Recommendations for colleges and universities to avoid closing or merging
In last month’s column I shared facts about college and university closings and mergers. Since that time Green Mountain College in Vermont announced that it would close at the end of the spring 2019 semester and Hampshire College in New Hampshire announced it was seeking a suitable merger partner.
The following are two recommendations for vulnerable institutions to consider to avoid closing or merging. This list is by no means exhaustive. My recommendations are based on the belief that higher education is moving from a provider-driven model to a consumer-driven one.
Identify new markets and revenue streams
In their 2015 book, Blue Ocean Strategy, authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne advise companies and organizations to identify untapped markets currently not in existence, create new demand and open up new and uncontested market space. I believe the same principles can, and should, be applied to higher education. College and university presidents and provosts should, after reviewing current offerings and academic portfolios, consider new educational offerings that could attract potential “blue ocean” students not currently enrolled. A new strategic enrollment plan should combine data-driven and predictive analytics, and real-time metrics to determine how to best attract new cohorts of students.
For example, the Department of Education estimates that by 2020 one million computer science-related jobs will go unfilled unless colleges and universities graduate more students with computer science degrees. And according to a report by McKinsey Company, 17 percent of the 1.2 million current jobs openings are in the healthcare sector. Both of these examples highlight the opportunity for schools to create new programs that can not only enroll more students but work directly to meet the workforce needs in the country.
After all the hype about massive open online courses settles, the big elephant in the room, in my opinion, will be validating competency-based education as a recognized education paradigm. Allowing students to apply their work and life experiences to earn college credits opens up the “blue waters” to another cohort of students who can earn a college degree at their own pace at reduced costs. According to the global strategy company, Parthenon, more than 600 institutions are either exploring or already offer competency-based programs. Some of the programs are covered by Title IV financial aid funding.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, there are more than 31 million students with some college credits but not enough to graduate. Do competency-based programs have the potential to grow the enrollment pie?
Creative use of technology
Kevin Carey, of the New America foundation and the author of The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere, the author predicts that technology will eventually radically alter the college experience and make higher education available to millions of students.
In another book, College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education, the author, Ryan Craig, the Managing Director of University Ventures, makes the case that the role of technology cannot be underemphasized in higher education. The significant investment in higher education technology application by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation underscores the importance of technology as one way to expand educational opportunities.
The effective and efficient use of technology holds the potential to offer courses throughout the year at any time of the day or night and in any part of the world, making the fall and spring semester system a relic of the past and allowing creative deans and enrollment mangers to fish in “blue waters.”
Technology allows colleges and universities to deliver courses in several ways, on campus, online, in hybrid programs, and with competency-based credits. This variety of learning options supports several student cohorts, including traditional students, non-traditional students, international students and working adults.
According to Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, “Education in five to ten years will become modular, will become omnichannel, and will become lifelong.”
Traditional colleges and universities will not disappear, but they will change organizationally and future strategic enrollment management plans will include a creative use of technology.
Some venerable colleges and universities will need new business models, an entrepreneurial approach to developing new markets and student cohorts and a collaborative approach to solving enrollment and financial problems.
Perhaps some schools should close or merge with another institution or perhaps they should just fish in blue waters.