How does a university facing reduced enrollment find new sources of revenue? Let's get specific.
There are a number of answers to this question. And they hinge a bit on how much time your institution has. Is this need for diversified sources urgent, as in, “Let’s get a new program out there this summer to increase fall enrollment”? Or do you have funds (endowment or reserves) to draw upon for the next year to weather the storm, allowing new revenue sources to be developed more slowly?
Either way, the response will require speed -- not a strong suit for academic institutions in general. And it requires a level of nimble creativity and well-coordinated collaboration. These are hard combinations to pull together. But mostly, it is the compressed length of time to bring a new idea to market that will likely be your biggest challenge.
With this post we are offering a range of ideas for new academic programs that you can offer to students across the country and around the world. For the most part, these are all programs that you can create from what you have on hand already. There’s a bit of repackaging and rebranding required. And an innovative delivery system. But it can all be done in the time you have available.
What’s the catch? Why haven’t you done this before? Well…
To succeed at this, you must have support from the those at the top and the ability to innovate. Easier said than done. But now your success depends on just that — getting it done.
Want to find a way to fill the looming holes in your revenue streams? Our recommendations and tips follow.
This is not for the feint of heart. Buckle up and read on.
Who’s Leading This Thing?
New product development is done best when there is a clear directive from the top. As inevitable differences of opinion come up within the working team, it is the decree from the powers that be that forces resolution and forward motion. When that leadership is not present, delays set in as internal squabbles remain unresolved.
This is not to say that the internal differences of opinion do not have merit. They do — and drive valuable discussion. But those differences must be resolved quickly with everyone on the team placing the end goal as the highest priority.
Someone must have the authority to drive the project forward, establish a clear deadline, and issue a singular directive: “Make this work. Fast!”
What Kind of Skills Do We Need?
You need people on board who are nimble and work quickly to overcome the problems that will inevitably arise. There will be technology challenges – both technical and human (think adoption issues among your staff Luddites.) There will be course credit and administrative logistics that will bog you down (you've seen that before). And there will be unpredictable roadblocks.
Do you have members of your staff who navigate these kinds of things? Probably yes. Thing is, they are not used to working at the pace you need. Sounds self-serving, we know, but what you need is an outside agency that can put a dedicated team in place, devoted to your success, if you want to move really fast. Design Thinking anyone?
From McKinsey’s April 2020 article about launching a new technology offering:
“A new team created a comprehensive, week-by-week plan that covered everything from creating customer-testing touchpoints to setting up the warehouse with electricity and equipment …. All nonrelevant initiatives were postponed in favor of efforts that had direct customer impact. The team closely scrutinized every feature and ruthlessly prioritized intermediate release goals for what mattered most. This biweekly review exercise also made room for fixing problems when things inevitably went wrong.”
If you have a year or more to move a new product forward, all of this still applies, albeit with slightly less urgency. But if you want new revenue options for this fall, you’ll likely need some outside help to get you up and running (we mean sprinting.)
So, What Are the New Services We Should Offer?
Here’s the good stuff. We’ve been talking to students across the country and around the world. Our recommendations are based on deep conversations with a small set of students. Before you implement these ideas, you’ll want to run a quick survey of your admitted and currently enrolled students to confirm the offerings that would be most attractive to them at your institution. Customization is key.
By broad segments:
- Your graduate students are most likely to accept your online programs as a way to advance their careers in lieu of on campus learning. Promote your online offerings, certificates and other career advancement programs using digital marketing techniques, and you will keep a percentage of them enrolled. Enhance their access to faculty with regular online discussion forums beyond class. Access to industry experts along the way would be a valuable add on.
- Your non-traditional students are thinking about how they will cope with the abrupt downturn in the job market and how they can inexpensively upskill and be ready to advance as soon as the opportunity presents itself. Use digital marketing to promote your online offerings, but work to develop the smallest, bite-sized programs that have the capability of moving someone from point A to point B. Make it super affordable and create connections to employers who need these skills.
- Focus, focus, focus on marketable skills and clear consumer value – “help me be better at ____”, with credit toward a certificate or a degree. The most obvious example: Everyone is seeing the extreme value of tech skills that can be performed remotely and you can get paid for.
- Remember that since this is online, you are competing with other programs across the country that are more established and polished than yours. You can’t just put stuff online and expect a sizable audience. Quality and affordability are key.
- Your undergraduate students have varying thought processes right now. Here is where you can truly innovate. First let’s look at the subsegments, then we will offer some innovations:
- Your incoming senior class is eager to complete their degrees. If they are offered online classes that allow them to graduate on time, many will take it. Connect them with faculty and alumni in their field using online tools to make their senior year more valuable. Be sure to empathize with their legitimate disappointments about how their last year will play out. They will need tuition discounts as incentives if you want to keep this class size solid.
- Your incoming juniors and sophomores are considering pausing their education for a year and what that will look like.
- Your incoming freshman class is seriously doubting that they will attend this year at all. Words like gap year, defer, and online internship are common in their conversations with each other.
Innovations for Undergraduate Programs
Your undergraduate freshmen, sophomores and juniors want clarity right now. They crave it (especially the freshmen, but really all of them). The uncertainty of what is coming next is requiring a lot of stamina from all of us. And your students are feeling that too. A lot.
Listen to the voice of your customer. Fight all the internal forces that are telling you to wait for things to get sorted out before making any decisions. Get the authority from your leadership to innovate and give your students the clarity they want right now.
The short answer: Give them the gap year opportunity and the structure they are craving by repackaging what you already have. The students you have always marketed to, they really want to do something meaningful. They don't want to spend a year sitting around. So, you know those independent studies where students are able to define their reading and activities with faculty guidance? That right there is going to be huge.
- Require students who want a “gap year” experience to define their own learning opportunity. Give them modified parameters you already have in place for independent study credits. The students will be responsible for the plan and will be evaluated along the way by the relevant department faculty. Give the students the challenge and the autonomy to figure this out, with your guidance and support.
- Connect to your regional alumni groups and get them to host regular online discussions with students as part of the program. They will be happy to help (and will need some admin support to make it work). Professors online for consultation, absolutely. Real world connection to alums in different fields – possibly even local coffee gatherings if they are allowed – very cool.
- During the semester, provide small online forums giving students access to relevant industry leaders on specific topics for career perspective and networking opportunities.
- Develop employer relationships that can offer 2-week to 4-week remote internship assignments relevant to the students’ area of interest.
- Consider partnerships with other educational entities that are missing what you are really good at (see last week’s post about coding bootcamps for ideas here).
- Offer students some level of credit toward their degree for successfully completing these programs.
- Provide all the elements of distance learning, but do not use the terms “online learning” or “distance learning” to describe these opportunities.
- Throughout the year, create opportunities for social engagement with their classmates with online talent shows, pizza and ice cream socials, online "for fun" and "competitive" game nights, movie nights, topical discussion groups, etc. Second best, sure. But effectively coordinated by you, these gatherings can suffice.
- Make these remote learning opportunities affordable (35% of regular tuition?) if you want to salvage some of the revenue you were planning for prior to COVID. You need to make this enticing and valuable to your students, otherwise you are going to lose ALL of the tuition revenue you had planned for.
Set these students up for success. This type of learning is not for everyone. Some students are simply not built for it. There are limits to the human capacity to seriously focus in an online environment and self-motivate while isolated from the pack.
Providing support, and for some, the technology to even connect, but importantly, providing support – basically remote customer service – will help a larger percentage of your students succeed in this new way of learning. They will need your help to demonstrate that they have in fact learned from the program and have earned the course credit.
Your Message: We are here to cheer you on.
Your Goal: Provide the structure and support that will get them where they want to go. They bring the energy and drive. They choose from the variety of road maps you have available. And all along the route, you will be there, cheering them on.
Your Next Move
- Today, share this post with your president and provost.
- Before Noon this Friday, get the internal Tiger Team together on Zoom to discuss the possibilities.
- Get the President’s directive: “Make this work. Fast.”
- Send us an email to schedule a call on Monday to discuss the options.
Let’s generate some new revenue for the institution we so cherish.
P.S. Hey, if this summer goes WAY better than we believe it will and waves of virus do not consistently limit our ability to gather throughout the year, you can re-calibrate. You will get back in touch with all of these audiences and gleefully tell them them they have the option of joining you on campus this fall. They will jump at the chance. And you will have developed a range of new student-focused options to offer.