Understand the current trends and consumer attitudes toward the higher education market in the US. Use Mintel’s higher education market research to become more informed in your organization or institution. This report examines the impact of global issues on higher education in the US, value placed on degrees/advanced certificates by students, and the most important factors to students when deciding on a higher education institution. Read on to discover our insights.

Higher Education Market Overview

According to US Census Bureau data, college enrollment has been declining over the past 10 years for all except Asian students, where enrollment is slowly increasing. Findings from this report reveal the attitudes behind these trends; three quarters of college students feel the experience is not affordable for most, and two thirds say it is now necessary to work multiple jobs to pay for tuition.

Women are a key segment to attend to as their presence in higher education institutions has shown steady growth since the passage of Title IX. Women under the age of 55 are more likely to have a degree than men, but Gen Z women tend to be less financially stable than their male counterparts. This means that they face greater challenges in choosing schools due to the cost of attendance.

Higher Education Market Trends and Key Attitudes

Students still see attaining a degree or advanced certificate as valuable, with the vast majority feeling that it increases their job prospects and will help them earn more in the future. These attitudes shed light on the likely focus for current college students. As inflation, climate change, and global political issues create uncertainty for the Gen Z segment, setting higher education as a goal becomes more relevant to students.

Mintel’s exclusive research in this report finds that cost was the most important factor to students when choosing the academic institution they currently attend. Even factors like location and programs offered came below cost in our research. This highlights just how important the need to communicate the availability of financial aid and scholarships is, as students are struggling in the current climate.

  • Higher education trends: 93% and 92% feel having a degree will help increase job prospects and is necessary for the job/career they want, respectively.

Higher Education Market Opportunities

As discussed, there is an opportunity in the current market for institutions and organizations to highlight the availability of financial aid for students. Colleges will also likely see gains when highlighting other aspects like campus culture, practical information such as the average mid-career salary of graduates, rating of the college’s sports teams, and even dining hall ratings, as these allow prospective students a better understanding of what their day-to-day lives will look like at the school.

Knowing exactly what you want to do upon entering college is falling by the wayside as more students view college as a place for discovery. The post-Millennial generation’s attitude is carrying over into the college experience; students today are less interested in having a strict plan since they’ve grown up in an uncertain environment. Higher education institutions can respond by rebranding the concept of an undeclared major as a discovery major that offers accreditations in various fields of study, allowing students to figure out what they want to explore more.

  • Higher education market changes: 29% of students rely on academic reputation to inform their institution choice. With this in mind, schools should expect more decision-making guides (e.g. apps and quizzes) to appear.

To understand more about the higher education market, purchase our full report and gain comprehensive insight into the trends and attitudes that shape higher education.

Quickly Understand

  • Attitudes towards degree/advanced certificate attainment and future success.
  • Factors considered when choosing academic institutions.
  • Information students would have liked to have seen more of during their application process from colleges/universities.
  • Scholarship actions taken when applying for schools.
  • Sources used when searching for scholarships.
  • Impact of the pandemic on social skills and academic success.

Covered in this Report

For the purposes of this report, “Higher education” refers to postsecondary (after high school) institutions and educational programs, including, but not limited to: for-profit programs, private non-profit four-year institutions, public four-year institutions, and public two-year schools.

Expert Analysis from a Consumers and Cultures Specialist

This report, written by Klaudia Kondakciu a leading Consumers and Cultures Analyst, delivers in-depth commentary and analysis to highlight current trends in the higher education market and add expert context to the numbers.

The question being asked more and more is, is getting a degree/advanced certificate worth it? The results are clear, among students, it’s a resounding yes! After being hit hard with instability and uncertainty in arguably the most formative years of their lives thanks to the pandemic and now inflationary conditions, attaining a degree is seen as more necessary now to achieve future financial success and build social networks. But schools have to do more by way of providing tools and resources that go beyond traditional courses to set them up with real-life skills so they can succeed in adulting (buying a home, applying for jobs, etc). When it comes to choosing an institution to attend, the principles of shopping for CPG products come into play – namely, price and value. Though the top determinant of the school ultimately chosen, key aspects like the programs offered, campus experience, flexibility in course schedules and even things like mental health resources will also count for more.

Klaudia Kondakciu, Consumers and Cultures Analyst

Klaudia Kondakciu
Senior Consumers and Cultures Analyst

Table of Contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • Key issues covered in this Report
        • Definitions
          • Market context
          • Executive Summary

              • Top takeaways 
                • Market overview 
                  • Opportunities and challenges
                    • Degrees are still valued; it is still linked to achieving future financial success
                      • Figure 1: Attitudes toward higher education degrees (any agree), 2022
                    • Cost is the top consideration when deciding where to go
                      • Figure 2: Factors considered most important when choosing an academic institution (any rank), 2022
                    • Nearly all students look into scholarships, yet far fewer follow through
                      • Figure 3: University offerings students would have liked to have seen more of during the application process, 2022
                    • Women are looking for more well-rounded programs
                      • Figure 4: University offerings students would have seen more of during the application process – Practical courses, by gender, 2022
                    • Key consumer insights
                      • Students feel behind due to the pandemic
                        • Mental health benefits are a must
                          • Students are going straight to the institutions for scholarship information
                            • More flexible class options are necessary, as 49% of students are enrolled in online-based programs
                            • Market Factors

                              • College enrollment continues to decline
                                • Figure 5: College students, by race, 2010-20
                                • Figure 6: College students, by Hispanic origin, 2020
                              • Women are beating out men in educational attainment
                                • Figure 7: Educational attainment of women and men aged 18 or older, by age, 2020
                              • Schools have many options when it comes to empowering women
                                • Students are more likely to feel the impact of rising prices
                                  • Figure 8: Consumer Price Index change from previous period, 2007-22
                                • This generation of students will require more mental health services
                                • Current Opportunities and Strategies

                                    • Redefining Adulthood + new career benchmarks
                                      • Influentials + changes to college rankings
                                        • Survival Skills + new curriculum goals
                                        • Attitudes toward Higher Education – Fast Facts

                                          • Getting to Know College Students

                                            • Nearly half of students are enrolled in online based programs
                                              • Figure 9: Current enrollment in higher education by program type, 2022
                                              • Figure 10: Full- and part-time higher education enrollment, 2022
                                            • The majority of students are first-generation
                                              • Figure 11: First-generation student status, 2022
                                            • Highlight the benefits of on-campus living to attract more students
                                              • Figure 12: Current residence of college students, 2022
                                              • Figure 13: Expense responsibility of college students, 2022
                                            • Affordable housing will attract more students
                                              • Lean into the value of the on-campus experience
                                              • Attitudes toward Degrees

                                                • Degrees are perceived as being tied to success
                                                  • Figure 14: Attitudes toward higher education degrees (any agree), 2022
                                                • Financial success is more important than ever
                                                  • Highlight success stories
                                                    • Figure 15: American University Instagram post, 2021
                                                  • Arm students with the proper tools
                                                    • Figure 16: Iris Booth Instagram post, 2022
                                                  • Women look to degrees to help close the gender pay gap
                                                    • Figure 17: Select attitudes toward higher education degrees, by gender, 2022
                                                    • Figure 18: Penn Engineering Instagram post, 2022
                                                • School Considerations

                                                  • Many factors are considered, but cost wins out
                                                    • Figure 19: Factors considered most important when choosing an academic institution (any rank) 2022
                                                  • Remind students that they don’t need to pay the sticker price
                                                    • Figure 20: Princeton Instagram post, 2022
                                                  • Focus on the holistic picture
                                                      • Figure 21: UC San Diego – Top Public University (2021), 2021
                                                    • Cost is even more important to women
                                                      • Figure 22: Factors considered most important when choosing an academic institution – Final cost of attendance (any rank), by gender, 2022
                                                      • Figure 23: BMO US Facebook post, 2022
                                                    • For Black students, cost is less important, but culture is elevated
                                                      • Figure 24: Select factors considered most important when choosing an academic institution (any rank), black vs overall, 2022
                                                      • Figure 25: Swarthmore college Instagram post, 2022
                                                  • Desired Resources during the Application Process

                                                    • Students want more information on scholarships and financial aid opportunities
                                                      • Figure 26: University offerings students would have liked to have seen more of during the application process, 2022
                                                    • Tap into partnerships to offer more, cost-effective resources
                                                      • Figure 27: Westmont college Instagram post, 2022
                                                    • Mental health resources are a must
                                                      • Figure 28: West Virginia University Instagram post, 2022
                                                    • Women seek more practical courses
                                                      • Figure 29: University offerings students would have seen more of during the application process – Practical courses, by gender, 2022
                                                      • Figure 30: Michigan State University Extension Facebook post, 2022
                                                    • Early-decision options are especially appealing to first-generation students
                                                      • Figure 31: University offerings students would have seen more of during the application process – Early decision options, first-generation students versus non-first-generation students, 2022
                                                      • Figure 32: Miami University Instagram post, 2022
                                                  • Searching for Scholarships

                                                    • Nearly all students look into scholarships, yet far fewer follow through
                                                      • Figure 33: Scholarship actions taken when applying for schools, 2022
                                                      • Figure 34: Washington University Instagram post, 2022
                                                    • Scholarship information should be easily accessible across sources
                                                      • Figure 35: Sources used to search for scholarship information, 2022
                                                      • Figure 36: Meredith College Instagram post, 2023
                                                    • Women pay particularly close attention to the school’s website
                                                      • Figure 37: Sources used to search for scholarship information, 2022
                                                      • Figure 38: Alma College Instagram post, 2022
                                                  • Barriers to Achieving Success

                                                    • The pandemic is still negatively impacting students
                                                      • Figure 39: Attitudes toward higher education – COVID-19’s impact (any agree), 2022
                                                    • Double down on experiences to make up for lost time
                                                      • Add supplemental resources to help students catch up academically
                                                          • Figure 40: McGraw-Hill Instagram post, 2022
                                                          • Figure 41: Attitudes toward higher education – The pandemic has negatively impacted my ability to succeed academically (any agree), LGBTQ+ vs non-LGBTQ+, 2022
                                                        • Rising costs make college feel more out of reach
                                                          • Figure 42: Attitudes toward higher education (any agree), 2022
                                                        • Community colleges, and partnerships with them, can be a boon for students looking to save
                                                            • Figure 43: Harper College Instagram post, 2021
                                                            • Figure 44: Arrupe College Instagram post, 2021
                                                          • Affordable solutions will appeal most greatly to women
                                                            • Figure 45: Attitudes toward higher education (any agree), 2022
                                                        • Appendix – Data Sources and Abbreviations

                                                          • Data sources
                                                            • Consumer survey data
                                                              • Abbreviations and terms

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