Dr. Shana Garrett explains the Higher Ed Enrollment Cliff

A Note from Dr. Shana Garrett, chairman, USDLA Communications Committee Articles about the higher ed enrollment cliff have populated the pages of many education publications this fall.

What is the higher ed enrollment cliff?

As described in Synario magazine, “American post-secondary institutions are hurting and are now bracing for another crisis yet again. Academic leaders are preparing to encounter what has become known as a cliff in traditional student enrollment. College enrollment projections anticipate numbers to plummet by more than 15% after 2025—just three short years away. The impending cliff was initially predicted due to steadily declining birth rates since the 2008 recession. This cohort of lost babies in the years ensuing 2008 would have begun to enter college 17 years later–starting their collegiate journeys in 2025.” Click here to read more.

As a leader at USDLA, I want to share thoughts about what might be on the horizon.

Clearly, education is facing a variety of both challenges as well as opportunities. COVID-19 landed in our communities, and as a result, educational institutions shifted quickly to distance education as a means of sustainability during those times. Higher education was already serving students in that space but tried its best to assist other educational agencies to continue learning.

Challenges within higher education exist, and it goes well beyond the pandemic. Influences, ranging from accessibility, and career interests to work preferences, are all considerations being made by prospective students, current students, and members of our communities. The list of concerns and challenges continues to increase while the opportunity to solve remains demanding and complex.

For those institutions seeking to endure this difficult time, adaptation and inventive approaches to an educational experience will be critical to sustainability. My professional career in higher education spans over twenty years, most of which have been dedicated to distance education.

I am an advocate for distance education, passionate about providing a quality student experience and invested in the personal development that accompanies the academic journey.

As part of the educational experience, maturation of the self, soul, and mind should be a part of the learning experience.

Over the years, and possibly generations, the education industry has remained structured within a design, platforms, and approaches that go far back in time and have been fully deployed. Many can share the same experiences of lectures, homework, and the challenges of working within a bureaucratic system. Occasionally, stories are shared about a unique course offering or a faculty member who made a difference in your life, or maybe it was the program of your preference. But as the saying goes, times are changing, and we are all experiencing that shift in higher education.

Recently there has been awareness of significant challenges with new enrollments. Reasons may be personal or professional, but higher education has found itself in a complex environment with competing demands, high expectations, and a consumer population asking informed questions. Factors include demographics, the impact of family and parental influences, and generational expectations as indicators of enrollment choices. Coupled with those items, for the first time in a memorable time, there is a lack of confidence in higher education.

To determine solutions, we must know our communities’ questions and concerns about higher education. Opening those lines for conversation, feedback, and criticism will be challenging, and it will be an easy fix. But to truly understand the community’s interests, coupled with the job and employer needs in the workforce, it’s a starting place for conversations to build upon. We might discover additional pathways and journey options to create a more impactful and meaningful higher education structure — one only imagined when connecting and sharing experiences.

Click here to read some of the articles about this topic you might find interesting:

Thoughts, ideas, questions? Feel free to contact me by email at

About Dr. Shana Garrett: An authentic leader within the higher education industry with the savvy for talent and business assessments involving dynamic situations and challenges while focused on results and strategic resolutions, Dr. Garrett has been highly successful in the higher education field. For the past 20 years, she has worked in traditional and proprietary education as a program administrator, dean, practitioner, and faculty member. She currently serves as a Dean for Walden University. Dr. Garrett’s highly effective management style delivers an authentic approach to coaching and leadership within traditional and distance learning environments.

Extensive experience in ground and distance learning environments enhances her specializations in adult learning and start-up functions or corrective operations. She is well-versed in contemporary adult learning concepts, instructional and content design, leadership assessment, and organizational effectiveness. Her development of a Pure Heart approach to leadership came from the realization that most of the time, the situation wasn’t personal but more about her being a part of the solution to the work resolution or problem. After several years of experience with developing teams, talent, and turnarounds, she has been recognized as an organizational leader and mentor to new talent and those needing a change, and fundamental in elevating the talents and specialties of others.

Given her experience in business and academic operations, she is a strategic and creative thinker who develops systems and processes that support the individual employee and/or team but ultimately deliver on driving personal, professional, and organizational productivity. While higher education is her focus, she also has several years of experience in counseling, specializing in crisis intervention and trauma recovery. Dr. Garrett is a Licensed Professional Counselor and holds the designation of a National Certified Counselor. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Saybrook University, her Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University, and her Bachelor of Arts in Counseling Psychology from the University of North Texas. Learn more at

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Dr. Shana Garrett explains the Higher Ed Enrollment Cliff