How to recognize and respond to genuine trends with potentially significant impact on your institution

Insight Report

How can higher education leaders maximize the opportunities that trends provide while minimizing potential negative effects?


Although data are plentiful about past higher education trends and their results, extrapolating from them to future trends is difficult, particularly in today’s volatile environment. This report describes several emerging trends affecting institutions and steps that leaders, planning committees and trustees can take to gauge a trend’s potential impact and devise responses that advance an institution’s best interests.

Key Insights

  • To determine whether a genuine trend exists, review relevant data on the trend, looking for patterns that are national, regional and specific to the institution.
  • Identify the trends that have major potential consequences—positive or negative—for your institution.
  • Disaggregate the information to focus on trends that offer ways to enhance institutional distinctiveness and amplify them.
  • Position the institution for optimal advantage in the trend’s lifecycle—e.g., on the pioneering front of a trend, as a leading follower, or well into the trend’s development.

No trend washes over all colleges and universities in the same way, nor does a trend dictate an institution’s destiny.


The author uses government and academic data sets, combined with a review of relevant literature and deep expertise, to identify emerging trends in higher education and help leaders formulate institutional responses.


Richard Ekman

President Emeritus, Council of Independent Colleges

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