In my final essay, I supplied a monetary forecast for the upper schooling sector. My evaluation: faculties and universities face an extremely difficult setting over the subsequent three to 5 years. I predict declining enrollment, declining income, constraints on the flexibility to extend tuition and growing prices. These elements will put many establishments in a monetary vise grip. Because the closing this spring of 181-year-old Iowa Wesleyan makes clear, these are existential, not operational, challenges. For a lot of faculties and universities, what’s at stake is survival.
So how ought to faculties and universities reply? That is dependent upon their present market place. I place establishments in three completely different buckets.
The High Tier
High-tier establishments will proceed to thrive regardless of common trade developments. On this period, the sturdy will solely get stronger. These establishments possess a really sturdy model, important endowments and both a number of income streams (suppose Stanford) or a safe market place in a slim area of interest more likely to persist (suppose Amherst). In an period through which customers doubt the worth of faculty, these faculties will proceed to take pleasure in deep applicant swimming pools as a result of their model is so sturdy, they look like secure bets. Given their sturdy market place, these faculties and universities take pleasure in a big margin of security. Their solely actual strategic query is whether or not they need to increase or not. What number of faculties match on this class? Maybe solely 80, many fewer than a technology in the past.
The Backside Tier
In distinction, faculties within the backside tier face potential chapter if they don’t significantly alter their market place. What faculties fall into this class? Let’s put it this fashion. If (1) you might be drawing or have drawn funds out of your endowment in an effort to meet operational bills, (2) have seen your bond ranking downgraded, (3) are promoting off property to satisfy quick time period monetary wants or (4) have seen reductions in income or functions in extra of 35 p.c over the previous couple of years, you fall into this area of interest.
Boards of establishments on this class ought to ask themselves a extremely troublesome query: Is their college’s continued existence mandatory? Are they assembly some distinctive social or financial want? The reply, given low demand for his or her college, could be no. Within the more and more nationwide instructional market created by on-line schooling, and with the motion from a rural to a extremely cell city nation over the past 100 years, america in all probability doesn’t want—and the market is not going to assist—1000’s of small establishments distributed equally over the panorama. Market consolidation is inevitable.
Faculties that fall into the underside tier ought to contemplate merger earlier than they’ve run by way of all of their property. Merging into and thus strengthening a safer and viable establishment, or combining with three to 5 different small, struggling establishments, is just not giving up. It represents, in lots of instances, sensible stewardship of charitable assets. Merger permits you to monetize extra actual property, mix a number of small endowments, protect college and program power, and get rid of duplication. This may lead to diminished employment for college and workers, however it’s higher than no employment in any respect, the probably destiny if struggling faculties merely function till they attain some extent of no return and should shut. It additionally gives some extent of institutional continuity for alumni.
The Center Tier
What concerning the huge center tier? These establishments should not going through imminent collapse, however not like the highest tier, they don’t occupy a nearly impregnable market place. They’re at the moment scraping and scrapping to draw college students, safe income and minimize prices. They’ve a mean model and an ample scholar physique, however their stability sheets are precarious, their long-term prospects a matter of concern. If these establishments should not cautious, they might simply discover themselves slipping towards the underside tier, into an existential disaster. What ought to these faculties do?
There may be, after all, no one-size-fits-all answer. I do suppose, nevertheless, that many of those establishments would profit enormously if their leaders devoted important time to evaluation of the college’s elementary strategic assumptions.
Boards of trustees of those establishments are inclined to ask, after they look at technique, whether or not their school or college has a viable enterprise mannequin. I believe that is the mistaken query. Nonprofit instructional establishments should not companies. Speaking about them as if they’re tends to alienate each main constituency you possess. However extra importantly, concentrate on the enterprise mannequin typically results in short-term pondering, to tactical strikes to chop minor prices or generate just a little further income. This small-ball pondering is insufficient within the present ultra-challenging monetary setting. It’s essential take a extra elementary method.
As an alternative of specializing in enterprise fashions, I’d encourage these faculties to look at, as an alternative, their worth proposition. An establishment is not going to thrive except it possesses a powerful worth proposition. That signifies that the college presents potential college students (1) a service of clear profit for which (2) there may be clear and sturdy market demand (3) that’s both distinctive or superior in value, high quality or branding to the same service supplied by all establishments of their related, cross-elastic market.
Many institutional leaders can not articulate their college’s worth proposition. Right here’s a take a look at: in case you are a college chief and you can’t write your worth proposition down on a 3-by-5 be aware card with out greater than a minute’s reflection, you in all probability don’t have one. When you fall into that class, that is important. Ask your self: What do we provide of actual social profit? Is there a transparent demand for this? How is our product higher than that of our rivals? Why ought to college students select us? You will need to reply these questions so as to have the ability to chart a transparent path ahead.
Different establishments possess a transparent worth proposition, however it’s not a powerful one, as a result of it fails important components of the take a look at. There could also be restricted demand for the college’s product, maybe as a result of it’s old-fashioned, based mostly on market assumptions that had been legitimate many years in the past however not maintain true. Extra frequent, maybe, is a competitiveness downside. The college presents one thing of worth that college students need, however it’s not engaging due to the college’s value, branding or perceived high quality. The perfect worth proposition is one that’s distinctive: one which nobody else in your related market presents. But when, as is extra probably, you’ve got clear rivals, you want to determine how you’ll outcompete them. Worth, high quality, model: choose your method and align your establishment.
Asking these questions could appear just a little primary, but many institutional leaders at the moment haven’t carried out this elementary and mandatory evaluation. If you’re within the center tier, that’s the place to begin.