3 focus areas for higher education institutions across the globe in 2024

Much of the work aimed at student success when it comes to paying for higher education that colleges and universities started in 2023 will only gain importance in the coming year. There will be continued pressure on schools’ administrative and operations teams to do more with less in 2024, and opportunities for those who pave a new way forward. Here are three ways higher education institutions can do that.

  1. Put tools in place to advance affordability and student retention

    One of the findings in our recent survey of 1,800+ higher education students is that affordability is a key concern for 4 in 5 students across the globe. Nearly half said that financial difficulties have made the payment process a significant stressor for them and taking out loans to help pay for higher education is normal. What’s more, students worry that carrying this debt will prevent them from taking other steps in life such as continuing their education through to graduation, buying a home or starting a family.

    Clients often tell us that students and their families are very prepared for the first year, but for subsequent years financial ground can become less firm. In light of this, advancing students’ knowledge around “cost-to-degree” will continue to be very important, as will providing students flexible payment options - such as payment plans - to allow them to spread the cost of their education and budget for it accordingly. Demand for installments is high - 80% of students said that installments would make their education more affordable.

    Tennessee State University (TSU) offers payment plans with a budget-to-actual approach to support their students financially. Before semester begins, students can look at their financial account and ask the right questions: what financial aid do I have, how much do I need to borrow, and what can I pay for as I go? TSU’s payment plans are flexible, fitting within a family’s budget allowing them to reduce the amount they need to cover with loans. Students that can better afford their tuition fees and living costs are less likely to fall past due on invoices, and are more likely to stay enrolled.

    With access to data, schools can quickly identify when a student is at risk of missing a payment, and potentially at risk of not being able to enroll or stay in class. This enables them to automate communication and proactively put students on a payment plan that fits their budgeting needs before they get too far behind.

    Remember: students also want to know their payment options as early as possible-with their offer letter-and schools should offer clear payment guidance so that students can be confident they know what their options are within the payment process.

  2. Shifting student demographics likely, increased reliance on international students for some

    Across the globe, enrollments are stabilizing and interest in international education is strong and returning to pre-pandemic levels. However, at a country-level, student demographics are shifting, with increased competition between study destinations, meaning institutions will need to monitor their own demographics and adapt accordingly.

    In the U.K., for example, the proportion of students from European countries has declined substantially since Brexit-related changes were implemented, and a staggering three quarters of international students in the U.K. now hail from one of the top 10 sending countries (HESA).

    In the U.S., the predicted domestic “enrollment cliff” is meeting increased international interest in the U.S. as a study destination. Currently, international applications are growing at 3x the rate of domestic ones. The U.S. too has seen a shift in international student demographics with the number of Indian undergraduate students studying in the U.S. increasing significantly.

    The reality is that institutions across the globe will be forced to sharpen their student recruitment efforts both at home and abroad, but, as competition between study destinations increases, will also need to double down on their application and admissions processes to ensure students have the best possible outcomes. There will also be an increased focus on enabling student success from enrollment to degree, using technology to align payment options with student recruitment and retention strategies. This will be easier to achieve following Flywire’s acquisition of Studylink, which combines Studylink’s innovative international student admissions, application and agent management software with Flywire’s software and payments technology to help institutions streamline the entire student journey-from application and admissions through to deposit and tuition payments.
  3. Finding efficiencies more important than ever

    If there is one thing that will continue into 2024, it will be the pressure that administrative staff at universities and colleges will remain under to do more with the same (or possibly fewer) resources, and an increasing number of applications and enrollments will amplify this.

    Teams will only be able to adequately scale to meet increasing demands, if higher education institutions leverage technology. Technology helps to deliver process efficiencies and improve collaboration across campus, ultimately delivering a better student experience.

    Payments is one area where technology can deliver great results for teams in higher education institutions, automating time consuming processes such as reconciliation, refunds and credit control, particularly if there is tight integration between the payment solution and an institution’s Student Information System (SIS).

    In the U.S., for example, 529 plans have long been an important savings vehicle for millions of families. And, they are becoming even more appealing due to new rules on what is a qualified expense and changes to the FAFSA. Typically funds from 529 accounts are sent via paper check through the postal service or an overnight courier, rather than ACH, and involve a high level of manual administration. Digitizing and automating the entire 529 process using a solution like Flywire’s 529 disbursements, plan providers and institutions can experience greater efficiency and cost savings for all. For example, Purdue University has used Flywire to convert 7,300 paper checks into digital transactions totaling more than $54M. Families appreciate the speed at which funds are applied to the student account and administrators save countless hours of work and effort, especially during the busiest periods of the year.

    For students, technology offers an easier way to pay, providing familiar, local payment options, cost transparency and real-time progress updates, which are the most common issues they experience when making payments to their institutions.

    Overall, institutions that work to reduce the administrative burden through technology will free up people to do what they go into higher ed to do in the first place – ensure student success.

For more on how institutions are approaching some of higher education’s biggest challenges: