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.”
Benchmarking Course Costs and Margins:
Gray Associates has begun developing benchmarks on revenue, direct instructional cost, and gross margin by academic program, course, and section. Our first cut at the data, for 100 to 400-level courses in small colleges had some surprising results. A word of caution, these are early results on a sample of schools. As the sample grows, the results may change.
It’s Time for a Revolution in Academic Resourcing
This new academic year is unlike any other. Colleges and universities are coping with nasty deficits and cash flow problems, but the probable long-term disruptions are even more worrisome. Never in my half-century of close involvement with academic resourcing have I seen such threats to the operating and financial sustainability of so many institutions. As Charles Dickens said, it is the worst of times.
Check out this insightful guest blog by Dr. Melissa Morriss-Olson, Distinguished Professor of Higher Ed Leadership, Founding Director, HELOS and CHELIP, Provost Emerita at Bay Path University and current host of the IngenioUs podcastTake a listen here https://ingeniousu.org
Creative thinking skills are more important than ever if we are to deal with the vast and complex array of challenges facing nearly all colleges and universities. In my own research on successful college management practices, one of the most enduring characteristics of resilient institutions is an ‘innovative mindset'. Especially when times are tough—like right now—the ability to anticipate, listen, and act quickly is often the thing that sets successful colleges apart.
The recent New York Times op-ed about how to make online courses more engaging got me thinking about course redesign generally, especially as it applies in the current COVID-driven environment. Readers may recall my blogs on pruning unneeded courses and rebalancing program portfolios. When done well, these actions can allow the institution to cut costs and boost revenues while minimizing the adverse impacts on student learning and faculty workloads. As noted in the “rebalancing” blog, they fall into the set of four such actions shown at the right. Course redesign is element 3 of this action set.
Short, strong, with the sweet aftertaste of a data-informed insight: that is GrayData: Espresso,our new blog. It will focus on brief, bi-weekly, data-informed posts on trends in student demand and employer needs. Longer-form discussions of trends and insights will continue to be shared on our Gray Reports’ Monthly Webinar.
What college or university doesn’t have money problems these days? We’ve seen such problems before but this time they’re deeper and more acute. In the “good old days,” such as the stagflation of the 1970s and the economic recessions of the 80s, 90s, and 2008, the solutions involved a grab-bag of common-sense actions based on relatively crude information. These include: cutting fixed percentages of cost from administrative and support services, pressing upwards on class sizes and teaching loads, substituting adjunct for regular faculty wherever possible, and hacking away at small classes. In today’s environment, however, the sufficiency of these actions seems doubtful because of the depth of the money problems and because the low-hanging fruit already has been depleted by years of belt-tightening.
Dislodging Events A Potential Curb on Course and Program Proliferation
Steve Probst’s recent blog on curricular efficiency reminded me how serious the course and program proliferation problem has become for America’s colleges and universities. For example, my forthcoming book reports that:
“Many programs persist beyond what should have been their sell-by dates. In one dataset reported by Bob Zemsky, for example, a daunting 48 percent of programs turned out ten or fewer graduates per year and collectively accounted for only 7 percent of all degrees granted . Bob puts the matter succinctly: “We [colleges] give students what they want. Most colleges can’t afford to do so without understanding why they can’t.” This doesn’t mean all low-enrollment programs should go on trial, but campuses do need serious and well-informed conversations on the matter” (p. 6).