students want to keep from their last two years of learning: Digital access to clubs and campus organizations, more virtual events, an ability to find and connect with peers when remote, and many other connective-tissue desires. At the same time, these wants are seen as more than a craving—they’re an actual need demonstrated by student success metrics which show attention to these non-cognitive details can have huge results in helping / saving at-risk populations.

DEI(B) Will Stay in the Spotlight

In 2022, there will continue to be a rise in the hiring of Chief Diversity Officers. When I left for my appointment at Saint Leo University back in 2013, the “hot” job title across higher education was Chief Innovation Officer. What started as a group of less than 50, soon grew to a few thousand CIOs globally. Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Officers may be the CIOs of today.

Now recognized as an integral part of how we make the higher ed experience work today, DEI strategies, initiatives, and discussions are now leading to rubrics and evaluation methods associated for everything from programs to courses. Leaders are ensuring hires start to create a better representation of the student population. DEI(B) will remain a top-level filter for the foreseeable future.

Digital Learning Will Continue to Be in Demand

Did eLearning take a few hits during the pandemic? Absolutely. But a lot of people also pointed out (myself included) that the pundits and naysayers’ comments were largely unfair. Remember that before COVID, a lot of academics talked down the notion of online learning. It was often described as second-best learning (or worse) and there were scads of articles by instructors who had tried it once, failed, and then written about how bad the medium was. So, it was not a shock to see emergency learning result in a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy for some.

But now that some of the dust has settled, there seem to be a lot more “fans” of the modality. Suddenly, students who had simply believed the arguments about efficacy previously found themselves not only succeeding, but in some cases thriving online. Some professors found similar wins. I am amazed at the number of tweets, blogs, and other posts by professors describing their shock at students wanting video-based learning or asynchronous options or eLearning in general. The pragmatic, thoughtful, and connective nature of online learning won over some new fans in 2021 and that trend will only increase moving forward. As online education was really the only component of higher ed that has seen growth year-over-year for the past decade, it is safe to say that that will only increase.

Happy New Year folks. 2022 should prove to be interesting!

Good luck and good learning.

Written by:

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Table of Contents

  1. Costs Will Continue to Change
  2. Holistic Learning Is Gaining Ground
  3. DEI(B) Will Stay in the Spotlight
  4. Digital Learning Will Continue to Be in Demand