Press Release

New Report Identifies Top Challenges and Strategic Priorities for Colleges and Universities

Addressing Financial Constraints Is the Top Challenge for Three in Four Institutions; Student Retention and Completion as well as Campus Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Are the Top Strategic Priorities for a Clear Majority

Washington, DC—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) today released Campus Challenges and Strategic Priorities in a Time of Change: A National Survey of Campus Stakeholders, a new report that examines the top challenges colleges and universities have faced as they persisted through the uncertainty of COVID-19 and the country’s racial unrest. Informed by those challenges, the report also explores the strategic priorities identified by campus stakeholders in order to understand how higher education may be plotting a path forward after more than a year of turmoil.

The report is based on a national survey of more than seven hundred higher education professionals across a range of campus roles and institutional types. The survey was administered in the fall of 2020 in partnership with Hanover Research, and the results are disaggregated by factors such as respondents’ campus roles, institutional types, and institutional sizes.

“There is no one-size-fits-all narrative for colleges and universities as they plan for the future,” said Ashley Finley, AAC&U Vice President for Research, Senior Advisor to the President, and author of the report. “The survey findings underscore the need for nuance in how challenges and strategic priorities are perceived across higher education.”

Top Five Challenges Facing Colleges and Universities:

  1. Financial constraints (74%)
  2. Recognizing and overcoming persistent inequities (46%)
  3. Capacity-building for institutional change/transformation (37%)
  4. Articulating the value of the liberal arts for career preparation (30%)
  5. Communicating the overall value of liberal education (24%)

Top Five Strategic Priorities for Colleges and Universities:

  1. Improving student retention and completion (59%)
  2. Improving campus diversity, equity, and inclusion (57%)
  3. Fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion on campus (36%)
  4. Increasing faculty diversity (34%)
  5. Expanding civic engagement/community-based learning (30%)

The full report is available for download here.

About AAC&U

AAC&U is the leading national association dedicated to advancing the vitality and public standing of liberal education by making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,000 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.

AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, faculty, and staff engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Through a broad range of activities, AAC&U reinforces the collective commitment to liberal education at the national, local, and global levels. Its high-quality programs, publications, research, meetings, institutes, public outreach efforts, and campus-based projects help individual institutions ensure that the quality of student learning is central to their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges.

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