This last week, my family and I took a road trip from suburban Boston to Steuben County in New York. It was a five and a half hour drive each way and brought us passed exit signs for colleges and universities across Massachusetts and through the ‘lower third’ of New York. Some of the campus names were familiar and others were names that I had not thought of in some time. You see, I grew up an hour North of New York City and most of my high school classmates attended college in New York State. Many of whom attended the SUNY system and various small colleges upstate.
As my husband drove, my daughter, a sophomore in High School wondered out loud what it may be like to attend schools up in these rural locales (she wasn’t very interested) all while I googled the campus enrollment numbers, their Clearing House stats and later their financial health. With some campuses under 1,000 FTE and with a discount rate of over 50%, I wondered, how are they making payroll and keeping the lights on?
My husband and I found articles where VPs for Enrollment or Executive VPs for Strategy and Innovation spoke to local newspapers about how essential the campus was to the economy of the municipality and how there was a concerted effort to raise the enrollment numbers over the next several years, typically with a goal to hit their enrollment goal by the fall of 2026. Two common programs were going to save these campuses: Nursing and Ice Hockey. Seriously.
Both nursing and ice hockey are not cheap to start, with costly facilities and requirements. They are also tough to get running; with accreditation requirements for nursing programs being a beast to navigate, and ice hockey programs being a political quagmire when seeking recognition by athletic conferences. As we considered the numbers, they just weren’t adding up for a healthy enrollment outlook.
Campuses - both public and private - that are facing these stark realities need to begin to consolidate their programs, not expand them. For students seeking high touch rural campuses, give them what they crave - to complete quickly with less debt. If you are going to go to your accreditor, consider how to make a 3 year bachelors happen. If you are working to increase your enrollment, how are you creating a pathway for Community College students to complete a bachelor's degree through the use of efficient articulation agreements? If you want to have a nursing program on campus, is this a time to partner with existing name recognition programs, and create satellite opportunities on your campus?
Each of these options has a risk, but is it a far more innovative direction to take than creating costly programs from the ground up and competing with every other campus that is taking a bite at the same apple?
Don’t worry - we didn’t spend the entire trip considering enrollment challenges of campuses where neither my husband or I work, rather, we had a wonderful visit exploring our destination, talking to locals and visiting some beautiful museums. However, as campus leaders are considering their institutional health, maybe, just maybe, getting in the car and going for a drive may be good for your perspective. Setting your GPS to consider the higher education landscape along your local interstate may very well be more effective than your last enrollment strategy.
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Set your calendars for the next episode of Office Hours with Dr. De Veau. University presidents in Florida, Texas and other ‘red states’ are being tested. Some, hand picked by governors, are doing the bidding of those who appointed them. Some are trying to fight back. Some are seemingly laying low and looking for new jobs, while the institutions around them spiral. North Idaho College, a community college with an enrollment of nearly 10,000, is a cautionary tale for what happens when the President speaks up for what is right, faces off against a Board of Trustees who are squabbling and unqualified leading to the President being fired without cause, a law-suit, a loss of its insurance coverage, a Moody’s downgrade, mass exodus of executive leadership and is now on the precipice of losing its accreditation. Rick MacLennan is the former President of North Idaho College and will join me to discuss why Executive Leaders need to wake up - especially in the face of red state governance boards who are seeking to strip away institutional freedoms and quality. Join us on Wednesday, April 26 at 4pm Eastern, 1pm Pacific on Office Hours with Dr. De Veau. The Next Evolution of Professional Development in Higher Education. Broadcasting Live on Fireside.
Dr. Laura De Veau is Principal & Founder of Fortify Associates, LLC. Fortify Associates, LLC is unique in the higher education, not-for-profit, and public service market. They provide comprehensive workshops, program reviews and project management services with a combination of in-person and virtual delivery. Fortify Associates is committed to creating experiences that are unique to the needs and culture of each of their clients. Fortify Associates wants to elevate your organization and help you optimize your workplace.
This is a fascinating look at the challenges faced by colleges. So often, the answer to "how to meet enrollment goals" is to "offer something new." But if you're new offering is the same as everyone else's, then what? Your approach - both building partnerships and focusing on what a college already does well - seems to make good financial sense and would also be good for students.