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.
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.
Posted on December 18, 2017
The financial experts at Moody’s don’t think many positive things are in store for higher education over the next year or so. Is this a surprise? I think not, especially when taken alongside the news that the numbers of high school graduates are dwindling, professors are chafing at salary freezes, states are not increasing funding to universities, and the unemployment rate is shrinking, the latter depleting the ranks of potential college enrollees.
But to paraphrase Bugs Bunny, that’s not all, folks! Far too many private colleges want to believe it’s 1955 and their liberal arts programs are in great demand. They’re not. Further, conversations I’ve had with numerous smaller, lesser known schools indicate they are reluctant to add online programs and broaden their appeal to adult – nontraditional – students. Take the blinders off, folks, or you’ll fall off that cliff that you’re steadily approaching.
If that’s not enough bad news, there’s also the new GOP tax bills. Until we know exactly what the final bill will contain we all sleep uneasily. Maybe the party of President Trump will view the higher education establishment in a positive way. And maybe Betsy DeVos will be the best Secretary of Education in a hundred years. Time will tell, of course, but until then higher ed administrators, instructors, and trustees will continue to lose sleep over the current uncertainty. As well they should.
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.
Posted on November 30, 2017
Old news but now involving a new antagonist: the California AG. Does Mr Becerra want the publicity? Does he aspire to higher public office?
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.