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the vast majority of colleges and universities run their “business” – and many will cringe at the term business – is outdated, myopic and as a result is in desperate need of change.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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s the link to The Atlantic article: