MGDA Transformational Strategies Institutes 2015


In our continuing effort to support our clients, MGDA is excited to announce our schedule of Transformational Strategies Institutes for 2015.

The transformation of higher education is evolving more rapidly with each annual cycle. While dealing with the annual litany of challenges, remember that a longer more permanent transformation is underway. The paradigm shift to the learning age is powered by a global digital learning ecosystem requiring unprecedented focus on academic and enrollment strategy. The planning horizon is characterized by increased demands for accountability, increased competition, significant learner and institutional economic challenges, and significant differences of opinion on how the future should be approached.

I just completed a 3 day Institute for Academic Strategic Enrollment Management and Sustainability (December 2014) with Michael and it was tremendously helpful. Not only did my enrollment VP and I gain a better understanding of the impact that the curriculum has on enrollment’s ability to recruit students but we learned many very practical examples of what works and what doesn’t in designing curriculum and attracting students. I think the Program of Study plan is very helpful in helping faculty design narratives that enrollment can use to sell programs. I would recommend Michael and his workshops to anyone who is open-minded enough to believe that higher ed needs to change and we have to get in front of that change if we are to survive and thrive! – Christine Pharr, Ph.D., Vice President for Academic Affairs, College of Saint Mary, Omaha, NE

Our Institute series recognizes the need for unprecedented collaboration between academic and enrollment domains guided by new visionary strategic plans that forge a cohesive approach to a future full of uncertainty. We continually develop resources to help the journey into the future.

COAS MGDA Cert0001MGDA began offering Institutes covering Transformational Strategies in 1998, shortly after publishing Transforming Higher Education. For 2015, we are planning five programs, all to be held in Claremont, California. Enrollment is limited to 40 participants in each event. All events will be held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Claremont, 555 W. Foothill Blvd. Claremont (Los Angeles Area), California 91711. Each Institute begins Monday afternoon permitting Saturday air travel and Wednesday departure helping to keep air travel costs contained. Los Angeles is served by five airports (LAX, SNA, BUR, ONT, LGB ). The Claremont location is central to Los Angeles area sites and attractions. Registration can be completed online and participants can either be invoiced in advance or register by credit card.

Institute for Academic Strategies and Master Academic Planning

Events-EventBriteSideBar_01The Institute for Academic Strategies and Master Academic Planning recognizes that academic leaders must plan to meet the challenges and opportunities of higher education as it is carried into the future by the paradigm shift to a global digital learning ecosystem. Without a Master Academic Plan, an Institutional Strategic Plan is powerless at forging near, mid, and long term strategies for enrollment and fiscal health.

Institute for Curriculum Centered Strategic Planning & Learner-Centered Curriculum

Events-EventBriteSideBar_02The Institute for Curriculum-Centered Strategic Planning & Learner-Centered Curriculum recognizes the centrality of the learner to the curriculum and the primacy of the curriculum to the institutional strategic plan. It also recognizes that planning for education in the learning age is supported by a global digital learning ecosystem. The planning horizon is characterized by increased demands for accountability, increased competition, significant learner and institutional economic challenges, and significant differences of opinion on how the future should be approached.

Institute for Academic Strategic Enrollment Management and Sustainability

Events-EventBriteSideBar_03The Institute for Academic Strategic Enrollment Management and Sustainability recognizes that academic leadership and enrollment management professionals must join forces in order to meet the challenges and opportunities of higher education as it is carried into the future by the paradigm shift to a global digital learning ecosystem. Once joined, they form a resilient and effective Academic SEM community of practice capable of forging near, mid, and long term strategies for enrollment and fiscal health.

Institute for Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Campaign Design

Events-EventBriteSideBar_04The Academic SEM Campaign Planning Workshop acknowledges that the nature, scope, and methods of recruiting have changed dramatically over the past few years. The workshop recalibrates the fundamental components, restructures an alignment around five integrated workflows, the intent of which, is to develop a strong competitive position in the enrollment marketplace. A well constructed campaign once developed and launched is capable of sustaining near, mid, and long term strategies for enrollment performance and fiscal health.

Institute for Academic SEM Curriculum Development Workshop

Events-EventBriteSideBar_05The Academic SEM Curriculum Development Workshop recognizes that enrollment performance and the quality of the curriculum can both be significantly enhanced when curriculum is prepared, aligned, reengineered, or tweaked with enrollment markets in mind. The workshop articulates methods to recalibrate fundamental curriculum design and content to better align with the enrollment marketplace. The workshop is designed to help academics and enrollment managers to better position curriculum and programs of study in the complex global learning marketplace and improving enrollment performance.

Achieving Strategic Position in the Global Learning Marketplace: Part 7

Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Series Banner

This is the seventh post in the series on Academic Strategic Enrollment Management.

No one can achieve and sustain long-term enrollment and fiscal health with mandates or short-term, reactive, quick fix initiatives.

Strategic Position

Strategic Position is defined as the sum of the competitive characteristics an institution or program possesses when compared to other institutions or programs in the global learning ecosystem or specific market segments. The concept comprises both marketing and branding and extends the efforts of competitiveness to a holistic, proactive, cohesive process defining, developing and implementing a strategy of sustainability. The roots of strategic positioning lie in the academic master plan and the academic culture and curriculum it defines, builds and sustains. The most effective enrollment management strategies are designed to build and sustain strategic market position. The process begins with institutional strategy emanating from mission and vision.

The concept of strategic position is built around assessing where an institution is with respect to what prospective students are looking for in an educational opportunity and what other providers in its competitive sphere offer. The assessment of strategic position is informed through at least six lenses.

  • The demographics lens examines enrollment strategy and performance against geographic scope, reach and yield. Scope assesses and defines target populations, reach details tactics to engage target populations and yield measures enrollment performance.
  • The learning outcomes lens examines the metrics and perceptions of the benefit and value added through the learning experience.
  • The academic programs lens examines the scope and focus of the academic program mix requiring an evaluation of saturation and opportunity against market dynamics.
  • The research and scholarship lens examines the comparative scholarly performance of the institution against competitors.
  • The employment domains and discipline spheres examine the requirements of employers, contemporary realities in academic communities and the performance and success of alums.
  • The community of practice lens examines academic strategies tied to emerging trans-disciplinary communities of practice that require a collaborative academic background to join.
Strategic Position Diagram

Figure 1: Six Lenses Informing Strategic Position – Strategic Position can be defined as the sum of the competitive characteristics an institution or program possesses when compared to other institutions or programs in the global learning sphere or its specific market segments.

Achieving strategic position requires the institution to define the specific parameters that position the institution in the global learning marketplace. Enrollment managers work as partners in developing strategies to achieve and to maintain the competitive position of the institution within the global learning market. The learning marketplace is dynamic, and those dynamics change over time and within each competitive domain an institution is recruits. It is important to anchor recruitment campaigns in strategies that align the academic portfolio with market parameters.

Parameters Driving Strategic Position

Strategic position as a conceptual approach recognizes the confluence of factors, forces and elements that contribute to the competitiveness of the institution in the global learning market. Examples of parameters driving strategic position.

Geographic Mix

Defines the actual and targeted geographic representation of enrolled students.  Expressed as percent distributions by defined geographic regions (e.g. zip code, county, region, state, country). Provides a framework to align enrollment targets and performance with population distributions and dynamics.

  • Why is this important?
    Geographic mix defines the raw suspect pool that yields prospects and eventually enrollments. If the geographic mix is too narrow the pool is not large enough to achieve or sustain enrollments. If the mix is unfocused (such as international by country) or undeclared then, the services required for student success may not be available. Geographic mix also helps determine who the competitors are.
  • Example
    An urban independent institution with numerous competing academic neighbors and an enrollment profile so localized it was termed line of sight recruitment experienced steady erosion in enrollments. Their initial proposed geographic mix strategy involved a three-year focus to develop the capacity to expand to contiguous states then to a twelve state region. In addition, because of well-developed affiliations a limited international effort was also recommended. The strategies in this case were directly linked to specific programs of study.

Program of Study Mix

Defines the array of academic programs and services an institution offers to the population it serves. Provides a framework to align credentials with economic, social, political, and technological challenges and opportunities.

  • Why is this important?
    The mix of programs and disciplines ultimately define the profile of the institution to the learning marketplace. Program of study clusters can also be used to position schools, colleges, and departments in communities of interest and practice. The goal is to generate a following among influencers and a constant buzz in the social media regarding programmatic opportunities. Institutionally focused general marketing while necessary is insufficient alone to sustain healthy enrollments. Program level marketing must be developed and sustained.
  • Example
    A college of art and design offered a limited number of programs of study. The growth strategy involved adding four programs of study in developing the first stage of enrollment futures strategy. The programs rather than being selected from interest areas among faculty were selected to build a cohesive strategic position in the market. For example, a Business of Art and Design program was developed in order to emphasize the economic value of art and design and highlight the role of the institutions programs in producing practicing artists and designers. Geographic mix was then considered. The same institution relied heavily upon in-state enrollment with a geographic mix of 77% in state, 20% other 49 states (but predominantly six other states) and 3% international. Is this a healthy distribution?

Employment Domains and Discipline Spheres

Defines existing and emerging disciplines and employment sectors and opportunities.  Provides a framework for connecting and aligning structured disciplines with economic opportunities.

  • Why is this important?
    The linkage between academic disciplines and preparation for employment within defined economic sectors is of extremely high value when developing academic strategy. It is often deeply misunderstood. Every academic credential needs to embed employability knowledge and skills into the curriculum. The narrative describing the curriculum must make the case that the curriculum is up-to-date, relevant, and content and experience rich.
  • Example
    A Universities’ Liberal Arts programs recognized they needed curriculum revitalization to invigorate enrollment. The process was guided by the notion that a well-constructed liberal arts undergraduate degree could be argued and proven to be the perfect credential for this century. The core was reimagined to include thematic essential employability competencies that were shaped into curricular experiences. Faculty focused on:

    • Quantitative and qualitative reasoning and decision-making
    • Effective communication
    • Global cultural and political awareness
    • A strong sense of self and an understanding of self in relation to community
    • Basic economic structures and dynamics
    • Political systems and governance

    These were embedded into the curricular experience and designed to be assessed.

Community of Practice Focus

Defines emerging need or problem based communities. Provides a framework for understanding and aligning multiple programs and disciplines with emerging global needs and opportunities.

  • Why is this important?
    Communities of Practice represent self-identifying contemporary clusters of individuals with diverse knowledge, skills and credentials coming together to address an important issue, problem or need. They are very fertile ground to identify, shape and develop new curriculum. The community of practice lens is also a great way to approach existing curriculum revitalization and market realignment.
  • Example
    A School of Management had developed and was preparing to launch a program of study in fraud and forensics. The preliminary design was primarily accounting in nature. The scope of practice was narrowly focused. By engaging the communities of practice that included judiciary, law enforcement, and financial sectors in a structural review of the preliminary curriculum significant changes were made. As a result of the participation, the Communities of Practice members populated the initial program cohorts and augmented faculty expertise.

Learning Outcomes

Defines the knowledge and skills acquired form engagement in an academic program of study or learning environment. Provides a framework for mapping outcomes, developing narrative and leveraging academic value.

  • Why is this important?
    Teaching and learning are the heart and soul of an academic institution. Differentiating an institution based upon learning achievement, teaching quality, learning environment, and educational value-added is seldom attempted and difficult to achieve. Focusing upon learning outcomes includes completion rates, placement rates of graduates, and rankings and ratings by employers. It also structurally can be used as a guide to revitalizing the curricular design model.
  • Example
    Recognizing that roughly half of the prospects searching for their first enrollment opportunity are undecided as to the major they are interested initial strategies were developed to launch a common first year experience for undecided majors. The curriculum was designed to provide a strong academic experience flowing directly into more than a dozen majors. It was designed without a time to degree extension penalty being required (similar to the Liberal Arts example above except within a human services curricular cluster) regardless of the major selected within the cluster.

Research and Scholarship

Defines the knowledge focus and foundation of an academic organization and its relationship to the global academic and knowledge ecosystem. Provides a framework for innovation, focus, and leveraging knowledge and discipline expertise.

  • Why is this important?
    Research and scholarship anchor the academic reputation of the institution. The higher the demonstrable quality of research and scholarship the higher the perceived value of the learning experience.
  • Example
    An urban universities’ professional school sought to increase their rank and strategic position among their peers and enhance both research and faculty and student recruitment. A review of the research scholarship platform revealed more than 50 centers, institutes, and laboratories. As the school designed a new facility a comprehensive focus resulted in re-conceptualizing the organization, integration and support of the research and scholarship functions.

These examples illustrate in a nutshell, what we mean by taking a strategic position approach. The path to developing effective strategies can appear daunting and overwhelming. In order to construct meaningful strategy, we treat the view through these six lenses from the current institutional position as vectors. The concept of vectors adds two defining characteristics to the view through the lens, direction and magnitude. Note the primacy the curriculum and the academic portfolio play in developing strategic position. A well-developed strategically focused Master Academic Plan provides the best foundation. The use of the vector view is a powerful lens providing a focus for both the Master Academic Plan and developing Strategic Position.

SP Vectors

Figure 2: Strategic Position Using Vectors: Example

The vector view in figure 2 provides sufficient detail (an early draft and not the more exhaustive view) to synthesize cohesive and comprehensive strategies for the future of the enterprise. Each element on the six lens lines is in a state of change; increasing or decreasing, expanding or contracting, changing rapidly or slowly,  either in growth or decline, is becoming more popular or more essential or is becoming less so. These six lens inform the development of the Master Academic Plan and help identify candidates for bump strategies, or long term development. They inform the status of the institutions current strategic position and provide insight and opportunities for future development.

Such a view can plug back into an initial strategic position assessment using the SRS Method to develop a clear and concise translation and guide Strategic Enrollment Management strategies.

SRS Pyramid (Diagram)

Figure 3: The SRS Method for Strategy Development

In Closing

Hopefully this Strategic Position approach has provided deeper insight into the intricate and detailed elements involved in constructing a comprehensive competitive position in the emerging global learning marketplace. A colleague commenting on this approach quipped “Wouldn’t it be nice if this were much simpler? Send a few Social Media messages, even put up a billboard on the freeway or placards in buses and by golly the enrollments would overflow. In a perfect world, they would all be eager, well prepared, well-mannered, full pay students that just do as they are told and graduate on time.”  Pardon a quote from a contemporary commercial—“that’s not how any of this works.” It is complex; efforts take time and persistence, and results (not wishes) must be designed into strategies and initiatives. In the end curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue and revenue drives everything else. That means ultimately strategies emanate from the curriculum (see “It’s the Curriculum Stupid”) and the academic enterprise.

Proficiency Based Curriculum Model: Part 6

Enrollment ‘Crisis’ Management: The Art & Science of the Bump

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 no longer than three years; many are just 1 year. 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 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 Tyranny of Cycles and the Magic of the Bump

If enrollment were a cake, it would take three years to make. Curriculum initiatives achieved this academic year get recruited for the next academic year and yield enrollment in the third academic year. Enrollment problems are failures to bring the academic and enrollment management functions into alignment in enough time to impact a recruitment cycle. Because the development cycle for any enrollment strategy is so long (tree years), and the focus on enrollment yield is so short (annual budget cycle), it is common to derail meaningful strategies underway prematurely. A bump is akin to a chef creating a tasty, satisfying meal from a marginally stocked pantry. Once it is consumed, well, the pantry just doesn’t yield it again. The magic of the bump strategy is that in an enrollment or fiscal crisis it does bypass the three year development cycle and gives a bump in resources on which to get by.

The Secret

It’s the Curriculum Stupid” Sorry to be so blunt but as explained in our post the one inexorable truth, “Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else!” Because the curriculum generates the primary source of revenue by enrolling students, it is the first place to look in the treasure hunt for a bump. Remember a bump strategy is unique to the institution, there is no secret list somewhere you can just copy. To get the secret to yield turn to yield analytics. Social Media, inquiries, recruiter feedback, and historic enrollment build profiles. Next turn to market dynamics. It is not enough to just know from where your students come but where they are and what motivates them. For those of a certain age, bumps are more of a MacGyver type of operation.


There are a number of barriers to engineering a bump. If enrollment managers are too panicked and pressured to think, then they are unlikely to discover such opportunities. Resources being what they are, in limited supply; the team may be too busy to build the bump. Cycles are relentless, and timing is everything, this post appears in prime bump strategy season. If decision makers are too risked averse to try (and fail), a bump is impossible to engineer. Decisions can also be crowded by too many opinions and too many with veto power. I recall a board member who asked me (and most enrollment managers have this experience) ‘this all sounds like it takes too long, do you think they should try sending letters, visiting high schools, putting up a billboard or maybe doing a TV commercial?’

In closing

The bump as a crisis mitigation mechanism can be very effective. But it is not a remedy for long term enrollment issues. If used wisely, a bump strategy can give a needed boost in morale and enough fiscal oomph to energize an enrollment management team. No one can guarantee the success of bump initiative. October begins prime bump engineering season for next falls enrollment. But it is a short season and has serious limits. Please consider Joining the ASEM Group in Linked In, and joining us in Claremont on December 8th for the Institute for Academic Strategic Enrollment Management and Sustainability where we will discuss the bump as an option.

Academic Strategic Enrollment Management (ASEM) Professional Group Launched

ASEM-Hero-LogoMGDA announced today the formation of the Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Group as a professional community of practice established on the LinkedIn social networking platform.

The Academic Strategic Enrollment Management (A-SEM) Group is dedicated to the concept of sustainability by nurturing synergy between Academic Leaders and Enrollment Planning and Management Professionals. The group is a forum for the  emerging community of scholars and practitioners dedicated to exploring and developing the foundations of academic strategic enrollment management.  The group is a community of higher education professionals serving  in such roles as academic leaders, faculty, enrollment managers, curriculum designers, marketing, institutional research and assessment engaged in efforts to build the highest quality, fiscally sustainable academic programs.

SEM MatrixTo get a deeper view please visit the Academic SEM Series to explore the Primacy of the Curriculum, the use of the SEM Matrix, the concept and power of a Curriculum Architecture, and the insight embedded in a Learner-Centered Curriculum.

You are invited to connect with Michael G. Dolence on LinkedIn and look forward to you joining our group.


Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework: Part 3


This is the third post in the series on Academic Strategic Enrollment Management.

What is the Learner Centered Curriculum Framework?

“There’s this idea that if we just tell the story better, we will get more students,” he says. That thinking, he argues, misunderstands enrollment management and the plight of small colleges in the postrecession economy. Creating a new branding campaign might seem easier than assessing whether academic programs are meeting students’ needs. But one isn’t a substitute for the other. “It’s not what we say on our website, or how many hands we shake, or how many applications we get,” Mr. Kieffer says. “No, it’s, What are we offering?” He sees enrollment as a two-part puzzle: getting prospective students to want what a college offers, and offering what they want. “A lot of schools right now are desperate,” he says, “focusing solely on getting people to want what they offer.” — Roger Kieffer former senior vice president for enrollment at Trinity International University, Chronicle of Higher Education, September 19, 2014, Vol LXI, Number 3, Page A-18

The Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework (LCCF) provides a conceptual structure to guide dialog and inquiry about curriculum. It frames curriculum in its broadest strategic context and provides a framework for the design, implementation, and evaluation of curriculum. When employing the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework, the complexities of translating mission, vision, and strategic position into effective curriculum are mapped across seven interlocking constructs:

  1. Learner Populations;
  2. Learner Objectives;
  3. Learning Provider Models;
  4. Learning Theory and Methods;
  5. Curriculum Architecture;
  6. Curriculum Configurations; and
  7. Learner Support Services

These constructs are, in turn, decoded or operationalized through seven learner-centered questions. When asked and answered, the questions are ideal for building, improving, and sustaining design integrity across curricular elements and guiding a wide array of institutional internal and external alignments.

The Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework is a tool that helps frame strategic dialog and analysis around the principles and practices of the concept learner-centered academic environments. This article describes the seven learner-centered questions that emanate from the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework and  help frame a basic enrollment management perspective useful for strategic enrollment management professionals when they dialog with academics. The table below can be printed and guide deeper insight into the options revealed through each question.  The elements under the questions are not to be used as a check list but rather a list of prompts and possibilities. We invite constructive comments and suggestions as-well-as any case examples of its use.

Seven Learner-Centered Questions


Learner Populations

A deep understanding of the populations to be served is required for effective curriculum design and delivery. For this reason, the very first question to be addressed is: Who are the learners? The answer flows from and can inform an entity’s strategic decisions regarding mission, vision, and strategic position (see Developing Institutional Strategy). Several questions cascade to give deep meaning to this basic question. Who are the learners of the 21st century? What learner populations does the institution currently serve? Who could or should the institution be serving? And, so on. Understanding who the learners are is an essential and often overlooked component of shaping curriculum for a changing society. The foundation of a learner-centered approach is to fully understand learning demand as segmented by salient learner population characteristics. Once understood, academic planners can identify gaps between the learner populations present in society, those the institution desires to serve, and those it currently serves. A learner-centered approach, guided by the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework, is most fruitful when supported by open inquiry and discourse regarding the learner populations found within an institution’s target market areas and those within the global learning marketplace.

Learner Objectives

A related set of questions emanates from the second learner-centered question within the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework: What objectives do the learners seek? Related questions include: What do the learners of the 21st century seek? What are their learning and credential objectives? How do objectives change in the course of a person’s life? Learners seek a vast array of learning objectives and these objectives vary over time and the course of one’s life (see 5 Bold Predictions For The Future Of Higher Education). Knowledge of learner objectives is a prerequisite for understanding motivation and, therefore, should guide the sequencing of learning experiences as well as inform marketing, recruitment, and retention efforts. Learner objectives should be a fundamental design element for the overall structure and intent of a curriculum and, therefore, incorporated early in program and curriculum design and review processes.

Learning Provider Models

A third area of inquiry flows from asking: What learning provider models are available to the learners? Corollary questions include: What options are open to 21st century learners as they seek their objectives? What curricular models, business models, and assessment models are in play? What choices do various learner populations make and why? What evidence exists on the effectiveness of the various provider models? The digital knowledge age is an age in which learning opportunities can be made available to learners anytime, anywhere. As a result, a complex network of learning resources and provider models is emerging to meet the demand for learning across multiple venues. Models range from traditional collegiate models to open-term models, online, and a host of other variations. Faculty, academic leaders, strategic planners, and curriculum designers are well advised to fully explore, describe, and understand various provider models in order to adequately assess the emerging learning landscape. Such an assessment builds understanding of emerging best practice as well as deep understanding of the competitive enrollment context of higher education. Furthermore, examining provider models and the learner populations for whom they have value builds deep insight into the learner-centered approach. Strategic curricular decisions will emerge from a synthesis of an institution’s knowledge of the populations, objectives, and models present in today’s global learning space.

Learning Theories and Methods

The fourth set of questions revolves around the learning process. Indeed, the learning process is extremely important in learner-centered curriculum design. The most effective designs reflect a comprehensive integration of learning theory and methods appropriate to successful learning. Therefore, the fourth learner-centered question within the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework is: What learning theories and methods are appropriate for specific learners and the objectives they seek? What learning methods help inform us of the appropriate curricular approach to take with specific learner populations? How do we focus the curriculum on the individual learner? The American Psychological Association developed a 14 point learner-centered framework that provides an effective baseline for discussion and design. There are more than 50 major learning theories, each focused on a different aspect of learning or learner population. Synthesizing effective curriculum requires the matching of theory and practice to learner population characteristics and objectives. The point, in short, is to systematically build curriculum to incorporate effective learning methods.

Learner-Centered Curriculum Architecture

The fifth area of inquiry emanating from the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework results from a complex, yet straightforward question: What is the existing curriculum architecture of the institution or educational entity? Does the architecture provide an alignment between the learner, the curriculum, and society? Curriculum Architecture refers to the design, structure, and relationships within and across an institution’s published curricular offerings. A curriculum’s architecture is foundationally defined by the formal programs of study authorized by a governing body that directly controls the rules of curriculum design and delivery. Thus, the architecture formalizes the curricular attributes an institution is committed to support and develop. It establishes alignment points with specific segments of the learner markets prescribed within an institution’s mission. Ideally, curriculum is both learner and learning centered. The curriculum architecture can also be used to synthesize an institution’s comprehensive academic master plan. The architecture of a curriculum describes the style, method of design, basic construction, key components, and underlying philosophies used to build the modules, courses, and programs that make up the entire diverse curricula.

Learner-Centered Curriculum Configuration

The sixth area of inquiry and discourse keenly focuses on meeting the specific and particular learning needs of the learners an institution has selected or been charged to serve. The sixth learner-centered question is: What specific curriculum can be configured to meet the learning needs of the learner population(s) an institution has chosen or been charged to serve? Will the configurations achieve intended outcomes? How will that be assessed? A particular curriculum configuration is drawn from an institution’s available (current or planned) architectural options. The configuration constructs a specific curriculum from all the elements of the architecture for a specific population seeking specific objectives using specific teaching, learning, and assessment methods. Across an institution, a wide variety of curriculum configurations are deployed.

Learner-Centered Support Services

The seventh area of inquiry within the Learner-Centered Curriculum Framework addresses the design and delivery of the array of services required by learners to meet their objectives. What support services are necessary to enable specific learner population(s) to successfully complete the curriculum and meet their objectives? Services are as important within a learner-centered curriculum as is the design and configuration of learning experiences. The curriculum alone is insufficient to deliver effective and efficient learning. Advising, counseling, and assessment are among the most important processes to be integrated into curriculum design. Too often they are add-ons. Other services are required to be sure learners are available to access the curriculum and learn. For example, assessment and placement, advising, counseling, financial aid, and a host of other services are extremely important to the process of creating learner success. As each learner population is understood, services must be fused to curriculum design so that pathways can be efficiently navigated and successfully completed.

Alternate Names

You may find the concepts outlines here referred to differently, some common alternate names are:

  • Subject Centered
  • Student Centered

SEM Matrix: Part 4

Curriculum Architecture: Part 2

“Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else!”

There are numerous myths regarding the basics of managing an academic enterprise. Through them all shines one inexorable truth, “Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else!” Because the curriculum generates the primary source of revenue, the relationship between revenue and expenditure per unit is the primary area of concern. In the case example below revenue are tallied by course section (as the primary unit of accounting), expenditures include direct section costs and the section share of overall institutional costs to sum to expenditure. The condition where revenue meets or exceeds expenditures, the difference between revenue and expenditure is called a margin. The difference is called a deficit when expenditures exceed revenue. When the average section size is lower than the break-even section size, the deficit is said to be structural.

Case study illustrating structural deficit and the principle of managing the margin. Shows impact of average section size on sustainability. This case example of margin is a highly distilled illustrative study from a client engagement.

Case study illustrating structural deficit and the principle of managing the margin. Shows impact of average section size on sustainability. This case example of the margin is a highly distilled illustrative study from a client engagement.

This case example of the margin is a highly distilled illustrative study from a client engagement. It shows that the actual revenue for the 5,000 enrollment institution was $44.3 million and could support for example 1,443 sections averaging 20.68 students per section. The actual expenditures for the institution were $57.4 million, the institution offered 1,871 sections and enrolled on average 15.96 students per section. This real scenario generated a structural deficit of $13.1 million offset by deferred maintenance, a suspension of non-essential travel, a hold on new hires, a reduction in staff, a reduction in benefits, the sale of real estate, increased cost recovery from grants and contracts, and creative cash management.

The curious element in this case study was a report to the Board of Trustees that mentioned a positive cycle developing in the economy and the potential for more favorable economic circumstances ahead. I offer Bill Gates observation on the subject,

 …the second biggest pot of money, which is the education pot, both K-12 and higher ed, gets raided. And, so, on a per student basis, that money has gone down, and there’s no likely prospect that it will go back up. Some people have thought of it as cyclical, but, in fact, if you look at the last several cycles, it goes down in the cycle and then, during the good years, it stays at that level, and then, as the next cycle is hit, it’s gone down again.  – Bill Gates, on The Future of College, NACUBO, August 8, 2014

Managing the margin requires massage of several variables including tuition, enrollment, the number of sections offered and average enrollment in each section. Every institution should calculate and know what their break-even sections size is given their other variables. Every academic should understand these basic relationships and the concepts of margin and structural deficit. Each institution is different in how revenues and expenditures are managed so talk to your Chief Financial Officer and get the facts.


About Learning Styles

There is a running debate among educators concerning the validity of the conceptual framework of learning styles. Learning Styles emerged in the 1970’s as a theoretical explanation of the variability among individuals engaged in learning, but has been around since Aristotle. The journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) published a report (Psychological Science in the Public Interest December 2008 vol. 9 no. 3 105-119)  critical of aggregated clusters of students with common learning styles. Authors Hal Pashler of the University of California, San Diego,  Mark McDaniel of Washington University, Doug Rohrer from University of South Florida, and Robert Bjork from University of California, Los Angeles concluded

that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice. Thus, limited education resources would better be devoted to adopting other educational practices that have a strong evidence base, of which there are an increasing number. However, given the lack of methodologically sound studies of learning styles, it would be an error to conclude that all possible versions of learning styles have been tested and found wanting; many have simply not been tested at all.

The Myth of Learning Styles

coverNext comes the Change Magazine Article. The article titled The Myth of Learning Styles was published in the September-October 2010 issue. The article by Cedar Riener and Daniel Willingham begins with one important salient point:
“There is no credible evidence that learning styles exist.”
So here is the punch line: Students differ in their abilities, interests, and background knowledge, but not in their learning styles. Students may have preferences about how to learn, but no evidence suggests that catering to those preferences will lead to better learning.
The article is organized around the following questions.
  • What is a Learning Style?
  • Which Claims of Learning-Styles Theorists are Correct?
  • What Do Learning-Styles Theorists Get Wrong?
  • Why Does the Belief in Learning Styles Persevere?
  • Why Should College Educators Care?

 Learning Styles: Fact and Fiction

The question of Learning Styles comes up frequently among curriculum designers, academic administrators, and faculty and reviews appear fairly regularly.  A Blog post  titled Learning Styles: Fact and Fiction – A Conference Report, from 2011 by Derek Bruff, Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University does an excellent job of framing the issues and articulating the various perspectives.

Howard Gardner setting the record straight: ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles’

An article in the Washington Post, October 16, 2013 adds another point to the review of Learning Styles. It clarifies the difference between multiple intelligences and learning styles.

 It’s been 30 years since I developed the notion of “multiple intelligences.” I have been gratified by the interest shown in this idea and the ways it’s been used in schools, museums, and businesses around the world. But one unanticipated consequence has driven me to distraction—and that’s the tendency of many people, including persons whom I cherish, to credit me with the notion of ‘learning styles’ or to collapse ‘multiple intelligences’ with ‘learning styles.’ It’s high time to relieve my pain and to set the record straight.
As an educator, I draw three primary lessons for educators:
1.       Individualize your teaching as much as possible. Instead of “one size fits all,” learn as much as you can about each student, and teach each person in ways that they find comfortable and learn effectively. Of course this is easier to accomplish with smaller classes. But ‘apps’ make it possible to individualize for everyone.
2.        Pluralize your teaching. Teach important materials in several ways, not just one (e.g. through stories, works of art, diagrams, role play). In this way you can reach students who learn in different ways. Also, by presenting materials in various ways, you convey what it means to understand something well. If you can only teach in one way, your own understanding is likely to be thin.
3.       Drop the term “styles.” It will confuse others and it won’t help either you or your students.

For the story of how Gardner came up with  Multiple Intelligences : The First Thirty Years, Howard Gardner, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The Myth of Learning Styles

As final punctuation to the point I offer Peter DeWitt’s confession.

Academic Strategy: Curriculum Driven Facility Optimization

MGDA specializes in strategic analysis guiding fundamental academic decisions that optimize resources, facilities, and revenue potential leading to increased margin. This type of analysis is particularly valuable when building a new University where there is no campus history, no patterns to accommodate, and not reference points to use to develop specifications. The simplest form of data one could use (and many do) is to just look at an existing institution about the size and clone it. There a number of reasons this is not advisable, some examples include:

  1. The current paradigm shift to a digital learning ecosystem is changing room utilization use patterns, room configuration requirements, capacity and technology requirements.
  2. Without some optimization analysis, low utilization artifacts can continue unrecognized and unabated.
  3. There are multiple sources of sub optimization. Low schedule utilization, inappropriate course or pedagogy for a room configuration, disruption of optimum schedule, …

To illustrate the magnitude of difference between optimization scenarios we offer the following real world example from our client experience.

Comparative Analysis Comprehensive University

MGDA assessed the curriculum of a comprehensive university and analyzed four growth scenarios and their impact on academic facility space. The university is committed to double its size and grow from its current 20,000 student enrollment to 40,000 students. This summary table shows the total room count across all 82 Programs of Study. The blue columns show total room counts at 20K enrollment, the orange shows the count at 30K enrollments and the grey columns show rooms required at 40K enrollment.

Room Count Comparison by Scenario and Schedule Model (Chart)

The Room Count by Scenario and Schedule Model chart is very revealing. Academic administrators and facility managers will immediately recognize very different perspectives and beliefs reflected in the scenarios and the politics of the institution. In the end funding agencies required some assessment of room utilization possible and an unambiguous and impartial view of capacity. The chart shows actual room counts by stage of enrollment growth for each of four facility ownership scenarios.

“It’s the Curriculum Stupid”: Part 1


This is the first post in the series on Academic Strategic Enrollment Management.

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 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. An initial strategic enrollment management engagement often centers around 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.

Before a hailstorm of negative reactions explodes in social media from anyone believing I am faculty bashing here, nothing can be further from the truth. I am well aware of hypersensitivity over control of curriculum by academic communities. I am painfully aware that nonacademics walk on eggs around the issue of the curriculum. An academic culture that lacks open, constructive dialog is not healthy for enrollment, or the curriculum or the institution’s future. I have conducted postmortems on more than 100 institutions who either closed or were forced into a merger because they drove themselves to financial inviability. Volatility and obstinacy were common characteristics among campus constituents found within the documents, and written interchanges reviewed in the postmortems. By the way, another common characteristic among the closed/merged postmortems was the board of trustees failing their fiduciary responsibility, is examined in a future series.

Academic Foundations of Strategic Enrollment Management

So where do we begin discussing the foundations of Academic Strategic Enrollment Management? Carvilleian logic guides us to “It’s the Curriculum Stupid,” and we would respond appropriately and say well of course it is, at least in an ideal world. We might follow with the question, “But what is it about the curriculum and the academic enterprise that frames the principles and practices of Strategic Enrollment Management?”

Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Principle 1: Primacy

Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else.
– Michael G. Dolence

The curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenue drives everything else.

This statement, I have used for years, perfectly defines the reality of the relationship between the academic and enrollment management functions facing institutions today. Why does enrollment exist at all, because learners seek credentials via curriculum. That said, the implications are very serious for both the academic community and the enrollment management community. Let’s examine some of those implications.

Academic Strategic Enrollment Management Principle 2: Alignment

Curriculum must achieve a critical level of alignment with enrollment markets in order to secure a healthy recruitment and retention yield. Enrollments are driven by forces inherent in the learning marketplace. The forces such as affordability, real and perceived value, convenience, performance, placement after graduation, and academic reputation have significant influence in the pre-search phase of college search. The very dramatic paradigm shift to a global digital learning environment (covered in a parallel blog series “Prototype Strategic Plan”) portends disruptive future changes in the global learning marketplace.

There are deep academic issues that can be addressed immediately to strengthen enrollment management success. The following illustrative issues:

Commoditization of the Undergraduate Program

Over the past four decades there has been a perception developing among families looking for higher education opportunities for their children driven by marketing strategies used across higher education. Contributing vernacular includes statements like:
“Doesn’t matter where you get your undergraduate degree it is the graduate credential that matters”
“First two years are the same everywhere so pick the cheapest and save your dollars for a top notch (expensive) school to finish your undergraduate education.”
“Go where you get the biggest discount, best deal, most money…” there are hundred ways this is perpetuated.
I won’t belabor the point here but as these messages reverberate around families, advisers, and influencers they become ‘common knowledge’ even when untrue and that hurts the value equation of all of higher education.

A move from commoditization to differentiation strengthens the academic strategic enrollment management position.

Curriculum Cloning and À La Carte Menu Program Development

Academic management practices in higher education have fostered a practice of curriculum as a kit of parts. Find a trending program name, examine the course titles, select a similar set from your master course list, check them against academic policy, and launch. Such an approach is not prototyping a curriculum but rather cloning. It rapidly floods the market with seemingly equal curriculum diluting the market share and driving the quality of all to the level of a commodity.

Using outcomes, skills, and value based design to frame curriculum rather than selecting from a list of existing courses then writing marketing messages to link the course to the value equation strengthens the academic enrollment portfolio.

The Business of Higher Education versus Higher Education as a Business

Even though higher education is not a business in the classic sense the business of higher education has never been more important. Academic leaders and enrollment managers must deeply understand the principles of financially sustainable curriculum and enrollment management.

The Value Equation

It is paradoxical that we use individuals earning potential with a college degree to place value and therefore a claim on the investments made by the public and learners and then vilify the call to articulate the linkage between programs and economic opportunity for graduates. It makes no sense to policy makers, learners and their families or for the most part most professionals in higher education. We must make it clear that the liberal arts are also the earning arts playing an integral part in the development of a lifetime employability strategy.

Academic Strategic Enrollment Management opens a new pathway to institutional and curricular revitalization. It requires a new level of interaction, analysis, and openness. It requires a willingness to systematically examine, recalibrate and refine the foundations of curriculum and enrollment management and set them on a strategic course to the future. The very important lesson learned from examining the experience of closed and merged institutions is:

“The learning marketplace is a harsh teacher.”

Curriculum Architecture: Part 2

Academic SEM Series

Prototype Series Overview


Current estimates are that there are roughly 20,000 colleges and universities worldwide. Each renews or refreshes its strategic plan every 3 to five years. That means on average every year there are between 5,000 and 6,667 institutions worldwide that are in the process of reviewing their mission statements and developing a strategic plan. Each faces a daunting task. Each must plan the process of planning (called the plan to plan). Each must inventory, invite, and convene their constituents and engage them in the process. Each must labor over process design; methods used, committee structures, wordsmithing, concept development, and visions. In the end, it will engage thousands of person hours and provoke virtually everyone. In each case just getting the planning work done and fitting it into the everyday routine work plan is a major challenge.

In the meantime, the world continues to evolve rapidly. For example, MOOCs came on the higher education scene achieving levels of scalability never before imagined. Online learning continues to grow, national and state investment in higher education have become strained to the limit, (in the U.S. federal student loans have accumulated to a trillion dollars in debt). As a result the public is demanding more flexible options, higher levels of accountability, greater efficiencies, proof of value of the higher education experience and evidence that outcomes are achieved by learners.

Trying to understand the dynamics of the changing environment while constructing a flawless blueprint for the future (not what the plan is, but we hear planning team participants echo this sentiment frequently) is a daunting mission impossible. One method is to slow down in order to speed up. That means let the leadership team practice. In order for the planning team to more fully understand the fundamental changes and the impacts emanating from the paradigm shift currently underway we recommend the development of a rapid prototype strategic plan. Such a plan is done in preparation for the development of the plan to be enacted.

Prototype Strategic Plan

Prototype a Learning Age Strategic Plan Series Overview

The Four Strategies and Eight enabling Tactical Plans that make up a Prototype Learning Age Strategic Plan

A rapid prototype helps frames issues, draws contrasts, proposes emerging solutions and recognizes new realities surrounding the emerging global digital learning environment. The approach permits the development of a comprehensive picture that looks and can reach farther into the future. A rapid prototype is developed in a minimum amount of time, with limited resources and provides the maximum in cost to transformational benefit.

This post begins a series that focuses upon the design and development of a Prototype Strategic Plan for an Institution of Higher Education. We recommend developing a forward-looking prototype strategic plan as a means to introduce constituents to the profound changes occurring as a result of a paradigm shift currently underway. Developing a prototype plan, allows planners to frame the future and its implications to the institution in a structured way. The prototype plan then serves as a possible view of the future as a reflective tool prompting deeper dialog.

A planning process is complex, highly political and can be fraught with pitfalls, missteps, and misperceptions. The literature is replete with examples of failure. Leaders recognize that the true value of the planning process is not a plan (sure it is important and must be produced), but in how the process engages the organization and prepares it to address critical challenges and improve performance.


Our prototype sets forth four basic strategies: Change the Paradigm, Focus on Value, Develop Capacity, and Make Everything Count. The series will then take these four strategies and explore how they shape eight tactical plans beginning with the Academic Master Plan.

Prototype Framework

Over the next few weeks of this Series, we will post more detail on each of the twelve basic elements of a Prototype Strategic Plan. We invite you to engage with us, make suggestions, observations, and add to the concept.

Change the Paradigm