2024 Higher Education Trend Watch

2024 Higher Education Trend Watch


This report focuses on the workforce, cultural, and technological shifts for seven macro trends that are continuing or emerging in higher education in 2024. Across these three areas of shift, we report the major impacts and steps that institutions are taking in response to each trend. Many of the trend topics and issues remain consistent with the 2023 Higher Education Trend Watch. Colleges and universities continue to face challenges with enrollments, rising costs and uncertainty in funding, resignation and migration of leaders and staff, and increasing security and privacy threats. Yet, many institutions have moved from early reactive phases to a stronger focus on improvement and sustainability. For example, institutional leaders are devoting more efforts toward digital transformation and institutional resilience and, as part of this, are making data-informed decisions in addition to strengthening their technology infrastructure to protect against the growing threats to personal privacy. In response to the demand for flexible work and learning options, institutions are continuing to implement and improve hybrid and remote work and learning arrangements. Finally, institutions are also devoting significantly more attention and resources to individuals' mental health, wellness, and belonging while increasing efforts toward creating equitable and inclusive environments and experiences.

2024 Top Trends

Respondents to the 2024 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
2Demand for continued hybrid and remote work arrangements
3More calls for data-informed decision-making and reporting
4More attention to well-being and mental health
5 (tie)Increased efforts towards creating equitable and inclusive environments and experiences
5 (tie)Growing efforts towards digital transformation and institutional resilience
6Increased focus on improving hybrid and online learning

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 shift: workforce, culture, and technology.

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

Shifts in Workforce: The complexity of phishing attacks and risks such as data loss are at an all-time high, and institutions are struggling to keep up with the "patch and protect" cycle needed to secure data. Some institutions are bringing on new leadership in response to these challenges, in addition to forming committees and working groups (e.g., information security groups, data privacy committees, and ransomware teams) tasked with cybersecurity and privacy initiatives. However, even if institutions hire more staff, cybersecurity and privacy personnel will still be challenged to keep up with the constantly evolving and increasingly complex data and regulatory landscape.

Shifts in Culture: An ever-changing landscape of compliance and regulations and exponential growth of threat actors is causing institutions to need broader cybersecurity and privacy programs, in addition to the funding to support them. Institutional leaders are conducting more security training and are establishing data security and privacy as core competencies for faculty, staff, and students. They are also revising policies and developing new strategic plans (especially to align with new regulatory requirements), implementing better risk assessment and remediation plans, and putting stronger emphasis on operational initiatives on data security and threat detection and intelligence. Respondents also noted that their institutions are implementing more robust security measures such as zero trust environments and DMZ networks, in addition to securing certifications (e.g., HITRUST).

Shifts in Technology: Institutions are continuing to tighten controls to secure their perimeters–some campuses are removing administrative rights from devices, excluding foreign countries from systems, and implementing mandatory operating system upgrades. Institutions are also continuing to strengthen and standardize their endpoint management by exploring new identity management solutions and by making multi-factor authentication and single sign-on more widespread (e.g., implementation across all applications and services). Some respondents noted that their institutions are adopting new frameworks such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) cybersecurity framework and security information and event management solutions to improve their risk management. Yet other respondents noted that they have not been able to adopt new and needed technology due to a lack of the staff and time required to safely implement new technologies.

How are institutions responding to Demand for continued hybrid and remote work arrangements?

Shifts in Workforce: Institutions continue to navigate the great resignation, and in response, many have adopted hybrid and remote work arrangements to retain employees and attract new talent. The implementation of hybrid/remote work options is helping institutions to attract candidates for positions that are typically difficult to fill and is also helping to expand their recruitment pool by drawing in individuals from disparate geographic locations. Some institutional leaders are thinking beyond staffing issues and are considering their employees' health and well-being–implementing flexible work options to promote a healthier work/life balance and facilitating increased productivity, employee satisfaction, and overall organizational resilience.

Shifts in Culture: Well past the emergency move to hybrid and remote work, many institutions are now looking to more intentional and strategic implementation and revision of alternative work arrangements—developing guidelines, policies, and procedures and also working to determine the right balance of on-site and remote work. However, not all colleges and universities are in the same stage of policy development and implementation. Some have already implemented official remote and flexible work arrangement guidelines and policies, others are revising policies that had previously been implemented, and still others are in earlier phases of policy development planning. Tensions exist, since some leaders, faculty, and staff believe on-site work is optimal. Nevertheless, institutions are increasingly moving toward embracing flexible work options.

Shifts in Technology: With a steady demand for hybrid and remote work options, the expectation that members of the campus community can connect from any place, from any device, and at any time has never been stronger. As a result, institutions continue to adopt technologies to support remote work, including collaboration, security, and other technologies needed to maintain growing and evolving networks and infrastructures. As a consequence, technology personnel are becoming more involved in ongoing conversations about hybrid and remote work so that they can best support everyday operations. Institutional leaders are consulting their IT professionals as they decide what mix of hybrid/remote work arrangements they should offer, what technology will be needed for the continuation of hybrid/remote work, and how workspaces can be (re)designed to best support a mix of work arrangements (e.g., consolidation of spaces, shared interdepartmental cubicles, huddle rooms, Zoom conference rooms).

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

Shifts in Workforce: The growth in demand for data-informed decision-making continues to reshape the data analytics workforce in higher education. Institutions are trying to keep up with the personnel, including IT professionals, to support data governance. Respondents noted that their institutions have created new leadership positions and that individuals in these roles are specifically tasked with making data-informed institutional decisions. However, the creation of new positions and successful hiring and retention remain a challenge alongside workload and budget issues. In response, staff are being onboarded from existing data-related areas across the institution to assist with data warehouses and reporting functionalities, and IT professionals are increasingly involved with supporting data governance and infrastructure.

Shifts in Culture: As institutions continue to face challenges with enrollments and funding, campus leaders are asking for more data to enhance institutional effectiveness, improve decision-making processes, and make informed strategic choices that positively impact student success, operational efficiency, and overall institutional outcomes. The calls for data are also becoming more widespread, extending beyond leadership: students, faculty, and others are asking how data is being used to inform decisions. Institutions are now focused on getting data into a usable format and into the hands of those who need it for decision-making. To break down decentralized and siloed data systems, institutions not only are investing more money into their data infrastructure but also are developing and revising governance, policies, and programs that support new centralized systems for data and reporting, along with testing new solutions that make data analysis and interpretation easier and more efficient.

Shifts in Technology: Institutions continue to update their technology infrastructure to answer calls for better systems and tools for reporting and information, including feasible ways to analyze large datasets, as well as calls for data that is not only accurate but also easier to access and use. Institutional leaders are reviewing and piloting new reporting and analytics technologies such as modern ERP software and data lakes powered by generative AI. Some respondents noted that their institutions are also identifying duplicate applications that hinder data use, in addition to integrating products for analytics.

How are institutions responding to More attention to well-being and mental health?

Shifts in Workforce: Many institutions are prioritizing mental health, not just for students but also for employees. Institutions have increased funding for mental health initiatives, leading to a growth in the mental health workforce and an expansion of programs and services offered. Institutions have hired more student success and mental health counselors, while others have responded to the demand for services by collaborating with third parties to provide professional mental health services to students and employees.

Shifts in Culture: Many institutions have increased support and funding for mental health and, as part of this, have expanded their services with offices for students' holistic well-being and mental health, wellness centers, and programs for students to understand what may be "just stress" versus a mental health crisis. Some institutions have implemented community groups where people can share and find support. As part of this expansion, institutions have also increased their outreach efforts, helping to raise awareness about mental health and available resources. Importantly, respondents noted that their institutions have started to create a genuine culture of understanding–one in which mental health is viewed as being just as important as physical health, students have more access to accommodations, and faculty and staff have more access to flexible work policies.

Shifts in Technology: Partners across campus are implementing software and systems to support access to services by students and employees. Institutions are also now investing in mental health technologies and tools such as campus-wide wellness apps that provide information on stress, anxiety, and sleep, in addition to activities and exercises that aid wellness (e.g., meditation, mindfulness, and self-assessment activities). Institutions have also implemented mental health training tools and classes for faculty and staff to be able to better identify and support students in need.

How are institutions responding to Increased efforts toward creating equitable and inclusive environments and experiences?

Shifts in Workforce: Institutions are expanding their workforce to support diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) on their campuses by bringing in staff to serve as equal employment opportunity professionals and DEI officers, specialists, and researchers. Some institutions have created new divisions or departments that report directly to the president on campus-wide DEI and belonging issues and initiatives.

Shifts in Culture: Many institutions are continuing to devote time and resources to increasing equity and inclusion, though some respondents noted that these efforts have been thwarted on their campuses due to the disbanding of DEI programs in some states and/or lack of funding. Those institutions that are able to move forward with DEI initiatives are focusing on equity and accessibility in the classroom–putting a stronger emphasis on ADA compliance (e.g., stronger enforcement of accessibility requirements for accurate transcripts of lecture recordings and other recorded course materials). Institutions are also taking another look at course design. Some are implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles and are discussing equity and inclusion in online and hybrid courses and how to ensure that students have comparable experiences across instructional modalities. Institutions are also increasing their support for students who face challenges with accessing food, clothing, housing, and technology (e.g., by implementing programs and services such as on-campus pantries and wellness hubs where students can obtain food, clothing, and other items they need).

Shifts in Technology: Institutions are implementing loaner technology programs to help bridge the technological divide for financially underserved students. Some have already invested in new technology and tools that meet DEI standards, in addition to implementing accessibility policies to ensure that digital resources and platforms are accessible to all campus members. Institutions are also being more intentional in their selection of technology before implementation, for example by using resources that help potential users to compare and assess available tools based on equity and inclusion.

How are institutions responding to Growing efforts toward digital transformation and institutional resilience?

Shifts in Workforce: IT professionals' involvement with broader areas of the institution continues to increase. As institutions devote more efforts toward digital transformation (Dx) and institutional resilience, ensuring that IT has a seat at the table has risen in importance. Institutional leaders are placing their IT leaders on teams to help with strategic planning and implementation surrounding Dx and resilience, and they are also ensuring that IT leaders are collaborating not only with each other but also with non-IT leaders.

Shifts in Culture: Some institutions have now incorporated Dx and resilience initiatives into their strategic plans. On some campuses, the prioritization of data-informed decision-making is driving these initiatives. Other institutions are taking a broader approach, creating new transformation initiatives that aim to adapt to changing technological landscapes, enhance operational efficiency, and foster innovation—with the goal of ensuring that institutions remain agile and competitive in the modern higher education landscape.

Shifts in Technology: In the midst of their digital transformation and resilience efforts, institutions are establishing a formal IT operating model and are revamping their IT roadmap to include a variety of projects focusing on system and process optimization. As part of this, some institutions are transforming and redesigning existing systems and practices, such as those surrounding student information systems and identity access management and integration. Others are adopting entirely new technologies including cloud-based platforms, ERP systems, and software as a service.

How are institutions responding to Increased focus on improving hybrid and online learning?

Shifts in Workforce: As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergency move to remote teaching and learning, demand for flexibility has grown steadily, not just by students but also by faculty and staff. Institutions are responding to these calls for flexwork and flexible learning, and many now regularly offer multiple modalities for work and learning. Institutions are working to ensure that they have the infrastructure in place to support a workforce that is more geographically diverse. As part of this, institutions are devoting more resources and personnel to support work across modalities, in addition to providing more training opportunities to improve experiences and outcomes via different modalities.

Shifts in Culture: Institutions are focusing on improving online and hybrid learning models that have been implemented. Some are establishing new programs and divisions (e.g., colleges of professional and continuing studies) with the goal of offering a wider range of flexible educational options, catering to the needs of diverse learners, and promoting accessibility. Institutions are also making significant investments to provide support and resources, including data, to equalize and improve student outcomes across all modalities, in addition to updating policies and training. Some respondents noted that their institutions are now allowing faculty more choice in teaching modalities in an effort to improve the teaching and learning experience.

Shifts in Technology: Technology to enable hybrid teaching and learning has become a key aspect of classroom planning. Many institutions have upgraded or redesigned learning spaces and have added designated classrooms for HyFlex and hybrid learning. Institutions are actively working with platform providers and internal teams to make significant improvements to user experience by providing access to tools and plug-ins for academic tools and by continuing to upgrade classroom technology to make more spaces hybrid friendly. Some institutions are also providing faculty with professional development opportunities that focus on online assessments and collaboration and learning management tools.

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.

© 2024 Nicole Muscanell. The content of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.

Citation for this work
Nicole Muscanell. 2024 Higher Education Trend Watch. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE, January 8, 2024.


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.