Some Heads Are Coming Out of the Sand…Finally

Posted on January 11, 2018

It seems that, in the last few months, people in higher ed are talking about two things: nontraditional students and online course offerings. Strange, those of us who’ve been paying attention for the last dozen years have known more and more adult students are attending college each year, and many of these adults enroll in online courses, most on a part-time basis. Why have so many missed these obvious occurrences?

Forgive me, but I’m a businessman who became involved in higher education when I was asked to rescue a small failing college in 2005. Thanks to my business background I was not a prisoner to the traditional, pervasive mindset clouding the objectivity of far too many higher ed administrators and trustees. Two things were immediately apparent to me by the middle of 2006, both related to the inevitability of online penetration in providing courses to the busy but interested adult. Traditionalists attacked the University of Phoenix and its many imitators, as much for being online as for being for-profit.

Now I see pundits of varying backgrounds writing and talking about the adult – nontraditional – college student and the necessity of providing classes and degree programs online. Some institutions, most recently the University of Massachusetts, are crowing that they are either starting or expanding online programs. No surprise that they are also beginning to target working adults.

Despite the recent emergence of those heads from the sand, I still talk to institutions who are reluctant to start or expand, online programs. And god-forbid they target potential enrollees who are 24 or older. I keep hearing “It’s our mission to (fill in the blanks) and that doesn’t include (adults or online courses).” Well, folks, missions change as the environment changes. Some business gurus say, “If you don’t change you’re falling behind.” How many of our colleges and universities are falling behind because they won’t change? Far too many, I think.

 

 

Yes, I Know a College Isn’t a Restaurant, but…

Posted on January 2, 2018

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.

Limit charitable deductions. Tax endowments. Institute gainful employment measures.

Posted on December 5, 2017

The House and the Senate tax bills have the higher education establishment all in a-tither. Corporations, though, are happy; not so many colleges or their executives making over one million per year. And then there is the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. All this will cause many sleepless nights as those in academia – most of them anyway – hate disruption. What’s an administrator to do? The best advice: complaint to your congressman or congresswoman. Do it now. Be proactive. And hope for the best.

http://ow.ly/yueK30h1X4y

Three not-so-magic cures for colleges with declining enrollment.

Posted on November 28, 2017

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.

Do We Need To Rethink What College Means?

Posted on November 27, 2017

“There are two ways to look at America’s college-for-all movement. On the one hand, it represents a rare policy success: Today, 90 percent of high school graduates enrol in college within eight years of graduating from high school, up from 45 percent in 1960. On the other hand, it serves as a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of even the best-intentioned policy initiatives: Many of these students leave college before finishing a degree or credential—only 15 percent of community college students earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrollment—to an unfriendly job market, already saddled with crippling student debt.”

http://ow.ly/QRvN30gQnBZ

Helping Career Education Become a First Choice

Posted on July 25, 2017


 
California’s migration of focus in community colleges from more general studies to those focused on career and technical education and development is a model that should be tracked closely. Whether community colleges are “free” – or continue to be priced, as compared to four year institutions, at a nominal rate – is not the issue here. Rather, their attention to outcomes and economic benefits for individuals, institutions and the state itself is worthy of consideration across the remaining 49 states.
 
http://ow.ly/BLZJ30dpRmJ