Achieving Strategic Position in the Global Learning Marketplace: Part 7

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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

Strategic Enrollment Management Plan: Part 6

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The Strategic Enrollment Management Plan is the sixth element in a cohesive prototype plan leading an institution into the future. It is an integral part of a cohesive planning and management system serving to guide organizational development, focus and workflow. I receive many requests for an outline but the specifics of a plan are largely dependent upon the institutions typology and strategic condition of its academic portfolio and enrollment history. This post will serve to frame the basic functions and some strategic elements necessary for any Strategic Enrollment Management Plan.

The purpose of the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan is threefold:

  • Inform the Master Academic Plan regarding global learning market conditions, challenges and opportunities;
  • Present the institutions academic program to the global learning marketplace and engage prospects to yield enrollments;
  • Manage enrollment dynamics to optimize revenue and enrollment performance.

The foundation of any Strategic Enrollment Management Plan emanates from assumptions either formal or de facto about the relative position of the institution in the global learning ecosystem or within specific learning market segments.

Common Strategic Enrollment Management Plan characteristics include:

  • A long range view with specific references such as 1, 3, 5, 10, 15 year milestones.
  • Updated annually
  • Translates the Institutional Strategic Plan and Master Academic Plan into action
  • Fully integrates the Master Academic Plan with the global learning marketplace
  • Fully involves the academic leadership
  • Guides academic and enrollment organizational development (human capital and systems infrastructure)

Strategic Position

The Strategic Enrollment Management Plan when combined with the Institutional Strategic Plan and the Master Academic Plan determine the institutions relative strategic position in the global learning ecosystem. Conversely the desired strategic position focuses the development of specific strategies, tactics, goals and objectives in the Strategic Enrollment Management Plan.

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. While marketing, branding, and competitiveness are certainly integral to the strategy, the roots of strategic positioning lie in the academic master plan and the academic culture and curriculum it defines, builds and sustains. The process begins with institutional strategy emanating from mission and vision. We use the SRS Method to develop a clear and concise translation and guide Strategic Enrollment Management plans, campaigns and analysis.

The SRS Method of Mission Review and Strategy Development

Figure 1: The SRS Method of Mission Review and Strategy Development

Contrary to the common practice, “we need more,” is neither a strategy nor a plan. The concept of strategic position is built around assessing where an institution is with respect to others in its competitive sphere. 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 Lens
    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.
Six Lenses Informing Strategic Position

Figure 2: 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.

Note the primacy of academic programs (Academic Programs, Learning Outcomes, Research and Scholarship) in the concept and strategic position framework. Because the academic strategies drive enrollment management performance, the cycles that drive each of them must be aligned, and synergy developed. They must also be aligned with the three external factors; population dynamics and demographics, employment domains and global discipline conditions, and emerging communities of practice.

The Life Cycles of PIE

Strategic enrollment management utilizes a basic PIE (Plan / Implement / Evaluate) Cycle to produce results. It is a three year cycle. Each fall, enrollment managers begin the cycle by evaluating last year’s campaign against enrollments registered on census day, launching the current recruitment plan as informed by ongoing evaluation, and planning the next fall’s recruitment campaign. The full cycle takes three years to complete:

  • Year 1
    Develop the recruitment Plan
  • Year 2
    Implement the recruitment plan
  • Year 3 and Continuous
    Evaluate results using analytics and time series methods.

Curriculum management also runs in a basic three year PIE cycle. Academic program modifications, curriculum development, and academic policy modifications are collected, and the results are published in the academic catalog to be offered as the basis for enrollment. Because it serves as the basis for a contract between the institution and the student the academic catalog becomes the input to the development of a Strategic Enrollment Management Recruitment campaign. The confluence and interplay between the various cycles of development, review, approval, and implementation require consistent, clear communications and a commitment to a common goal.

Synchronizing the academic and enrollment management calendars, schedules, and cycles are essential to a smooth enrollment development culture. Cycles must nurture enrollment management campaigns designed to recruit the next cohort of students.

The recruitment, retention, and graduation of students follow the predictive staged path detailed in the Strategic Enrollment Management Funnel. Between each band lies the yield from decisions made in the previous to progress further down the funnel toward registration. Campaigns are designed to yield the progress from suspect populations (input to the funnel) through the various stages.

The Strategic Enrollment Management Funnel

Figure 3: The Strategic Enrollment Management Funnel


Defined as an integrated set of recruitment activities designed to achieve a specific enrollment target in a specified amount of time. A campaign is guided by institutional strategy, master academic plan, and strategic position and developed in order to meet recruitment period enrollment targets.

  • Targets Begin with trajectory statements such as increase academic profile of freshman class or increase diversity of the undergraduate population, or increase geographic representation of graduate enrollments. Specific campaign targets then flow from these trajectories, such as, grow enrollment from Asia (specifically China, Japan, Malaysia, India, & Indonesia) by x% to 100 incoming students in fall (year).
  • Messaging Develops the specific messages and sequences them to influence prospect decision making. Messaging creates the value proposition, removes barriers, engages the interest, and leads the prospect through learning about the opportunity to experience an academic culture. It is both art and science and is rarely enhanced by opinion.
  • Channels Map the messages to specific communications systems and schedule them in a strategic order to influence prospects decision to proceed through the application process to enrollment. Channels include events (face-to-face), social media, advertising, including virtually every vehicle of engagement available.
  • Closing In the end the entire campaign is about the final negotiation and closing the offer of enrollment. The right tools and flexibility must be in the hands of the closer.

Enrollment managers are working a minimum of three campaigns at any given time. They are evaluating what worked in the previous, implementing the current and planning the next. A consistent critical weakness we have observed is too little time, and attention is paid to campaign planning and analysis.

In Closing

This brief introduction to the construct, value and key elements of a Strategic Enrollment Management Plan serves to orient its role in the structure of a solid strategic planning process. Without this solid foundation enrollment development activities are adrift, guided only by angst, panic, opinion, beliefs, notions, and impatience.

Master Academic Plan: Part 5

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.

Enrollment Worries?

The only real way to enrollment and fiscal stability and sustainability is to engage both academic and enrollment management professionals in a structured approach to find, recruit, and enroll the critical mass of enrollments necessary to meet fiscal requirements.

Institute for Academic Strategic Enrollment Management and Sustainability

Don’t waste another academic or enrollment management cycle. Attend the Institute for Academic Strategic Enrollment Management and Sustainability.

Make Everything Count: Part 4


Make Everything Count Toward a Goal of Sustainability

Contemporary thought has reached consensus that the existing model of higher education is not economically sustainable.  The angst this produces across all higher education communities is palpable. Defensive postures, the natural reaction of denial and resistance to change resulting from heightened tensions creates a difficult political environment for developing meaningful plans to move forward. The issue of economic viability, as it moves to the fore of public educational and economic policy, often precludes thoughtful transformation. Leaders often seek quick fixes to budgetary constraints, and attempt to achieve short term returns instead of investing in the future by building a resilient educational enterprise. Sadly some academic leaders are just trying to make it to retirement without confronting the future. Sadly the beliefs, their metrics and value structures turn to successes of the past wasting valuable cycle time for transformational planning and implementation. Unfortunately, many just do not understand the different dimensions that are emerging that define the future of the global digital learning ecosystem.

SustainabilityThe concept of sustainability when applied to the future of higher education refers to rendering a new model or models that are economically and intellectually viable, and both socially equitable and responsible. The curriculum as warranted by the earning of the credential is and will remain the lifeblood of the  global digital learning ecosystem. The production of new knowledge, the continued research and development of new concepts must be a continued focus of the realm if society is to address the legacy and emergent problems facing the human condition. How these are done is an open question.

Higher education must focus upon the right things and understand their context for the future. Academics must take care to avoid internecine warfare over the challenges to the current models brought about by the paradigm shift. Instead, a focus upon optimizing the emergence of the global digital learning ecosystem as a means to create a more effective and efficient higher education experience. For example, we focus our attention on online programs rather than assimilate the power of the emerging global digital learning infrastructure. We evaluate the impact of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Course’s) through a lens of completion rates rather than what is learned about scalability, geographic reach, open engagement or the magnitude of impact on strategic position. The point here is not that completion rates are not important when evaluating the performance of an industry accumulating $1.2 trillion in consumer debt. It is to point out that the comparison to MOOC’s that are free to the consumer renders the issue impotent. Make no mistake all of higher education is not asleep, and there is a palpable pulse of strong creativity, innovation and experimentation building worldwide.

The goal of sustainability in the future of higher education refers to rendering a model or models that are both economically and intellectually viable. To do this, we must recognize that the fundamental economics and business models are intertwined, and they need very close scrutiny. First is the issue of section size. In the post “Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else!” we illustrated in the Margin Case Study (below) the economics of managing to a break even section size and pointed out that the failure results in a structural deficit that undermines the long term economic health of the institution. The specifications of section size are basic components of the curriculum architecture that is in place, and it is difficult to modify.

Margin Case Study

This case example of margin is a highly distilled illustrative study from a client engagement illustrates sustainable scenario.

Understanding the future requires accepting that the curriculum architecture is the fundamental foundation upon which to build the future. We described the context, concept and construct of Curriculum Architecture in another post. The issue becomes how do we engage the academy in a sustained serious discussion of new horizons for the design, development, and implementation of a curriculum architecture that aligns with and optimizes the new paradigm. See Higher Ed as a Business vs. the Business of Higher Ed. The stark reality is that it has become an open global dialog, and innovation and entrepreneurs are simply building strong, effective components of a resilient, cost effective learning ecosystem.  In our resource page on Digital Learning Environments, we shared some of the examples and more are on their way.

In the U.S., two elements hold the current model for higher education together, and they are inexorably linked. The first recognizes the sanctity of accreditation as a prerequisite to the second, access to massive federal and state funding. As public policy aligns with new realities these elements are vulnerable to change. Crushing public debt will force them to change. Higher education must make progress toward preemptive positioning the sector, and that is the focus of “Make Everything Count” as a strategy. Take stock of the initiatives underway illustrated in Change the Paradigm. Examine the experiences in Merging Public Colleges in Georgia, and the new planning efforts exampled by MIT as described in Develop Capacity: Part 3. Extrapolate the impact of the Georgia Tech initiative where students enrolled in the new Master of Science in Computer Science program will pay less than $7,000 for a graduate degree, compared to $45,000 for on-campus students. Time waits for no one and transitions are occurring much faster than most realize. Sustainability requires a keen focus upon institutional effectiveness and organizational performance.

Sustainable Performance

Deep systemic, strategic planning is required to nurture change. Change that results in a cohesive focus upon efficiency and effectiveness while creating an environment of sustainable performance aligned with the emerging realities of the Global Digital Learning Ecosystem. That means removing barriers and creating an environment for sustainable performance. To begin the Ivey Business Journal offers The New Leadership Challenge: Removing the Emotional Barriers to Sustainable Performance in a Flat World and Harvard Business Review offers Creating Sustainable Performance. Remember the result must be sustainable.


Sustainability of an institution of higher education is determined by its position in the global digital learning ecosystem resulting from the paradigm shift. Making everything count requires an intense focus upon understanding the strategic position that is desired for the organization and the detailed elements that contribute to achieving it. Sustaining that focus constantly requires doing the things that advance position in the global learning marketplace. This means working within means and not developing an everything strategic is an add on mentality.

Path Forward

  • Building an open, healthy academic culture is paramount.
  • Recognize the insidious sources of overhead.
  • Recognize the need to make time for working on the future.
  • Understand that everything that costs time or money must add value to the learning process or the design, development, delivery, or assessment of it
  • Closely examine initiatives already underway.
  • Engage in one sustained, comprehensive process that delivers immediate, mid term and long range  results.


Recognize that developing metrics to help measure value is an important part of the process. Also understand developing a culture of good stewardship of resources (time, money, space).

  • Understanding the basic financial realities of the learning sphere and academic enterprises is essential.
  • Understand the concept of margins-a condition where the value exceeds the cost.
  • Understand changes in scale, scope, and geographic reach now being contemplated by colleges, universities, and learning providers.

How to begin?

  1. Begin by using structured dialog to bring focus and clarity to planning and managing the academic enterprise in the learning age. The MGD+A SRS method is useful in this effort.
  2. Conceptualize an overarching effectiveness strategy to guide structured assessments that help determine the value and impact of ideas, initiatives, and strategies.
  3. Document the dialog and the plan and use it to guide you to the future.
  4. Don’t forget to let us know what you are using and how it is working. Engaging will also permit us alerting you to new postings, tools, and references.
  5. Ways to engage with MGD+A
    • Read, like, follow, post comments and questions and engage in open dialog via our Blog.
    • Join the Academic SEM LinkedIn Group.
    • Email questions or observations.
    • Continue to use the website to navigate our methodologies and use our tools
    • Utilize one of our webinars
    • Schedule web consultation using our WebEx conferencing system
    • Schedule a call to explore questions, process, or opportunities

Our next post in the series will feature the Master Academic Plan.

Master Academic Plan: Part 5

Develop Capacity: Part 3

Merging Public Colleges in Georgia

HuckabyHank Huckaby was appointed Chancellor of University System of Georgia  in May 2011. In October of that same year he launched a consolidation initiative. The Board of Regents approved four consolidations in January 2012, just under four months from the imitative being launched. In November 2013, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents voted to approve merging Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University in Phase II of planned consolidations. Consolidations are not new to Georgia. Between July 2009 and June 2010 thirteen technical colleges were consolidated into six.

“We must ensure that our system has the appropriate number of campuses around the state,” Huckaby said. “We in the university system should be the first to ask questions of ourselves to make sure we are serving the state in the best way.”

Phase I

Phase I consolidations reduced the number of colleges in the system from 35 to 31. The new schools are:

  • Georgia Regents University, a merger of Augusta State and Georgia Health Sciences universities. Ricardo Azziz is president.
  • Middle Georgia State College, a merger of Macon State and Middle Georgia College. John Black is interim president.
  • South Georgia State College, a merger of Waycross and South Georgia College. Virginia Carson is president.
  • University of North Georgia, a merger of Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University. Bonita Jacobs is president.

None of the campuses will close. The consolidations will result in approximately $6 million in operations through reduced administrative costs the savings to be reinvested in curriculum.

Controlling for change: A consolidation case study, May 20, 2013, Beth Brigdon, VP for Institutional Effectiveness, Georgia Regents University provides an overview.

Work Plan

An aggressive schedule was established and a daunting work plan (below) developed.


  • Coordinate with SACS
  • Coordinate with program-based accreditation (business, education, etc.)
  • Consolidate colleges – address departments in different colleges
  • Address program/curriculum differences
  • Streamline program offerings
  • Statutes and Bylaws (faculty senate, committees)
  • Faculty and Staff Handbooks
  • Update faculty contracts
  • Consolidate tenure and promotion processes and standards
  • Address consolidation of “centers”


  • Combine Athletic Programs
  • Determine tuition strategy/approach
  • Merge information systems – address data governance and management
  • Coordinate with federal DOE for implementation of financial aid system
  • Revise Student Handbooks and Judiciary
  • Revise Bylaws (student government, student fee committee)


  • Legislative relationships/support
  • Name of institution
  • Address Foundation and Alumni Group Issues
  • Address any endowment restrictions
  • Branding (mascots, school colors)
  • Messaging


  • Merge financial systems including payroll
  • Update contractual and rental agreements
  • Analyze impact on bonds
  • Ensure effective implementation of controls (flowchart, KPI, segregation of duties)
  • Coordinate with State Auditor
  • Ensure adequate internal audit coverage
  • Consolidate risk management operations
  • Consolidate ethics hotline
  • Transition legal agreements
  • Transition IT security
  • Identify all reporting requirements; develop plan to ensure compliance

Phase II

In November 2013, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents voted to approve Phase II the consolidation of Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University. Phase II of planned consolidations was put on an aggressive schedule.

Major Planned Milestones

  • BOR considers recommendation to consolidate SPSU and KSU November 2013.
  • Prospectus developed and submitted to SACS October 2014
  • SACS considers approval of prospectus December 2014
  • BOR considers approval of newly created Kennesaw State University January 2015
  • First cohort of students attend the new university in fall 2015

2014 State of the University Address, Kennesaw State University, by President Daniel S. Papp, delivered May 7, 2014, 11 AM, and May 8, 2013, 11 AM, 2014. President Papp’s address weaves a campus historical and operational context of implementing a consolidation.

The Polybloggin website run by the Southern Polytechnic State University Undergraduate Admissions office provides a student services view.

Money Measures a new publication of the Kennesaw State University Associate Vice President for Operations shares financial contexts surrounding the consolidation.

And of course there is conflict in any such move. The Sentinel from KSU published its take under the banner Consolidation Conflict.

Lessons and Beyond

ChangeIsAProcessThree Lessons in Benefits Consolidation (from consolidation of institutions in Georgia) by Missy Kline,  June 17, 2014

To shed a little light on just how complicated such a consolidation is  take a few moments and peruse the agenda for the Georgia 2014 Conference for College and University Auditors held May 12-13, 2014.

Looking forward a new initiative has been established called Invent Beyond and the process has been opened up for participation using a MOOC style process. The online collaboration is open to anyone who attends, works in or works with higher education in the United States. The “Invent the Beyond” online collaboration will use crowd-sourcing to develop future scenarios and to explore and describe the factors critical to the success of student, faculty and postsecondary institutions in 2030.

Consolidations and mergers are not new to American Higher Education.

In 1995, Minnesota merged the states community and technical college systems. Prior to 1995, Minnesota had four systems of public higher education: the University of Minnesota, community colleges, technical colleges, and state universities. Each system had its own governance structure and mission. Governance of the technical college system was shared by a state board and local school districts; faculty were employed by school districts and belonged to 18 different local unions. Technical colleges focused on vocational and occupational education and only a limited number were accredited. Community colleges had a strong central office system that was directly involved with campus-level administrative decisions and provided services to the campuses. Community colleges focused on two-year academic and occupational programs. State universities were governed by a state board but were allowed considerable independence in administrating their academic programs.

In 1998, Kentucky merged its technical and community college systems. June 30, 2013 Rutgers University in New Jersey absorbed ‘most of’ the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey brining it to 65,000 students enrolled in 33 schools and colleges across New Jersey operated with a $4 billion dollar budget.

Consolidations are not new to global dispersed institutions. The largest University for Women, Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia consolidated several smaller women’s institutions to open with an enrollment of over 20,000 students and growing to 60,000 in just a couple years.

Develop Capacity: Part 3


A paradigm shift challenges every organization to develop the capacity to meet new demands. New paradigm means new rules, new relationships, new patterns and new models of efficiency and effectiveness. The shift to a digital learning ecosystem characterized by open curricula, vast amounts of digital information, ubiquitous interpersonal communications via social networking and fluid global interconnections, challenges every aspect of our current post-secondary models. Demands for accountability for public and personal funds (coupled with a staggering $1 Trillion Student Debt), the persistent emphasis on meaningful formative assessment, and the growing expectations of higher performance learning environments, place extraordinary demands on institutional capacity. As institutions scramble to develop in-house skills, systems and solutions the first question becomes; What guides the process? The development of a prototype plan provides a rapid means of organizing an approach and process for addressing the demands of the paradigm shift. Since the paradigm is new it means assessing the capacity of the institution to address, capitalize on, and/or optimize the features of the new paradigm.

The concept of capacity is multifaceted. Our primary intent is to focus on the capacity of the institution, to plan effectively during a paradigm shift to a global digital learning ecosystem. Capacity refers to institutional capability to meet the demands placed on a contemporary educational institution. The paradigm shift sets the stage for the prototype plan. We use a prototype plan as a pre-planning process because there is much unknown by the organization and its constituents, about what is on the other side of a paradigm shift. Capacity, in the context of a paradigm shift, can refer to:

  • the physical capacity of facilities
  • the technological capacity of the infrastructure
  • the human capacity (knowledge and skills) to perform functions or tasks
  • the capacity of the curriculum to meet societal needs or learner interests or job market demands as they shift with the paradigm
  • the ability to recognize and respond to threats, challenges and opportunities
  • Capacity can mean any or all of these

The function of developing a prototype plan in a planning process is to enable the discovery of what is unknown, encourage review of options that may not be popular or well understood, and take an unbridled view of the future and implications for the organization. Figure 1 illustrates the relationship where required capacity is defined that which is required by a post paradigm shift institution.

Function of a Prototype in Planning

Figure 1 – Function of a Prototype in Planning: The relationship where required capacity is defined that which is required by a post paradigm shift institution.

Responding to or accommodating the magnitude of the change in a paradigm shift requires a formal plan that defines a new reality, and moves beyond the status quo, and the comfort zones of the past. A big challenge to be sure. One of the first questions to emerge is; Do we have the capacity to meet the challenge of a paradigm shift? This question must be addressed twice, once in developing the prototype that guides the future view, and again once the prototype moves forward and begins to refine emerging strategies, goals and objectives in further development of the formal strategic plan and its implementation. Since the paradigm shift establishes the context it must be clearly articulated.

Mandate for Change

The first step in developing the capacity to change, is to declare the need and substantiate the reasons change is required. The mandate for change must be clear and concise. One approach to change is to charge a team with developing a rapid prototype plan. The charge to the team begins to guide and shapes the capacity that needs to be present in both planning process and the organization that the plan creates. A great example of a charge to a group to prototype a plan with a vision is detailed in the Final Report of the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT, July 28, 2014.

In a letter to the MIT Community on February 6, 2013, President Rafael Reif described the formation of an Institute-wide Task Force. The Charge: So that you may advise me and MIT’s administration, I charge the Task Force to:

  • Propose an “ecosystem” for ongoing research, learning and innovation about the future of education.
  • Recommend a range of possible experiments and pilot projects that will allow us to explore the future of MIT education.
  • On our own campus, in ways that incorporate online learning tools to the fullest extent while maximizing the value of face-to-face learning for both faculty and students.
  • Beyond our campus, through which learners around the world could benefit from important aspects of MIT’s educational content, vision and values
  • Evaluate the future strength and sustainability of MIT’s current financial model in this evolving context and propose alternative or complementary approaches.
  • Develop a roadmap that will describe the work streams and the phases of work necessary to enable this ecosystem and implement these experiments.

Notice the artful characterization of the prototype as a roadmap. Hopefully, in a previous post “Change the Paradigm,” I was clear that a vision is needed in order to get a strategic plan that guides the institution into the future. In the MIT taskforce charge, the future is referenced as an ecosystem. The parameters of a global context and digital learning environment are called out. The concept of sustainability is anchored in MIT’s business model, and the importance is underpinned by service to humanity. Once the mandate for change is clear, and the group is charged the work must be accommodated and that means making time for it.

Remember the task force is just the first round of translating the mandate for change into a roadmap for the future. Subsequent rounds go deeper into the organization and align organizational capacities with future requirements.


We could easily have labeled this one people because having the right people focused on the future is so essential. Time and again, we see in our planning practice, all of the right people are appointed to the process, but that does not mean they have, can or will make the time to invest in it. The first symptom is substitutions at meetings. When that is mitigated by presidential decree, we see behaviors like individuals showing up with routine work to do while they sit in a meeting. Or they ‘revolving door’ the meeting to take calls, or are interrupted by their staff. So even if you have the right people in the process with the intent that they are contributing knowledge, insight and skill in shaping the context; the single biggest obstacle to success may be the failure to make time for the work that is required to meet future needs and challenges. New initiatives clash with beliefs and behaviors where the challenges and needs of the past take the first claim on time.

Make Time for the Work That Matters

by Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen, in Harvard Business Review, September 2013

We’ve spent the past three years studying how knowledge workers can become more productive and found that the answer is simple: Eliminate or delegate unimportant tasks and replace them with value-added ones. Our research indicates that knowledge workers spend a great deal of their time—an average of 41%—on discretionary activities that offer little personal satisfaction and could be handled competently by others. So why do they keep doing them? Because ridding oneself of work is easier said than done. We instinctively cling to tasks that make us feel busy and thus important, while our bosses, constantly striving to do more with less, pile on as many responsibilities as we’re willing to accept

The planning process must raise and deal with the issue of making time for the work ahead. Two of the implications emerging from understanding time strategy (there are more) are the issue of complexity and the emergence shorthand references that are not understood (and are afraid to ask).

The first has to do with complexity vs. simplicity. The common expectation is that both solutions and communications be simple and easy to understand. This saves time. But what happens to concepts that are not simple and easy to understand. What happens to deep restructuring and rethinking an enterprise (the kind of planning required in a paradigm shift). In our curricular and  enrollment management work we experience the constant pressure to distill very complex scenarios into sound bites and quick fixes. We often face distracting fairy tales such as ‘branding is a solution to systemic enrollment decline’ or cloning a program of study being misrepresented as innovation. We see getting courses online becomes more important than developing a sustainable digital learning strategy, and we see impatience that leads to bad decisions and wasted academic cycles and institutional budgets.

The second is the use of abbreviated lexicon that is meant to transmit a complete understanding in as few words as possible (presumably this makes it quicker and easier to read). Examples often appear in published plans whose primary feature is a list of Strategies, Goals and Objectives (shorthand for these is the designation SGO’s). The SGO’s or even worse a list of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT Analysis) is postured as a strategic plan. They are a basic list, and the expectation is that everyone can read the list and know what needs to get done. They (whoever they are) are then expected to go do it. But in reality does a list mean everyone gets it? Of course not. Will a list change behavior? No.  Can understanding be derived from reading a list of what must be done or is expected? It is unlikely, so we must ask is there a better way?

Evidence in change management indicate lists are insufficient. As a result of this evidence we proposed the development of a Prototype Strategic Plan that can be more than a list of SGO’s or a list of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The prototype plan and the process that creates it must bring clarity to the context of the path ahead. So how does one develop clarity of the path ahead?


Clarity begins with establishing a common context for the planning participants. The context is established when data and information are gathered, shared and discussed. Context is established when terms are defined, and timelines framed. Context is established when parameters, relationships, limits, norms, minimums and standards are introduced and understood. Context is established when strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are identified, defined and understood.

Clarity is then advanced when there are discussions and agreements on what the context means to the future of the planning entity (department, school, college, institution). Developing agreement on direction means understanding the concept of intent.

I find Daryl Conner’s Blog on managing intent very approachable for clients and colleagues. His four part series is well worth the read.

In Search of the Missing Link

As a professional change community, we have not always paid sufficient attention to intent. Our focus has often been more on getting people to adapt to a change than on the change itself. What I mean is, sometimes we are so attentive to issues like resistance and commitment that we fail to see that the people involved are lacking a common understanding of what is being asked of them. ♦  What Is Intent? Properly positioned, intent is a complete, concise, understandable, and compelling expression of the expectations for an initiative. — Daryl Conner

Clarity of the context of the future and the options available to the institution enables the development of a vision that provides a synthesized view of the organizations potential future.


Too often the vision is developed as a vision statement and lacks sufficient depth or clarity to guide a plan. Hopefully in “Change the Paradigm,” it was clear that a vision of substance is needed in order to get a strategic plan that guides the institution into the future. In another post, Developing Institutional Strategy, the SRS method MGDA uses to develop and synthesize a future view is introduced.

For a great example of a prototype plan that articulates a vision of the future examine the MIT Final Report of the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT. For MIT, the headings guide the logic in this report with Laying a Foundation for the Future, then developing the concept of Transforming Pedagogy. The reason is made clear in the next section Extending MIT’s Educational Impact, which then comes back around to Enabling the Future of MIT Education and opening it back up to vision with Imagining the Future of MIT Education. Embedded in the report are sixteen recommendations. Many of the recommendations are about developing capacity.

Summary of Recommendations from the Task Force on the Future of MIT

  • Recommendation 1
    The Task Force recommends that MIT establish an Initiative for Educational Innovation to build on the momentum of the Task Force, enable bold experimentation, and realize the future the Task Force has imagined for education on campus and beyond.
  • Recommendation 2
    The Task Force recommends that the new Initiative for Educational Innovation engage in bold experiments to catalyze ongoing research, learning, and innovation about the future of MIT residential education.
  • Recommendation 3
    The Task Force recommends that MIT build on the success of freshman learning communities and consider future expansions of the cohort-based freshman learning community model.
  • Recommendation 4
    The Task Force recommends that the Institute use online and blended learning to strengthen the teaching of communications.
  • Recommendation 5
    The Task Force recommends that MIT create an Undergraduate Service Opportunities Program (USOP).
  • Recommendation 6
    The Task Force recommends that the Institute explore online and blended learning models to improve graduate curriculum accessibility.
  • Recommendation 7
    The Task Force recommends that this commitment to pedagogical innovation for the residential campus be extended to the world to set the tone for a new generation of learners, teachers, and institutions.
  • Recommendation 8
    The Task Force recommends supporting efforts to create a lasting community and knowledge base for MITx learners.
  • Recommendation 9
    The Task Force recommends that MIT define a K-12 strategy through a special interest group under the auspices of the Initiative for Educational Innovation.
  • Recommendation 10
    The Task Force recommends that the Institute create new opportunities for engagement between the MIT community and the world.
  • Recommendation 11
    The Task Force recommends that MIT move forward to consider the types of certifications that can be supported through MITx and edX, and develop pricing methodologies and revenue-sharing arrangements for agreed-upon certifications.
  • Recommendation 12
    The Task Force recommends that MIT strengthen its commitment to access and affordability.
  • Recommendation 13
    The Task Force recommends that the Institute expand fundraising activities to embrace a broader MIT community.
  • Recommendation 14
    The Task Force recommends that MIT charge an ad-hoc working group to further evaluate revenue opportunities surrounding technology licensing and venture funding.
  • Recommendation 15
    The Task Force recommends that the Institute establish a working group on spaces for future student life and learning to bring together stakeholders from around campus to envision, plan, and create spaces for the future of MIT education.
  • Recommendation 16
    The Task Force recommends that MIT bolster infrastructure for Executive and Professional Education to reduce barriers to offering programs and engage more faculty to broaden program delivery.

The summary above outlines recommendations for MIT moving into the future. It is not a strategic plan but rather a prototype in the form of a report, developed by an extensive task force that deeply examined MIT and developed a future view. Not a perfect view but a glimpse of MIT as the 21st century emerges and a proposed series of recommendations to get there. The next phase (and some of the working groups from MIT extended their work into the next phase) involves determining and analyzing the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to achieve the vision of MIT in the future. Be sure to read the preliminary report included in the MIT Final Report ( Appendix 5 beginning on page 105). The vision permits the development and defining of detailed capacity specifications.

Capacity Requires Knowledge, Skills, and Resources

The new millennium marches on and it is a digital era. Does this mean all face-to-face teaching and learning will disappear, no of course not. But change is flowing through the population as learners are born into and acculturated to a digital reality not analog environments. The digital age is an era where learning is increasingly being disintermediated. We are faced with the issue of the magnitude of change required to meet the challenges presented by a paradigm shift to a global digital learning ecosystem. This is not an era of quick fixes, slap together a strategic plan and everything is ready to go. It is not an era of wait for it all to settle out and then go cherry pick the best ideas and proven strategies. The paradigm shift requires deep sustained planning. Developing the capacity, knowledge, skills and resources for such planning is urgent and in short supply. Acquiring the requisite knowledge, skills and resources of how to manage the paradigm shift and not only survive but flourish defines MGDA’s practice. A little adviceon moving forward.

Path Forward

  • Recognize that the Learning Age requires a new portfolio of knowledge, skills, and capabilities
    • Learner & Learning Centered Strategies
    • Dramatically different curriculum design, planning, delivery
    • A more granular content design curriculum model
    • Embedded formative assessment that informs and enables learning performance
  • Recognize that the Learning Age requires a dramatically different infrastructure
    • New fully integrated administrative and learning management systems
    • New fully integrated assessment systems with learning management systems
  • Recognize that the transition years to new and emerging models are precious to the survival of an institution and should not be wasted
    • Sustained planning and development are required
    • Academic focus is essential
    • Organizational development requires symbiotic evolution of human, systems, and organizational capacities


Capacity is not something that is achieved but rather a process of constantly developing and building. It is a characteristic that degrades when not paid attention to.

  • The future of Higher Education is built on an emerging new level of professionalism and specialized expertise required to conceptualize, design, build, implement and evaluate the academic enterprise of the future. This requires academic leadership to help faculty and academic support to move to a new level of understanding of the future of higher education. This means relentless focus on educating for the future and learning to build capacity. A must is allocating a learning and professional development budget.
  • The Learning Age is an era where reflective practice is driven by relentless assessment, fact finding, and evaluation. These collective insights serve to advance academic strategies and are not simply a collection of interests. This means that the academic enterprise must know where

 In closing

This post outlines the need to pay strategic attention to the issue of organizational capacity beginning with understanding the context of the global shift to a digital learning ecosystem. As one of the four framing strategies in the development of a prototype plan the concept moves the institution forward by  developing the capacity of the organization to understand and meet the challenges of the future.

Focus on Value: Part 2

Higher Ed as a Business vs. the Business of Higher Ed

As the millennium pushes forward there remains a nagging drag on developing a future focus for higher education. In order to build such a focus there needs to be a better understanding of the difference between Higher Education as a Business and the Business of Higher Education. Few fail to recognize the basic differences between a pure product or service based business and an educational institution. Fewer still understand the variables involved in making current models sustainable. We must all accept that having a sustainable business model doesn’t make one a widget vendor.

It is essential that academic leaders move quickly to understand that the existing business model has strained sustainability to the breaking point. One only needs to follow the money trends such as, a trillion dollars in consumer’s education debt, downgrading bond ratings for the higher education sector, state budgets straining under the burden of competing social needs, rising deferred maintenance, and out of control discounting, to see the fractures in the current model.

On January 16, 2013 Moody’s Investment Services announced:

Moody’s: 2013 outlook for entire US Higher Education sector changed to negative

The 2013 outlook for the entire US higher education sector is negative, including the market-leading, research-driven colleges and universities, says Moody’s Investors Service in its annual industry outlook. Previously Moody’s had a stable outlook for these leading institutions and a negative outlook for the rest of the sector since 2009. Moody’s perceives mounting fiscal pressure on all key university revenue sources. “The US higher education sector has hit a critical juncture in the evolution of its business model,” says Eva Bogaty, the Moody’s Assistant Vice President — Analyst who is the lead author on the report “US Higher Education Outlook Negative in 2013.” “Even market-leading universities with diversified revenue streams are facing diminished prospects for revenue growth.”

In February 2013 Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services citing operating performance, deferred maintenance, and issues of balancing affordability with revenue demands advised:

The constrained operating margins is forcing many institutions to re-evaluate their business models.

What do you think?

Higher Ed as a Business vs. the Business of Higher Ed

These comments are not about Higher Educations becoming a business but about the Business of Higher Education. These bond rating actions expose more than an acknowledgment of the financial conditions of Higher Education. A condition characterized by inflation that consistently exceeds the consumer price index. A condition that is characterized by extreme client (student) debt. They expose a critical turning point in higher education and the need for the rapid evolution of new business models and new credentialing models.

So how’s that working?

The University of New England, in Australia, has discontinued its MOOC program, which let students take online classes free but charged them to take examinations and receive online tutoring. “While MOOCs will continue to be offered I am sure by some of the very big providers around the world, it’s not something that a university like UNE would go at alone,” —  Annabelle Duncan, the university’s vice chancellor, told The Australian Financial Review. (reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, August 26, 2014)

Another example of a new business model is Georgia Tech’s new Online Master of Science in Computer Science degree (OMS CS) in partnership with Udacity, and AT&T delivered through a MOOC platform. The first fully accredited massive online MS in Computer Science structured around a total tuition for the program expected to be below $7,000. Enrollment for Spring cohort opened September 8, 2014.

Zvi Galil, the dean of the university’s College of Computing, expects that in the coming years, the program could attract up to 10,000 students annually, many from outside the United States and some who would not complete the full master’s degree. “Online, there’s no visa problem,” he said. — NY Times

Just because a concept fails in one implementation doesn’t mean it is a failure. Conversely just because another model works for an institution doesn’t mean everyone can just clone it. New models don’t just fall out of the sky they are carefully crafted. Last fall EDUCAUSE published Higher Education: New Models, New Rules, September/October 2013, EDUCAUSE Review, pages 69-97. This cluster of three articles explores issues and options as the authors see them.

  • Creating an Environment for Learning Technologies: Toward a Generative Model of State Policy and Institutional Practice by Louis Soares, Vice President for Policy Research and Strategy at the American Council on Education (ACE);
  • A Quality Platform for Non-Institutional Higher Education by Judith S. Eaton President of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA); and,
  • The “Perfect Market” Challenge to the Subsidy Structure of Higher Education by Burck Smith CEO and founder of StraighterLine.

Another resource for those new to the business of higher education is NACUBO’s, Strategic Review of Academic Portfolios, by Rick Staisloff. A succinct introduction to the interface between academic planning and fiscal sustainability.

A short list of immediate challenges include:

  1. Managing the academic enterprise with particular attention paid to margin
    (See “Curriculum drives enrollment, enrollment drives revenue, revenues drive everything else!”)
  2. Balancing services and constraining growth in expenditures,
  3. Curriculum revitalization and renewal resulting in Competitive Differentiated Curriculum requiring investments in academics, and
  4. Strategic improvements to learning performance.

The long term however is driven by current and future experiments in scalability of curricular and learning experiences (such as MOOCs), the promises and challenges of network learning and digital learning environments (Kahn Academy, Knewton + many more), the resilience of the economics of higher education models as indicated in Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s outlooks, and new and emerging visions outlining new structures and new models to forge a healthy future for both higher education as formal academic entities and learners seeking to optimize their own learning performance.

It is time to move beyond the knee jerk reactionary objection that higher education is not a business (I think this is better understood than is thought) and get to the deeper conversation of the business of higher education and how do we craft a healthy, sustainable economic future for colleges and universities.


“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.


Minnesota State Colleges and Universities on Charting the Future for a Prosperous Minnesota

charting_the_future_buttonMinnesota State Colleges & Universities have established a major Campaign for the future titled Charting the Future for a Prosperous Minnesota.

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities include 24 community and technical colleges and seven state universities, operating on 54 campuses in 47 communities enrolling 400,000 plus students annually and employing more than 10,000 faculty and 7,600 staff.

In addition to the report a website has been established as a hub for the campaign.

The campaign is shaped around six primary recommendations:

  1. Dramatically increase the success of all learners, especially those in diverse populations traditionally underserved by higher education.
  2. Develop a collaborative and coordinated academic planning process that advances affordability, transferability, and access to our programs and services across the state.
  3. Certify student competencies and capabilities, expand pathways to accelerate degree completion through credit for prior learning, and foster the award of competency-based credit and degrees.
  4. Expand the innovative use of technology to deliver high quality online courses, strengthen classroom instruction and student services, and provide more individualized learning and advising.
  5. Work together under new models to be the preferred provider of comprehensive workplace solutions through programs and services that build employee skills and solve real-world problems for communities and businesses across the state.
  6. Redesign our financial and administrative models to reward collaboration, drive efficiencies, and strengthen our ability to provide access to an extraordinary education for all Minnesotans.

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