The Changing Landscape of Higher Education ROI: Insights and Challenges

Higher education institutions have long been regarded as the gateway to personal and professional success. However, the landscape is shifting, and students, parents, and institutions alike are reevaluating the true value of a college degree. The rising cost of education, coupled with changing job markets and economic uncertainties, has brought the concept of return on investment (ROI) into sharp focus.

ROI in higher education isn't solely about financial gain. It encompasses the holistic development of students, equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and experiences needed for a fulfilling life and career. To shed light on the challenges and opportunities in education, Mackenzie Bishop, University Partnership Development Lead at Virtual Internships, joined the conversation with Chris Moloney in the Education and Empowerment Podcast to share their insights on the ever-important topic of ROI in education.


Meet the Experts

Mackenzie Bishop is a seasoned professional with over 13 years of experience in the education sector. In her role, Mackenzie actively contributes to the education community by empowering students and shaping the future of education through conference presentations and publications.

Chris Moloney is the Associate Vice President and Associate Managing Principal for Consulting at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. With a strong background in leadership roles, Chris helps institutions tackle strategic challenges and supports non-traditional and underprivileged students in their educational journeys.

Listen to The Podcast

the changing landscape of ROI


The Shift in ROI Discussion

One of the striking aspects of the current ROI discussion is its origin—stemming from the voices of students. More than ever, students are questioning the financial and time investments they make in higher education. This trend is fueled by a documentary titled "Borrowed Future: How Student Loans Are Killing the American Dream," which sheds light on the challenges of student loans and their impact on students' aspirations.

The Georgetown report and the College Scorecard data have also been added to the conversation. Shockingly, these data sources reveal that one in three colleges in America leaves the average student worse off financially ten years after enrollment. Regardless of political affiliations, a consensus is emerging that higher education needs reform.


ROI Considerations for Universities

Diverse Student Outcomes

ROI isn’t confined to quantitative metrics like employment rates and salaries; it also includes qualitative aspects. Career preparation, experiential learning, community engagement, personal growth, and lifelong learning contribute significantly to a student's overall value from their education. The holistic development of students should be at the forefront of educational goals.

Timelines for Student Outcomes

The conversation about ROI covers both immediate and long-term results. Students are eager to understand not only their potential earnings over a lifetime but also the opportunities available to them right after they graduate. To meet these expectations and empower students with valuable real-world experience, universities should offer data on immediate job prospects and robust work-based learning programs, preparing students effectively for the future of work.


Rethinking ROI: A Collaborative Approach

As we navigate the complex terrain of higher education, it's essential to remember that ROI is not just about numbers; it's about impact. Students like Jocelyn, who found unique ways to manage her internship, highlight the need for institutions to adapt and offer tailored solutions, just like one of our partners, Bridgewater State University.

The Role of Governing Boards

Governing boards are becoming more intentional in their roles, recognizing the need for clear metrics and strategic questions to guide their decisions. As institutions face financial sustainability challenges, the importance of differentiation and unique value propositions has gained prominence. Campuses are no longer striving to mimic peers but are seeking ways to distinguish themselves in a competitive landscape.

Opportunities for External Partners

In this intricate landscape of higher education, external collaborators hold the key to addressing challenges and expanding institutional capacities. Virtual Internships, for example, presents an innovative platform that seamlessly integrates work-integrated learning into the academic curriculum, granting students authentic exposure to the real-world job market.

With an extensive pool of over 250,000 work-based learning opportunities, Virtual Internships ensures that every student, regardless of geographical constraints and fluctuating demands, can secure a meaningful learning experience in their chosen career fields. We go a step beyond by providing comprehensive employability support services. It's not just about securing internship placements; it's a comprehensive program empowering students with indispensable soft skills and competencies that resonate with employers, effectively bridging the skills gap prevailing in today's job market.

Educational institutions can strategically employ work-integrated learning as a cornerstone of their retention strategy. By seamlessly integrating internships into the academic journey, institutions can significantly elevate student engagement and persistence.

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