The KPMG Higher Education Outlook Survey, which polls 120 senior officers in colleges and universities (79 from public institutions, 41 from private), found that 85 percent of officials are either "very" or "somewhat" concerned about maintaining their current enrollment levels - up 14 percent from last year, and 19 percent from 2012.

When asked to identify the major factor behind enrollment struggles, college officials pointed to parents/students' inability to pay tuition, reflecting lingering effects of the economic crisis.

"Perhaps more than ever, students and parents are shopping around and comparing aid packages, facilities, and curricula, as well as job placement and career outcomes. Institutions feeling heat from competitors are asking: 'what differentiates us'?" saidDavid Gagnon, KPMG's national audit leader for higher education, research & other not-for-profits, in a press release. "The higher education landscape is evolving as more students explore alternative routes, such as attending a community college for two years before transferring to a four-year college or university."

With an increasing number of domestic students seeking lower costs in higher education, 43 percent of polled officials showed an interest in recruiting international students as a possible solution to lower enrollment numbers.

"Leaders are keenly aware that students they recruit from foreign countries are more likely to pay the full cost of attending their institution for four years," added Gagnon, "and that's a factor in these results." 

To additionally counter these problems of enrollment and cost, officials stated that spending more on technology was the top priority, as it would be a cost-effective method to leverage the learning experience with educational delivery models such as virtual learning environments.

"Every industry is undergoing a transformation of some kind and higher education is no exception," stated Milford McGuirt, KPMG's national segment leader for higher education, research and other not-for-profits. "For higher [education], transformation can mean addressing the regulatory mandates around cost, access, and quality. But this year we're also seeing an emphasis on organizational transformation as officials move from cost-cutting measures involving administrative support functions to the academic side of the business to assess ways to improve education delivery. The interest in hybrid delivery models revealed by the survey is evidence of this trend." 

The KPMG survey was completed in July of 2014 and includes the responses of 120 senior officers in higher education. Fifty-six percent described their role as CFO, 28 percent as CEO or chief academic officer, and 17 percent as controller or budget officer.