One of the great quotes in contemporary American politics:
“It’s the Economy Stupid”
– James Carville (circa 1992 serving as chief campaign strategist) during the first Clinton campaign for President.
I often think back to that campaign for the Presidency of the United States and the impact those few words had on the outcome of the election. It brings to mind a nagging malaise among a number of client institutions who wish to energize their recruitment and retention success. I often parrot Carville’s quote, “It’s the curriculum, stupid,” when analyzing enrollment problems. An initial strategic enrollment management engagement often centers around harvesting any number of descriptive observations by client constituents: not enough students, too many students, too many here not enough there, students not the academic quality we want, the list continues with various emphasis and causal inference. Inevitably someone blames the economy, the web site, the enrollment management system, or admissions, or the president, or marketing. While any and all of these may be contributing to a problem the real heart of any educational, organizational success is the curriculum. This is not to blame faculty or anyone for that matter. It is about recognizing how to shape and promote curriculum for a competitive market.
Crisis has a way of blinding folks to clear thinking, realistic strategy development, focused tactics, and forced implementation on yield. One of the tactics that are very effective in the short term is what we call the ‘Bump Strategy.’ A bump is a short term windfall in enrollment that is based upon specific institutional characteristics. The Bump Strategy goes like this. An opportunity is discovered and developed to achieve a one time elevation in enrollment. These can be pockets of 40, 60, 100, even as high as 250 enrollments that can usually be achieved over three years or less. Looking at a longitudinal analysis they appear as a bump in enrollments if more serious long term strategies are not developed in parallel. We often deploy a bump strategy when dealing with an enrollment crisis. When engineering a bump we look for under recognized opportunity, incomplete or incomprehensible academic narrative, underestimated market/program of study value, or precious pockets of unrecognized market opportunity.
Bump strategies are a two edged sword. They do yield a temporary bump in enrollment. Because they are pocket opportunities, they cannot sustain a growth trajectory although they often can sustain a higher enrollment plateau. They have one lethal unintended outcome. They take the pressure off and derail investment in new long range strategy and allow reversion to the ‘old ways.’ If the money from the bump is wasted then meaningful growth falters. No institution has an unlimited number of bump opportunities and once they are used they are gone (they do not yield forever). Each bump is unique to the institution and is dependent upon finding the right enrollment alchemy using indigenous curricular elements to exploit known enrollment dynamics.
The best time to tune your Academic Strategic Enrollment Management strategies is when you are not in crisis. That is when a focus on your Strategic Position in the Global Learning Marketplace can yield the best outcome. When not in crisis is the time to carefully construct a long term academic enrollment management program designed to build forward momentum over multiple future cycles to achieve a sustainable enrollment profile.
Our projects are as varied as the extensive client base we serve. They include initiatives to significantly increase perceived value of General Education, the redesign of the first year experience, the reconceptualization of the general education model around engagement, integrating partner marketing into program design, exploiting pocket markets, aligning curricular narrative with market dynamics, differentiating curriculum among crowded competitive environments, curriculum narrative to entice early decision, and the list goes on.
To explore opportunities to collaborate use our Academic/Enrollment Strategy Clinic Offer.