2023 Higher Education Trend Watch

2023 Higher Education Trend Watch


This report focuses on the workforce, cultural, and technological shifts for ten macro trends emerging in higher education in 2023. Across these three areas of shift, we report the major impacts and steps that institutions are taking in response to each trend. Some trends overlap with the 2022 Higher Education Trend Watch report. However, while some topics and issues remain consistent, significant shifts have occurred across many of the trends for 2023.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education institutions shifted from emergency response to long-term adaptation and strategically planning for what's next. Many institutions have already implemented hybrid/remote work and learning arrangements, supported by a variety of innovative technologies and tools. Institutions are now focused on designing and implementing needed policies and initiatives, creating new positions, committees, and workgroups, and expanding and upgrading their technology. This focus on adapting and planning can also be seen in some additional trends this year, such as Focus on increasing institutional resilience and Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education.

While institutions are preparing in these ways for a sustainable future, leaders still need to consider and plan for significant challenges, including retention and recruitment (students, faculty, staff, and leaders), costs and budgets, varying and changing expectations and preferences when it comes to teaching, learning, and work modality, and broader cultural issues such as DEI, digital literacy, and the perceived value of higher education.

2023 Top Trends

Respondents to the 2023 Top 10 IT Issues survey were provided not only with a list of 20 IT Issues but also with a list of 20 wider trends emerging around the higher education landscape. For each of the emerging trends, we asked respondents to rate the level of impact on their institution's technology strategy, policies, and/or practice. The interactive table below summarizes the trend impacts as rated by the respondents and includes dropdown menus for exploring how the trends and their impacts differ across institutional sizes and types.


1Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy
2Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements
3 (tie)Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions
3 (tie)More calls for data informed decision making and reporting
5Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning
6Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education
7Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining
8Focus on increasing institutional resilience
9Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity
10Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics

Trend Strategies

In this section of the report, we take a closer look at the emerging higher education trends selected as most important by the survey respondents, with summaries of the planning and actions they're exploring or implementing at their institutions in response to each trend. Responses have been categorized along three primary areas of institutional shifts: workforce, culture, and technology.

How are institutions responding to Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy?

Shifts in Workforce: Institutions are creating new teams, working groups, and positions that focus solely on cybersecurity issues. However, in the wake of the “Great Resignation” and due to the competitiveness of the current job market, institutions face challenges in recruiting and hiring staff. To equip their existing faculty, staff, administrators, and students with necessary cybersecurity skills and knowledge, institutional leaders are increasing their efforts in providing training and education.

Shifts in Culture: Institutions are conducting strategic planning and are implementing new initiatives and policies addressing cybersecurity issues. Some have begun campaigns to increase cybersecurity awareness, along with policies to comply with federal and state regulations or other security frameworks and programs (i.e., GDPR, NIST-CSF, GLBA). Institutions are also investing in cyber insurance and are ramping up their efforts in detecting and preventing security threats and attacks by implementing regular risk assessments, phishing tests, third-party consulting and monitoring, and audits. Respondents reported a growing need for planning and policies that specifically focus on data privacy and ethics and cybersecurity issues that are unique to work-from-home environments.

Shifts in Technology: Most institutions have expanded, upgraded, and adopted new technologies and security measures such as multi-factor authentication, password tools, threat detection, monitoring, ransomware protection software, and endpoint and Wi-Fi security. While respondents reported an increase in costs as institutions implement these technologies, institutional leaders are also more willing to devote an increased share of their budget toward these resources.

How are institutions responding to Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements?

Shifts in Workforce: The increase in hybrid/remote work opportunities has created a highly competitive job market, and institutions that have not fully embraced this new norm are having difficulties filling positions—in terms of both retention and recruitment. Some institutions are hiring more fully remote staff in order to remain competitive in the job market. At many institutions, hybrid/remote work arrangements vary widely, based on position and department. Despite this, most IT departments and staff report having hybrid/remote work arrangements. Respondents at institutions with hybrid/remote work arrangements reported associated cost savings and increased employee productivity.

Shifts in Culture: Many institutions have implemented policies and HR practices supporting hybrid/remote arrangements. Some are still piloting and testing, while others are assessing and analyzing impacts and effectiveness and are moving forward with strategic planning. As institutions move forward with hybrid/remote arrangements, they face concerns such as creating and maintaining culture and engagement, reconfiguring tasks and events to fit a digital format, and addressing mental health and equity issues (i.e., how to ensure that decision-making regarding remote work and learning is both fair and equitable for all).

Shifts in Technology: Many institutions have adopted technology to support hybrid/remote work, including expanded cloud-based services, access to virtual private networks, Zoom and other meeting platforms, remote phone capabilities, equipment such as headsets and cameras, and a shift from desktops to laptops. Many institutions are also upgrading or reconfiguring workspaces to support a flexible, hybrid work culture (e.g., upgraded classrooms, conference rooms, shared workspaces).

How are institutions responding to Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions?

Shifts in Workforce: The Great Resignation continues, with many institutions reporting significant turnover, especially in leadership roles. Recruitment is a big challenge for many institutions, with declining budgets and a very competitive job market. In response to the increasing number of retirements among upper-level positions, respondents observed that leadership positions are being filled by individuals with less knowledge and experience. Another consequence of resignations is a shift in the workload. Respondents reported having to take on the extra work of those who left, projects being stalled or canceled due to turnover, and an increase in contracting and outsourcing.

Shifts in Culture: Staff, administrators, faculty, and leaders are retiring or resigning because of burnout, unhealthy or unsupportive workplace cultures, and/or the ability to find more desirable work conditions elsewhere. People are leaving for better salaries, the opportunity to work remotely or hybrid, and better work/life balance. Few institutions are engaged in strategic planning that targets recruitment, retention, succession, and offboarding. Those institutions that are working on strategic planning in these areas are reviewing salaries, developing succession plans, identifying non-monetary incentives, and considering cultural changes such as offering hybrid/remote work arrangements.

Shifts in Technology: While respondents did not report any direct technological shifts due to the resignation of leaders and staff, they did report difficulties in retaining and hiring technology staff and leadership. Thus, moving forward, this challenge has the potential to lead to indirect effects on technological processes managed by the IT department—for example, technology that is more difficult to maintain and upgrade and delays with technological support due to understaffing and/or loss of institutional and departmental knowledge.

How are institutions responding to More calls for data-informed decision-making and reporting?

Shifts in Workforce: Many institutions are adding new positions, teams, and cross-functional work groups and committees devoted to data analytics, though respondents reported difficulties in retaining and recruiting qualified individuals to support big data systems and analytics. Some institutions are redesigning existing positions to focus on data reporting and visualization needs, while others are merging existing teams and workgroups with those that intersect with data analytics (e.g., enterprise tech groups and data science and analytics groups). Some institutions have begun offering training on analytics (e.g., student success analytics) to their faculty and staff.

Shifts in Culture: There is increasing awareness of the value and need for data across all functional areas of the institution, including recruitment, retention, student success, budgeting and fiscal performance, and business operations. Institutional leaders are pushing for more data-informed decision-making, but the need remains for growth and improvement in the areas of data governance, cybersecurity issues, data literacy, and access (i.e., making data easy to report and interpret via dashboards).

Shifts in Technology: Institutions are adopting and/or upgrading their data infrastructure and tools (e.g., dashboarding platforms, warehouses, analytics programs, reporting and integration platforms, CRMs), while also utilizing more of the data from their existing technologies and platforms (e.g., LMSs, ERP systems). Due to increases in the awareness of data privacy and security issues, many of these institutions have adopted security systems and network monitoring solutions to allow for safer data collection.

How are institutions responding to Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning?

Shifts in Workforce: Institutions have increased their number of fully online instructional design staff, in addition to adding leadership positions focused on online learning and instruction. Many institutions are providing more funding and training efforts so that faculty members can improve their instruction and course delivery.

Shifts in Culture: Despite the widespread adoption of hybrid and online learning, respondents reported conflicting preferences. For example, most students want these options, yet faculty and leadership have mixed preferences. With many institutions already having adopted hybrid and online courses for undergraduates, efforts are now shifting toward moving graduate programs to these formats. As institutions continue to offer hybrid and online programs, issues surrounding equity and accessibility, along with the ability to balance flexibility and the quality of the teaching and learning experience, are and continue to be in discussion.

Shifts in Technology: Many institutions have upgraded or renovated their classrooms and other learning spaces and will continue to do so (e.g., making spaces hybrid-capable with updated AV equipment and integration with Zoom). Some have implemented new student engagement platforms (e.g., CRM, online tutoring, advising, wellness tools) and/or adopted additional support technologies and tools (e.g., lecture-capture technology, plagiarism-detection tools, analytics tools and platforms, vertical market products). Institutions have largely shifted away from desktops in favor of laptops and have adopted or are in the process of considering different LMS options that work well with hybrid and online learning methods.

How are institutions responding to Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education?

Shifts in Workforce: While many institutions are in the process of planning for and implementing digital transformation, respondents reported that the traditional Dx concept needs to be augmented with remote workforce management, effective hybrid workforce support, and new work ethics standards. Further, due to the Great Resignation and the state of the job market, retraining existing staff and filling new positions created as part of the Dx process remains a challenge.

Shifts in Culture: Digital transformation is necessary for institutions to survive and to sustain operations in the face of enrollment pressures, declining budgets, and changes in students' expectations. Institutions are increasingly focused on the Dx process for all functional areas of higher education—not just academics but also athletics, HR, finance, and administration. Institutions are working on strategic plans that incorporate digital transformation, though they face a number of challenges, including keeping up with fast-paced technology changes and stakeholder buy-in.

Shifts in Technology: Institutions have adopted new CRM tools for monitoring the student life cycle and advancement, as well as for managing collaborations, communication, and workflow. There has been widespread adoption of cloud-based services to facilitate hybrid/remote work and learning arrangements, and the focus now is more on accessibility, equity, and the challenges of getting equipment to all who need it. More institutions are adopting technologies to support the processes of digitizing, automating, and streamlining (e.g., digitized procurement and hiring processes, implementation of digital signatures, big data and storage tools, ERP tools).

How are institutions responding to Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining?

Shifts in Workforce: Many institutions have frozen tuition and fees in an effort to keep costs at a minimum for students. In response to reduced budgets, coupled with declining enrollment numbers, institutions have put holds on increasing salaries and filling vacant positions and have started exploring programs like retirement incentives to help reduce human capital costs.

Shifts in Culture: Institutional leaders widely recognize the impact that rising costs have had on the perceived value of higher education, and they are focused on demonstrating the value proposition of their institutions by improving graduates' career outcomes and employability while also reducing costs and providing financial assistance. To demonstrate value, institutions are expanding career services programs and aligning academic programs with career, skill, and job market needs. To curb spending, institutions are limiting their budget growth and re-examining software contracts, pushing back on price increases, and/or dropping products. They are also exploring various financial assistance options (e.g., additional need-based support), increasing advancement and fundraising goals to help close the gap from public funding, ramping up FAFSA applications and affordability conversations, and revisioning their financial support models to offer only grant-based funding.

Shifts in Technology: With an increased emphasis on student workforce readiness, institutions are investing in technologies that are comparable to or better than those in students' future work environments. Advising platforms and academic planning technologies are helping maximize students' time and financial investment in their coursework, and some institutions are engaging in automating processes in the CRM and recruiting functions and creating team and process maps to support enrollment. IT units are also prioritizing efficiency by reviewing the impacts of ERP systems on institutional flexibility, avoiding duplicative solutions, repurposing technology circulation pools, and changing reserves policies and procedures.

How are institutions responding to Focus on increasing institutional resilience?

Shifts in Workforce: Resiliency efforts in the workforce during the pandemic were singularly focused on budgetary concerns and the effects of faculty and staff turnover on the ability of institutions to operate effectively. Now, some institutions are viewing turnover as an opportunity to rebuild their operational strategy and are increasing cross-departmental flexibility among staff to reduce the impact of turnover. Others noted that the increase in workload and the decreased budgets—namely, the lack of salary increases and the reduction in backfilling vacancies—have taken a toll on faculty and staff.

Shifts in Culture: Many institutions are working on shifting campus culture to focus on agility and flexibility to meet rapidly changing needs. Business continuity is an important aspect of this work, as institutions are translating the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic into revised disaster recovery and process continuity plans to ensure they are ready to pivot to an on-campus or virtual environment at any given moment. They are also increasing cross-unit collaboration and cross-training and identifying business models to tap new markets and students. Financial recovery planning is critical as well, and institutions are updating their health care benefits to rebuild savings and shore up finances, consolidating courses, and exploring alternative revenue streams and earning options outside of traditional educational programs.

Shifts in Technology: Aligned with institutional efforts to increase agility and flexibility, IT units are building institutional resilience by repurposing funds to modernize data centers and disaster recovery facilities, utilizing a cloud-first approach to build resilience capabilities in security and disaster recovery, instituting new backup systems, and continuing end-of-life equipment replacement grounded in sustainability through automated and scheduled updates and replacements.

How are institutions responding to Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity?

Shifts in Workforce: IT units are proactively engaging with their HR teams to refine job descriptions and encourage more diverse candidate pools, develop rubrics for resumé reviews, and include job search advocates on search committees. Staff development and support programs are providing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training, staff affinity groups, and new career pathways and training opportunities for under-represented populations within the institution. Several institutions have also created positions to directly support DEI awareness and culture.

Shifts in Culture: From listening sessions to campus-wide virtual reality experiences, institutions are taking steps to understand and address the discrimination and inequity concerns of students, faculty, and staff. To help ensure that institutional leaders are proactively anticipating and responding to these concerns, DEI efforts are being strategically embedded into institutional policies and are shaping institutional practices such as the following: more inclusive language and alt-text in all documentation; department-level DEI plans; dedicated DEI student groups and faculty/staff working groups; DEI academic programs, lectures, and courses; and DEI offices (e.g., Office of Diversity, Office of Community and Belonging) and leadership roles (e.g., Chief Diversity Officer, Vice Provost for DEI, Vice President of DEI and Belonging, department-level DEI Directors).

Shifts in Technology: A number of institutions are working with their IT units to support DEI efforts. IT units are engaged in projects such as pronoun collection to allow self-selection of preferred pronouns that are automatically populated in downstream systems and instructional rosters, platform development to gather data and reports on DEI initiatives, and analytics solutions for disaggregating student metrics. Institutions are also considering digital equity and minimum technology requirements in their technology planning to increase resources and support for all students.

How are institutions responding to Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics?

Shifts in Workforce: Institutional leaders are facing challenges in upskilling existing staff, within and outside of the IT department, and in hiring qualified candidates to help improve workforce data literacy and skills. Institutions are offering staff development opportunities (e.g., a "Data Innovators” certificate) that focus on appropriate collection and management of data and best practices for using data to extract insights and support decision-making. To help support and lead these efforts, institutions have created positions such as Director of Data Analytics and Vice President for Enterprise Analytics. They are also including more prominent and consistent language about desired data analytics skills in relevant job descriptions and postings.

Shifts in Culture: To keep up with the growth in big data and analytics, institutions are developing new courses, strategically aligning data governance with Dx plans, and building capacity to sustain these efforts. Many institutions have begun planning or are already offering interdisciplinary courses and short-term academies related to data literacy and skills to ensure that all students are exposed to data science. Others are incorporating content into required first-year courses, covering topics from information and digital literacy to data analytics and privacy. To broaden and deepen the integration of data governance efforts with their Dx strategy, institutions are creating related communities of practice, pursuing transparency with data privacy dashboards, and partnering with their institutional research teams to increase institutional knowledge of analytics.

Shifts in Technology: With data and analytics siloed or poorly structured at many institutions, and without a centralized and robust set of tools, the requests for data that support specific strategic initiatives and measures are being stalled. A number of IT units, however, are ramping up their support for data delivery and consumption by expanding the role of business intelligence teams, implementing data lakehouse environments, deploying self-service data-analysis portals and platforms, and improving data aggregation, management, and business process automation.

Next Steps

Although the next steps for each institution must be carefully charted out according to its own context, mission, resources, and needs, the following EDUCAUSE resources and professional learning opportunities can provide leaders and practitioners with general guidance to get started, strategies to consider, and peer communities to contact.

More IT Issues Resources

Visit the IT Issues web page for additional resources.

© 2022 Ashley Caron and Nicole Muscanell. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.

Citation for this work
Ashley Caron and Nicole Muscanell. 2023 Higher Education Trend Watch. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE, October 31, 2022.


EDUCAUSE is a higher education technology association and the largest community of IT leaders and professionals committed to advancing higher education. Technology, IT roles and responsibilities, and higher education are dynamically changing. Formed in 1998, EDUCAUSE supports those who lead, manage, and use information technology to anticipate and adapt to these changes, advancing strategic IT decision-making at every level within higher education. EDUCAUSE is a global nonprofit organization whose members include US and international higher education institutions, corporations, not-for-profit organizations, and K–12 institutions. With a community of more than 99,000 individuals at member organizations located around the world, EDUCAUSE encourages diversity in perspective, opinion, and representation. For more information, please visit educause.edu.