Significant risks facing higher education

Taking an enterprise approach to risk management

The higher education sector is experiencing change at an accelerating rate. Some of these shifts have been years in the making; others are the result of recent disruptions to the sector itself. A study by Duke Corporate Education explains that, “It’s time to get comfortable being perpetually uncomfortable. The known, mostly predictable, rhythms associated with universities of the past 100 years have given way to syncopation caused by two off-beat troublemakers: technological change and cost pressure.”

While an environment of constant change and disruption creates opportunities for institutions to differentiate themselves in a crowded market, it also creates a growing array of risks that can quickly derail their strategy. On top of that, recent events on college campuses have raised serious questions about not just the priorities and processes of leadership, but their moral and ethical standards. High profile instances of sexual misconduct, deaths related to campus violence, among many others, have shown that major reputational crises (and the resulting scrutiny of both leaders and the Board) can happen at any time – and may be happening already. 

In some cases, a risk event catches an institution by surprise; in other cases, the risk is well known. Growth of media coverage, including amplification of any topic through social media, means that any mishaps are likely to quickly become public and thus subject to the type of scrutiny that can erode a university’s reputation overnight. 

Consider an institution: 

  • that is rocked by sexual misconduct allegations that results in leadership resignations and large financial settlements 
  • braces for student activism after incidences of alleged racism, resulting in leadership resignations followed by an enrolment dip the following year 
  • faces the ramifications of the loss of accreditation, leaving students at risk of financial aid request denial, inability of credits in progress to transfer to another institution, and most importantly the stigma against the institution that may negative impact the degree’s value and the student’s ability to gain employment.

Key Takeouts:

This report looks at significant risks and issues facing higher education institutions of various sizes such as:

  • Business Model Risks
  • Reputation Risks
  • Operating Model Risks
  • Enrolment supply Risks
  • Compliance Risks
Did you find this useful?