Almost monthly, someone asks me, “What can I do to be the next big thing?”
Everyone wants to be the next Southern New Hampshire University, Liberty University, Arizona State University, etc., and achieve fast, significant growth.
Accumulating my firsthand knowledge from working with large institutions like these, here are my top 10 initiatives and considerations for substantial expansion:
- Institutional will. All have to be behind this mission. It cannot be an administrative idea or a dean’s thought; it has to be a top-to-bottom, joint mission.
- Competitive tuition price. One of the key attributes of most commercially minded large schools is that they are more affordable than the competition. Can your institution stomach a tuition decrease and a cost basis to support this rate?
- Online learning at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Many schools are pushing graduate programs online, but think about undergraduate programs and the more than 30 million students who started college and did not finish.
- Barriers to entry. This can be a tough one for many. You must reduce students’ barriers to entry: Be open to nontraditional credit transfers and reconsider your admissions criteria, for example. Rethink what standardized tests are necessary and how to ease the burden of prospective students. Remember that it’s not about what students bring in; it needs to be about who they are when they leave.
- Marketing capabilities. Whether you outsource these duties or build an internal team, you need a skilled group to navigate the complexities of marketing today. Setting up social profiles and a Google AdWords campaign isn’t enough. Developing a sophisticated, optimized media mix requires expertise and constant monitoring and adjustments to achieve the best results.
- Capital investment. It is expensive to scale! You will need approximately $400,000 to $1 million per degree program.
- Efficient program design. Many schools use a carousel model that allows for frequent new student entry points and minimizes the burden on faculty while maximizing effectiveness of courses offered. Regardless of what model you choose, spring, fall and summer starts won’t cut it. Your online course structure is just as important. Make sure to incorporate ways for interaction and take the time to design a course that caters to the new tech-savvy student.
- A focus on retention. Nontraditional students are, by nature, at-risk. Make sure you have the necessary tools and resources to give them the support they need. We recommend each student be assigned an advisor who checks in on him or her at regular intervals.
- Program mix. You must offer high-demand degrees: business, health and education, for example. It is also essential to offer a breadth of undergraduate and graduate program specializations in each degree vertical.
- Career outcomes. The No. 1 reason folks go back to school is to get a better job. You need to take that into account with your curriculum and ensure you have services to guide them along their journey and to showcase placement rates for graduates.
I realize this is a lot to consider, and these factors require a significant amount of financial and personnel resources. These are the primary reasons most institutions cannot or will not compare to the likes of the big players. The list above is a good guidepost to help you grow from where you are today. While most schools have a hard time implementing all of these factors, improving several can only help.