As more students attend college, higher education roles should adapt

The educational system continues to present new challenges for higher education administrators. More students are enrolling in college, according to a recent report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This enrollment increase will affect multiple roles in higher education, starting with admissions.

The changing role of admissions

A line of students hold their diplomas in a library

Individuals interested in working in admissions may have to create a new way of measuring student achievement. Private high schools lead the charge for a change in the process. Inside Higher Ed reported that this new approach, known as competency-based education, measures analytical and creative thinking, leadership and teamwork and digital literacy. Each area of expertise could include examples of work, the article noted. This could make it easier for individuals working in admissions to engage with students about their work and develop a better understanding of their applicants.

Leaders in admissions are also finding ways to highlight non-traditional skills that are just as important as – and perhaps more insightful than – SAT scores. They can take an innovative and creative approach to learn more about their applicants. Rebecca Sabky, admissions director of Dartmouth College, pointed out to WBUR Boston that typical measures like SAT scores can lead to stacks of applications where nearly every student is an academic overachiever. Instead, individuals interested in working in admissions may have to develop new questions to identify students that could succeed at their institutions. One such attribute is kindness. Sabky included this new question on Dartmouth’s Common Application as a way for students to highlight their empathy – an often overlooked skill in the world of Ivy League Colleges.

Individuals pursuing roles in admissions can inquire into changes their university is making to incorporate these new qualitative measures in the application process. In addition, they can lead the charge in order to remain competitive for prospective students.

Admissions officers are not the only higher education professionals facing changes on campus. College presidents and chief academic officers are as well.

The changing role of CAOs

Higher education administrators are tasked with preparing students for these new career fields. And it is a growing challenge: According to a 2016 Payscale report, there is a disconnect between managers and recent graduates when asked about students’ readiness for the workforce after graduation.

“The data we’ve collected show that even though their education may make recent college graduates feel prepared to enter the workforce, only half of hiring managers agree with them; managers feel crucial skills in recent graduates are frequently lacking or absent,” said Katie Bardaro, VP of Analytics with Payscale.

Chief Academic Officers face the challenge of addressing the skills gap and building curricula that can better prepare students for a life after college. The answer may not be simply adding more technology classes to teach hard skills, Payscale found. Instead, it may include creating opportunities to refine critical thinking skills, as well as soft skills like writing proficiency. According to the report, over half of surveyed managers felt that graduates lacked strong critical thinking skills.

To tackle these workplace challenges, individuals aspiring to become CAOs may have to reconsider what earning a college degree prepares students for.

While more students are enrolling in college, CAOs must also focus on keeping graduation rates high. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average graduation rate for higher education institutions over six years is 60 percent. While there may be multiple reasons students choose to leave an institution or step away from academia, CAOs and college presidents strive to create an environment that nourishes students to help them graduate. However, they may have to do this with the added pressure of diminishing resources. The Southern Education Foundation found that when CAOs can invest directly into student services, they see an increase in graduation rates.

For instance, Claflin University offered co-requisite classes in English and Math for students who needed developmental education. The university had resources available to these students, including an on-campus writing center as well as a math lab. Students passed these courses in higher numbers when compared to students without assistance: 75 percent of students passed their math class, while only 41 percent were able to pass without assistance. The English program saw an 81 percent pass rate.

In addition to providing services to students, CAOs can strive to offer responsive teaching methods to different academic departments. This can help minimize dropout rates, especially among Black and Latino students enrolled in developmental education courses.

Successful responsive teaching can meet “students where they are, trying to form relationships and understand backgrounds and interests, and using tools to ensure students can learn,” noted DeShawn Preston, the author of SEF’s Untold Barriers report.

How higher education professionals can move forward

Higher education continues to adapt in the face of changes in the workplace. Higher education professionals may need to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of students. They are faced with the challenge of preparing students to become critical thinkers while also arming them with the skills to succeed after graduation. However, by understanding how students’ needs are changing, professionals with an Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership may be better able to transition into different roles within a college or university.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Postsecondary Education Administrators

Inside Higher Ed – A Plan to Kill High School Transcripts … and Transform College Admissions


National Center for Education Statistics

Southern Education Foundation

WBUR – Should Kindness Be Part Of College Admissions?

American Academy of Arts & Sciences – A Primer on the College Student Journey

Be Brave

Bring us your ambition and we’ll guide you along a personalized path to a quality education that’s designed to change your life.