Is Higher Education in a Death Spiral?

Posted on June 12, 2018

Are you in the business of higher education? If so, a June 5, 2018 article in The Atlantic (link below) will surely interest you. The message is that higher education has reached its peak and is in an irreversible decline.

A self-declared futurist and former professor, Bryan Alexander, says he started paying attention to higher ed in 2013 and coined the phrase “peak higher education.”  Alexander compared higher ed to other “peaks” like cars, oil and other massive industries that had probably seen growth top out and begun to fade. Five years ago he noted enrollment dropping, the number of adjuncts growing, skyrocketing costs of college, and concerns regarding the actual value of getting a degree.

Now he says his hypothesis is gradually becoming reality. Aiding the decline is fewer people being born and recent barriers to foreign students entering the U.S. to attend college. He makes some interesting points, most of which are based on raw metrics. But is he right?

The article touches on all the “usual suspects,” including reduced state funding and the polarized views around the purpose and value of higher education.  And the recently popular common-sense trend of focusing recruitment efforts on adults, not just high schoolers.

What do I think about all this? Alexander hits on some good points, especially suggesting colleges add online programs – duh – and begin targeting those 24 and older, not just 17-year-olds. But his doomsday message is perhaps a bit misdirected. Maybe the reason for this is the fact that his background, according to the article, is that of a former English professor who calls himself a higher education futurist. That narrow level of experience, at least in my eyes, isn’t broad enough to allow him to see the much broader picture, especially the “business side” of education.  My own view is that of an entrepreneur who happened to spend the last fifteen years in and around the periphery of higher education. And as a non-academic, the challenges seem to be quite clear and eminently addressable.

The way the vast majority of colleges and universities run their “business” – and many will cringe at the term business – is outdated, myopic and as a result is in desperate need of change. Many of these schools refuse to reconsider their mission or, especially, their marketing message even in view of the massive changes that have taken place since 1999.

An extremely important change is the digitization of our world, including the easy availability of information, the result of which is expanded choice. No longer can a college expect a stream of automatic enrollees sent from their feeders, like churches and alumni. People comparison shop online with ease; choosing a college is now very much determined by a school’s marketing message and web presence. Nearly 90% of colleges are non-elite institutions and as such do not have an overabundance of people wanting to enroll. Complicating things for thousands of schools is their inability to attract enough prospective enrollees to increase, or maintain, enrollment and revenue levels. They can’t seem to find enough of the “right” prospective enrollees as they try to compete with hundreds and thousands of marketing messages.

As a former CEO of a little-known university, I experienced these challenges myself. As a result, hands-on experience as both a businessman and a college executive I decided to address one of the challenges facing non-elite institutions:  finding the best prospects for enrolling in a specific institution.

My team developed an online easy-to-use platform and, importantly, a “wish list” of characteristics, which taken together describes the kind of person an admissions team wishes they could have access to. It has been eighteen months in development and will be released to colleges and universities in late summer 2018. We call it the Future of Student Recruitment.  Tell the online system your optimal student profile is, for example, a female 24-35 years old, with some college, who’s interested in a bachelor’s in nursing and wants to start a part-time program in 3-6 months. Voila! There might be over 100 people with these characteristics in the system. The system asks How many do you want? Or are you “just looking?” We think this soon-to-be-introduced service will help solve major student recruitment issues for many colleges and universities.

Want a sneak preview? Email js@collegeleadexchange.com

Here’s the link to The Atlantic article:

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/06/heres-how-higher-education-dies/561995/

College admissions departments use psychology – and dollars – to lure enrollees.

Posted on April 20, 2018

 

In 2004, when I first became involved in the business of higher education – I had been an entrepreneur for the previous thirty years – I was a bit shocked to learn that colleges discounted their tuition for a large percentage of students. But college admissions executives only used the word “discount” when talking among themselves; when speaking to the public they substituted “scholarship” for “discount.”
Why do they do this, I wondered? The “why” became obvious after I had been involved in higher education for a while, including six years as CEO of a university. When I passed on what I had learned to friends and relatives they either didn’t believe me or thought I was belittling their childrens’ or grandchildrens’ wonderful achievements in securing scholarships to college. So I said little while being frustrated at what I perceived as closed-mindedness, which was probably better defined as “don’t give me any information, factual or not, that will in any way diminish my pride.” It is all about pride, and college admissions people use it to their advantage.
On Wednesday, April 18, 2018, The Wall Street Journal published an article by Melissa Korn titled Prizes for All: Colleges Use Scholarships to Lure Students (URL below). Seems like Melissa discovered what I had discovered years ago and wrote about it in a prominent publication (not Fake News). Here, in her words, is the essence of the article:
Hundreds of colleges and universities are using academic scholarships and other merit-based financial aid to gain an edge in a battle for students. The scholarships make students feel wanted and let families think they’re getting a good deal, like a shopper who buys an expensive sweater on sale.
Ms. Korn goes on to describe how tuition discount rates for full-time new students at private colleges averaged 49% in 2017. I can imagine all the moms and dads who crowed about the huge scholarships their sons and daughters were awarded last year. There’s no harm in feeling good, and I guess it’s a bit like all the kids in kindergarten coming home with a gold star. Everyone’s happy – the kid, the parents, and in this case, especially the college.
The wide availability of discounts – call them scholarships if it makes you feel better – and the lack of awareness of their availability, is one of the reasons my organization created WhatsBestforMe.com. This new website allows prospective college students of all ages to state what they want in a school and what they’d like in the way of scholarships, grants or financial aid. Then schools who are looking for that type of students offered admission as well as tuition discounts (0ops. I mean scholarships).

Melissa Kern’s article can be found at https://tinyurl.com/y825mjzp.