25 ways college has changed in the last decade

Written by:
November 18, 2019
Updated on November 19, 2019
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25 ways college has changed in the last decade

When Harvard was founded in 1636, there were only two requirements for its white, male prospective students: that they be literate, and possess the ability to translate Latin and Greek. Much has changed in the admissions process since, along with most other elements of higher education.

Sure, there are still the college team rivalries we've seen for decades, not to mention the enduring tradition of pulling all-nighters before exams. But in many ways, today's colleges are vastly different than they were even a decade ago. Not only have college costs risen faster than inflation in the last 10 years, but students also have unprecedented access to all forms of technology—some of which didn't exist a decade ago. Thanks to online courses, many of today's students don't even have to enter a physical classroom to pursue their degrees; they now have the option of completing their work from the comfort of their own living rooms (or, as you'll find out, their parents' homes). This has made college more flexible and accessible for students with disabilities, those who live in rural areas, and for parents who are returning to school while still juggling family and work responsibilities.

Yet while college today may be a different experience than in years past, it's still one of the best ways to ensure a higher paid career, job security and to create a lifetime of memories.

We've mined various statistics, authoritative studies, and news reports to determine 25 ways college has changed since 2009. Wherever possible, trends are supported by hard numbers to demonstrate the change. Keep reading to find out which college expense has grown by 812% since the early '80s, how student activism has changed in higher education, and how college demographics have shifted to make higher education more diverse.

Colleges have embraced virtual reality

About half of all universities and colleges now use virtual reality (VR), allowing students to tour prospective universities without costly on-campus visits. Once enrolled, students can use headsets, 3D models and 360-degree videos to master technologies they’ll be using in the workplace. And the number of colleges using VR will continue to grow. By 2021, 60% of colleges will use virtual technology to create immersive learning environments, according to a 2017 report from research firm Gartner Inc.

Classes and textbooks go online

The introduction of technology has been one of the biggest changes on college campuses. Today, students submit their assignments electronically and even textbooks are available in electronic form. A decade ago, taking a class online was rare, but today 33% of college students take at least one class online.

Student debt has skyrocketed

With the rising costs of college, including tuition and housing, more students are turning to student loans in order to finance their education. Today’s college graduates are entering the work world with 40% more student loan debt on average than students 10 years ago. A report from the Institute for College Access & Success found the average financial burden for indebted college students is $30,000.

College shootings are on the rise

There was a 153% increase in college shooting incidents in the five-year period between the 2011–12 and 2015–16 school years as compared to the same time period between the 2001–02 and 2005–06 school years, according to a 2016 study from the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City. In those same two five-year comparisons, there was a 241% increase in casualties on campuses from gun violence.

Student demographics have changed drastically

Today's college students are much more diverse than in years past. The 2018 State of the Student research project, conducted by education technology company Chegg, reported that current minority enrollment is at 42% compared to 15% in 1970. In 2017, college enrollment was higher for Asian students (65%), than it was for white (41%), black (36%) and Hispanic (36%) students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

More women are going to college

In years past, men outnumbered women on college campuses. Today, women outnumber men. A new report says from Pew Research, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggests women will in short order comprise the majority of American, college-educated workers. The same study found that women 25 years and older today represent 50.2% of the college-educated workforce (50.2%); up 11% from 20 years ago.

Colleges have more older students

While college campuses were once the next logical step for high school graduates, today’s colleges also attract a growing population of older students. Following the Great Recession, many workers who had trouble finding work went back to school to develop their skills. From 2001 to 2015, there was a 35% jump in college students between the ages of 25 and 34, according to data from NCES.

Students are taking longer to graduate college

The traditional four-year college experience is rare for many students. Today, students often take longer to earn their bachelor’s degree. More than 60% of students take an average of six years to graduate from college, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Reasons such as changing majors, a clear lack of planning or advising, and juggling school with work and family responsibilities all contribute to the extended time it takes to graduate.

New majors on the rise

In response to the changing job market, colleges are adding new majors and fields of study. While schools like Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., have always allowed students to customize their majors, other universities have recently opened up their offerings to cast a wider net of student interest. Some of the new offerings include social media, nanotechnology, computer security, and pop culture studies. Michigan’s Lake Superior State University in 2019 became the first school in the U.S. to roll out a number of cannabis-related majors. Overall, STEM majors, such as health sciences and engineering, rank at the top of the list for the most lucrative careers with the lowest level of unemployment.

Socializing is less of a priority for students

Between social media and studying, today's college students are socializing less than in years past and this isn't necessarily a good thing. A 2015 annual survey of college freshmen by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute found college freshmen were socializing less and facing greater pressures to succeed, which in turn leads to less time to have fun. The survey notes that college students have shifted away from parties and other social activities and are now concentrating more on their studies. Yet experts maintain that it's important to strike a happy medium with studies and social activities in order to reduce stress and maintain well-being.

Keeping in touch is easier

Remember when seeing old college classmates meant attending a reunion or when colleges sold yearbooks to document memories? Email was responsible for a huge step in keeping connected with old classmates; even more recently—thanks to a vast array of social media platforms—today’s college students can more easily access other alumni, making preserving memories and job networking easier.

There are more campus dining options

Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free dishes are now commonplace at college dining halls. Students have requested healthier and more diverse food options, and colleges are meeting their requests. Formed in 2015 by a core group of campus dining representatives, the Menus of Change collaborative aims to encourage colleges to serve healthy and sustainable food and now involves 45 college and university foodservice and academic programs across the U.S.

Acceptance at elite colleges is harder than ever

While some students dream of getting into an Ivy League college, many colleges have been accepting fewer students in recent years. In 2019, Harvard University reported a 4.5 acceptance rate for the class of 2023, a new record acceptance low. While the acceptance rates for Yale, Stanford, and Princeton were either at or above 20% in 1980, in 2015, they were at 7.4%, 5.44%, and 8.4%, according to Spark Admissions.

Colleges are ditching SAT, ACT requirements

As many as 1 in 4 colleges and universities have removed SAT or ACT requirements from admissions, according to October 2019 comments Michael Nietzel, president emeritus of Missouri State University, made to PBS. A 2019 analysis by the Center on Education and the Workforce looked at the 200 most competitive schools in the U.S. and found that had they relied solely on SAT scores, more than half of the students recently accepted would not have gotten in.

Tuition costs rose eight times faster than wages

Gone are the days when college was an affordable proposition. Over the past 20 years, college tuition has outpaced inflation and wages. Forbes reported in 2018 that the price tag associated with enrolling in higher education grew almost eight times faster than wages between 1989 and 2016.

Campus security has ramped up

With an increasing number of shootings occurring on college campuses in recent years, students have become more worried about the potential for gun violence on campus. According to Chegg’s 2018 State of the Student Report, 66% of students are worried about the possibility of gun violence on their campus. In response to student concerns, colleges are taking steps to increase awareness and prevention of gun violence with enhanced security systems, improved mental health care, and active shooter response training.

The end of college doesn’t mean adulthood

More young adults are living with their parents today than at any time in the last 75 years, according to a 2018 study by Pew Research Center. That means graduation doesn’t equate with true adulting. Still, while more college graduates are living home today than 10 years ago, the same study found those without college degrees were more likely to live at home with parents than those with degrees.

College enrollment is up

NCES found a 27% increase in undergraduate enrollment from 2000 to 2017, showing a jump from 13.2 million to 16.8 million enrolled students. Those numbers are expected to continue climbing by another 400,000 students by 2028.

Fewer college students consider themselves religious

The amount of freshmen with a religious preference dropped by about 9% from 2005 to 2014, according to UCLA’s annual Cooperative Institutional Research Program survey, which polls around 150,000 students from more than 200 colleges around the U.S. Another study, conducted by the Interfaith Youth Core, found college may actually make students less religious. That study discovered church-going college students, for example, reduced their frequency of church attendance or stopped going entirely.

More students seek out counseling

Despite a 5% growth in college enrollment between the 2009–10 and 2014–15 school years, there was a more than 30% increase in students seeking out counseling, according to a 2018 report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health. The report suggested this was a net-positive, pointing to campaigns encouraging students to seek help and helping peers and faculty to recognize at-risk students.

Campus activism has increased significantly

U.S. colleges saw a sizable increase in campus activism from the previous year, according to UCLA’s Higher Education Institute’s 2016 findings. The study additionally reports the highest level engagement since its first survey 50 years prior. Those numbers reflect—and will continue to be buoyed by—recent racial, sexual, and political movements, such as Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ rights, and Free Speech.

Textbook costs rose four times faster than inflation

The price students pay for textbooks exploded by more than 812% since the early ‘80s, creating an industry worth between $7 billion and $10 billion. The average college student spends around $1,168 each year on textbooks.

Colleges have gotten greener

The Princeton Review in 2008 established its first annual “green ratings” system, which includes a “Green Honor Roll” recognizing excellence in sustainable advances at college campuses around the world. Eleven schools made the rankings’ honor roll list in 2008; 26 schools made the 2020 Green Honor Roll. The Princeton Review relies on more than two dozen metrics to make its rankings, which have been published since 2009 in the education service company’s Guide to Green Colleges.

More students are studying abroad

Eighteen percent of U.S. study abroad students 2006–2007 school year were minorities, according to the Institute of International Education. That percentage jumped to 29% during the 2016 to 2017 school year. That same year, the percentage of students studying abroad rose 2.3% over the year prior—a modest increase that has stayed consistent for the last decade, according to the annual Open Doors report put out by the Institute every year. Other findings include that women tend to study abroad more than men.

On-campus drug recovery programs have become more available

Despite 23% of students enrolled in college in 2012 having substance abuse issues, just 34 4-year colleges in the U.S. (out of 4,500 nationally) offered on-campus recovery support, according to Transforming Youth Recovery. That number was up from only 10 on-campus drug recovery programs around 2007. By 2015, that number jumped to 135, according to NPR, and continues to grow.

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