The results from our 2018 topic poll are (almost) in

Expert Insight

The results from our 2018 topic poll are (almost) in

Looking towards the future for our 2019 Academic Affairs research agenda

By Michelle DiMenna

Each year, EAB polls academic affairs leaders to determine the most pressing issues affecting their institutions. This year’s topic poll included 26 high-level topics informed by hundreds of conversations with members and more than a decade of dedicated EAB research.

Based on preliminary results, EAB is looking into exploring the future of learning in 2019. Most notably, academic affairs leaders are interested in research on the student of the future, new types of faculty roles, and innovations in student success. Below, read about the topics that most resonated with our members and what’s next for the EAB research team.

Top Priorities

1. Preparing for the student of the future

Colleges and universities need to be ready for rapid changes in the higher education landscape. Student demographics will continue to shift as the number of high school graduates decreases. The growth rate of high school graduates has stagnated and will begin to decline starting in 2026. Non-traditional students, like community college transfers and adult learners, will provide the greatest opportunity for growth.

As graduates face a high-tech, entrepreneurial job market, students are increasingly choosing career-aligned majors, resulting in sharp declines in arts and humanities enrollment. However, employers still want traditional arts and letters skills like synthetic thinking, cultural competency, and writing. Institutions can teach these skills with a practical focus, such as using writing to harness the power of narrative in business and finance.

Additionally, despite the clear lifetime value of a degree, many rising student groups, like low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students, may be less willing to take the near-term risk. This is particularly troubling given that with rising income inequality, the role of higher education as a driver for economic mobility is more important than ever. Colleges can respond by integrating experiential learning and work experience into the academic curriculum to take into account that some students cannot take breaks from earning.

2. Differentiating faculty career tracks, responsibilities, and workloads

As institutions seek to improve student success, increase research activity, and engage with the public, more academic leaders question whether current faculty roles align with these goals.


Institutions struggle to meet student demand for courses with their existing faculty skillsets, workload policies, and incentive structures. Some schools are shifting away from traditional faculty career tracks and instead, creating differentiated roles that allow specialization in areas like research or teaching. Institutions can also revamp policies and existing roles to encourage teaching innovations, pedagogical research, and involvement in student success initiatives.

3. Shifting the student success focus to persistence through the second and third years

After years of focusing on first-year retention, academic leaders clearly stated an interest in promoting persistence across the student lifecycle. However, supporting second- and third-year students will require different approaches than retaining first-year students. These students have made it through the transition to college and are facing new challenges like more rigorous courses, financial strain, and the stress of impending graduation.

As EAB’s Murky Middle research shows, many of these students are in good academic standing but choose to stop out anyway. Future research in this challenging area could focus on topics ranging from more targeted, behavior-based financial aid, innovations in academic advising, and more streamlined curricular pathways that facilitate student navigation.

Across the winter, the Academic Affairs research team at EAB will continue to seek member feedback and refine these topics. We look forward to speaking with you and your teams to set an ambitious research agenda for the 2019-2020 Provost Roundtable series.

Stayed tuned for resources from our 2018 research

While our 2019 research topics aren’t quite finalized, we will have new content stemming from our 2018 research on academic organizational redesign and overcoming barriers to student equity. Register for our spring and summer webconferences here, and stay tuned for new resources!

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