Yet another survey of higher education professionals, this time with financial staffers, indicates only half believe their institutions’ business models are sustainable. This Kaufman Hall survey echoes earlier predictions, first from management guru Peter Drucker then from Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, stating that colleges and universities will not survive in their present form, the brand-name schools excepted. Coupled with a dwindling target market – high schoolers – and negative media coverage concerning high costs and poor value (i.e., lack of jobs for graduates), it’s no surprise that many institutions have fallen 30% or so below enrolment targets.

It’s obvious to me, though maybe not to thousands of college administrations and trustees, that there’s a leak in the hull that’s letting in more water every day. It’s also obvious to me that there are three logical steps to take to plug the leak, so schools can regain steerage and resume their journey.

First, determine what you’re good at, what makes you different; your Silver Bullet. Find out by asking your current and former customers (students). Ignore your faculty’s opinion; they have vested interests and they aren’t customers. Use some marketing smarts, preferably from experienced third-party marketers, and position your key differentiator to attract those who want or need that Silver Bullet knowledge and credential. Above all, stop trying to be everything to everyone. No one is good at it.

Second, realize it’s 2017, not 1960, and add online courses and programs. Start with your Silver Bullet program. This will likely be the best investment – and smartest decision – you’ve made in decades.

Third, change the way you recruit potential enrollees. Buying names from the College Board is passé. If you don’t believe me take a hard look at your conversion rates. Use reputable lead generation organizations to target only the prospective student who meets your own specific criteria. Buying general interest leads (i.e., “I may be interested in college”) is a bad investment. Only buy leads that meet specific criteria. Now here’s where I plug my company: College Lead Exchange (coming soon) is the best example, I believe, of creating specific criteria that ensure the leads you invest in are for the type of people you want. To see how this works, go to www.CollegeLeadExchange.com and go through the no-cost-or-obligation process.

One more thing. Realize you’re running an organization whose product is education, and don’t restrict access to the 18-23 age group, or to specific religious denominations or sexes. Open your eyes to adult learners. They want knowledge and credentials, not sports teams, Greek life and climbing walls. And they’re likely to pick and choose what they will buy while paying sticker price. And that’s good.