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Arkansas State University

Current Challenges for Administrators in Post-Secondary Education

It is well documented that a college degree typically promotes long-term benefits, including higher wages and better health outcomes. Higher levels of education are also associated with societal benefits. However, the prospect of student loan debt means fewer high school students are attending college.

Affordability is not higher education’s only challenge. For educators who aspire to solve today’s issues in higher ed, a Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.) is the next step. The Ed.D. in Educational Leadership with a concentration in Higher Education Administration at Arkansas State University (A-State) is for working educators. This online program allows educators to continue building their careers as they develop the knowledge and skills for senior and executive leadership roles.

1. Rising Costs, Declining Enrollment

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to dramatic declines in undergraduate enrollment. According to the Hechinger Report, over 25% of college students dropped out between their first and second years in 2020 — the highest dropout rate since 2012. Inside Higher Ed reports that nearly 21% fewer high school grads had enrolled in college as of fall 2020.

The pandemic is not entirely to blame, though. Enrollment has been declining since 2011, and cost is a major factor. According to Investopedia, 43% of college students took on student loan debt in 2021, with an average of $40,904 per borrower. Decision-makers who prioritize the value of a college education for all students can lead change.

2. Educational Inequities

Students of all ages suffered academic setbacks due to the pandemic. But digital devices and internet access allowed many students to keep up. However, for students who lack digital devices and a reliable (or any) internet connection, the shift to remote learning led to greater losses, even the decision to drop out. Digital disparities overwhelmingly impact students from marginalized communities, including those in rural areas.

Admissions policies also contribute to educational inequities, despite diversity being a priority. Inside Higher Ed discusses additional equity issues:

  • Cost barriers: Along with tuition, students may struggle to afford basic needs such as transportation, childcare and housing. Just one unexpected expense can force students to drop out. Simply putting systems in place to learn about students’ needs can help administrators find solutions.
  • Teaching and learning: An analysis of students receiving grades of D, F or “withdraw” (DFW) revealed higher DFW rates among first-generation students, students with financial need, minoritized and male students. Identifying these trends and strengthening support in real-time can promote success.
  • Transfer credits: Credit loss for transfer students disproportionately affects low-income and minoritized students who transfer to new schools. The extra time and tuition costs may force some students to drop out. Analyzing transfer-credit policies can reveal barriers and lead to solutions.

While educational inequities affect educational communities of all sizes and demographics, school administrators who are well versed in the societal pressures that affect students can play a critical role in affecting change.

3. The Cost of a Contingent Faculty Workforce

Faculty in post-secondary education hold one of the highest academic ranks: professor. So why are so many professors having trouble covering basic expenses?

According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), this is the reality of many professors employed as “contingent” faculty. Findings from a 2020 AFT survey of part-time and nontenured faculty include the following:

  • 25% earn less than $25,000 annually
  • Only 20% can “comfortably” cover basic expenses (not including medical or housing), many struggle year-round
  • Fewer than 50% have access to employer-provided health insurance; close to 20% rely on Medicaid
  • Nearly 45% have postponed needed healthcare due to cost, including mental health services

Writing for The New York Times, Anemona Hartocollis calls attention to the plight of contingent faculty, noting a job posting for an adjunct professor that paid $0.00. “Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position,” the posting stressed.

In addition to finding innovative solutions to salary and benefits inequities, school leaders can focus on diversity and inclusion in their higher education communities. According to The Advocate, 84% of full-time professors are white, and 60% are men. Administrators who attend to the needs of faculty will successfully strengthen their communities.

How Can an Ed.D. Prepare Leaders for Today’s Higher Ed Challenges?

A career in higher education administration requires the ability to manage change in the face of significant challenges. Earning an Ed.D. prepares education professionals at an advanced level for successful institutional leadership.

Ed.D. programs combine theory, research and practice to build knowledge across key leadership areas. Coursework in A-State’s Ed.D. program, for example, focuses on topics such as:

  • Organizational theory and change in higher education
  • Assessment and accreditation, as with identifying improvement goals and improving accountability
  • Implications of policy and law, including affirmative action, civil rights, tenure, contracts, student rights and other essential topics
  • Higher education budget and finance

In addition to a stronger skill set, earning an Ed.D. can lead to wide-ranging career advancement. Administrative opportunities with this degree include:

  • Academic Dean (or Chief Academic Officer)
  • Admissions Director
  • Chief Diversity Officer
  • Associate Provost
  • Provost or Chief Academic Officer
  • President

For prospective Ed.D. students, return on investment is an important consideration. Earnings may vary based on factors such as experience and location, but salaries reported by HigherEd Jobs suggest a solid increase. Examples include:




Chief Student Admissions Officer



Chief Diversity Officer



Associate Provost






Today’s challenges in higher education offer unique opportunities for Ed.D. grads to lead critical change. An advanced education degree in educational leadership and higher education administration can help educators develop their expertise to grow their communities and careers.

Learn more about A-State’s Ed.D. in Educational Leadership – Higher Education Administration online program.

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