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Turning the Challenges Facing Regional Universities into Opportunities - Blog I of II



Known as the “people’s universities,” regional comprehensive universities have supported missions that serve to enlarge college access and serve the economic and civic needs of their regions. These 430 institutions serve as economic hubs with curricula that respond to regional workforce needs. They were founded as teachers’ colleges, night schools, veterans’ educational centers and technical colleges. They enroll the largest proportions of underrepresented students including military veterans, adult learners, ethnic minorities, first-generation students, and immigrants. Approximately 40% of historically black colleges and universities are also regional comprehensive universities. Why Regional Comprehensive Universities are Vital Parts of U.S. Higher Education | Scholars Strategy Network


Regional Universities Face Real Challenges

Experiencing and navigating Covid exacerbated many familiar challenges facing regional universities and introduced a few more.


Chronic Underfunding. A major ongoing challenge for regional comprehensive universities is chronic underfunding, compared with flagship universities. Before the recession, public colleges received 70% of their budgets from state appropriations; now, on average states provide only half of public college funding. Why Regional Comprehensive Universities are Vital Parts of U.S. Higher Education | Scholars Strategy Network


Regional Universities have a broad set of responsibilities for the economic, social, cultural, and civic well-being of their regions. But they are neither funded nor structured to fulfill them.


Performance-based funding has often been framed to close educational gaps among ethnic groups and improve state economies. However, poorly conceived initiatives have often led to decreased educational access, relaxed academic standards, and diminished research productivity.


Enrollment declines are of serious concern. Regional universities are at risk from declining community college transfers caused by eroding community college enrollments during Covid. Enrollments across all sectors continued to decline over the past five semesters.

A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center indicates that enrollment across all sectors of higher education continued to decline this past semester, extending a trend that began during the coronavirus pandemic. The total enrollment for spring 2022 fell by 4.1 percent. These numbers mark the fifth semester in a row of declining overall enrollment. NSC report shows total enrollment down by 4.1 percent (insidehighered.com)


Declines in International Student Enrollment. International students play an important role in regional universities’ enrollment and diversity. International students’ enrollments have declined by 16% due to the pandemic. (IIE, 2020). 19 Higher Education Trends for 2022/2023: Latest Forecasts To Watch Out For - Financesonline.com


Addressing the Needs of Students for the Emerging Knowledge, Work, and Learning Ecosystem of 2030. Leading-edge regional universities, especially those in or adjacent to metro areas, are strongly engaged with the changing work and learning marketplace. But most have not fully envisioned the 2030 world, nor seriously begun to consciously prepare their learners for it.


Campus Climate After Covid. In a conversation with Dr. Terry Brown, VP for Academic Innovation and Transformation at AASCU, she shared some observations on the campus climate after several years of dealing with Covid and its consequences, both expected and unexpected.


Rapid Increases in the Need for Mental Health Services. Since Covid, leaders from regional institutions expressed concern about rapid increases, in fact doubling, in the need for mental health services.



Turning Challenges into Opportunities - Blog II

Blog I discussed the challenges facing regional universities today. Blog II on this topic will discuss how these universities can discover fresh opportunities for growth, transformation, and revitalization.