Once each year, in preparation for finalizing University Research & Review’s annual Best Value College Awards, I have conversations with dozens of colleges and universities. Typically, these schools are lesser-known but reasonably priced, quality institutions whose students love them. Sadly, too many of these schools face stagnant or declining enrollment and revenue. Too often this precarious position is paraphrasing Jimmy Buffet, their own damn fault.
Several examples of this perplexing situation come immediately to mind as does a conversation I’ve had with several of these schools. To their dismay, I ask them to think of their institution as a restaurant (they hate when I say this). This restaurant, which pays rent and operating costs no matter how many hours it is open, has decided to only offer one or two menu choices. Worse, the restaurant is only open three days a week, and only for lunch. To make matters worse, they will only serve people who are between the ages of 18 and 24, and they automatically add a 30% service charge to the already high bill. This restaurant has fewer and fewer customers, loses money, but it won’t change the way it operates. It is doomed to eventually close its doors.
Few college administrators see the point in this analogy. They don’t realize that, while they have great academic programs and a sunk investment in infrastructure, they restrict their programs unreasonably. They say they don’t want to attract adult students; they don’t feel online programs are something they should offer, and their escalating fees are justified because they don’t want to raise tuition too much. Will these folks ever see the light? Time will tell.