The importance of envisioning future course and program portfolios will be familiar to readers of my recent blogs. Provosts, deans, and others responsible for academic resourcing invest time and money to get better data on their portfolios: e.g., by using Gray Associates’ Program Economics Platform (PEP). These data help them identify strategies for improvement, which is especially important given the current Covid-19 disruptions. We are pleased to introduce PEP+, our new predictive model for envisioning the consequences of changing a school’s lineup of courses and programs, just in time to help mitigate these disruptions.
We have a great deal to be optimistic about in higher education. For one, most state budgets didn’t fall much and the federal government just gave them billion dollar booster shots. The U.S. economy is poised for a boom, led by federal spending and pent-up consumer demand.
In the face of financial shortfalls, many schools make a fundamental error: they focus on employment data to find new programs or current programs to grow. Unfortunately, there is a very limited relationship between employer needs and program margins.
We took a look at our data to find out which programs offer the most promise.
Following the 2008-9 recession, enrollment at public two-year colleges and for-profit institutions grew to 7.6 million, up from about 6.4 million in 2007. Over the following ten years or so, the growth ebbed a bit, but when Covid-19 brought another economic recession, it was expected that community college enrollment would pick up again, especially in Certificate programs–displaced workers would seek short-term training for new jobs. If you are reading this, you probably know that is not what happened.
There is a good chance that you are losing potential students right from your own backyard. In the post-COVID world, online education is growing and the competition for student demand is intense. Students in your markets may be going right out of your own proverbial backyard, and if you aren’t looking at the right data, you may not even know it, let alone correct for it. Accurate insights are critical for making the most efficient program decisions and investing in drawing your students closer to home.
The recent Chronicle of Higher Education/Deloitte report, “The College Business Model in a Crisis,” rekindled my concerns about the ultimate purposes of our enterprise and how these purposes can more effectively guide planning and operational decision-making. The questions are no longer hypothetical, if indeed they ever were. Will problem-solving triggered by the hyper-disruptive COVID-19 event reaffirm core academic values or will it spawn new business models that, over time, will undermine them?
A Little Cheer for a Dreary Year
Escaping the Program Equality Quagmire
Academic programs, and the courses that deliver their content, are not of equal importance. The implications of this came home to me recently when, in a webinar on academic resourcing, a participant objected that provosts and deans should not “put their thumbs on the scale” by considering program importance when deciding admission targets and departmental budgets. “All programs and courses are of equal importance,” the participant asserted. “Providing their quality is good, all should have equal access to funding.”