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  • Writer's pictureJamie Caridi

A Mandate for the Future of Private Higher Education

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

The future success of private postsecondary institutions is inextricably connected to being fiscally solvent, diversifying revenue streams, reducing its over-dependence on tuition revenues and discounting, and establishing substantive partnerships with the corporate, civic, and educational community. Private colleges must be nimble, creative, and responsive to the needs of the marketplace, where academic programs are viable and attractive to students and central to mission. Prioritization of institutional resources is essential and attained through a process of engagement with internal and external constituencies. Strategic plans need to be supported by operational plans with defined goals, objectives, resources and timelines that meet a set of desired outcomes.

Private colleges today must be innovators and early adopters of disruptive initiatives meeting the demands of the twenty-first century marketplace. Families demand a value-proposition where the return on investment must justify the expense, and postsecondary leaders must be focused on exceeding their expectations. Institutions must provide an educational pathway that culminates in job and graduate school placement. This requires innovation, creativity, and new program development. It also requires taking a hard look at those aspects of the institution that are inefficient and could jeopardize market position because of unmitigated opportunity costs. COVID-19 and its disruptive impact on higher education necessitates that institutions act with urgency, operate with efficiency, and offer an unquestionable value proposition to the consumer.

Class enrollment targets need to be built from a programmatic level to confidently construct enrollment goals. Targeted program-specific outcomes are necessary, and processes and metrics must be in place to assess the viability of existing programs and the genesis of new ones at the undergraduate, graduate, and certificate level. An era of academic entrepreneurism must flourish where faculty are boldly supported in developing innovative programs based on market research and sound business planning. This requires consistent collaboration with business and industry so that new programs can be resourced and exported to the marketplace in a timely fashion.

A strategic enrollment management plan should provide transparency and accountability to all constituencies. It should examine and coordinate admissions, pricing, and retention strategies. Fall-to-fall retention rates must be admirable, and four- and six-year graduation rates must be equally compelling. A culture of continuous improvement must be pervasive across campus.

Philanthropic strategies must be tethered to a clear vision and strategic plan worthy of support. Contemporary donors are venture philanthropists who desire a strong relationship with the president and assurances from him or her that the programs and endeavors in which they invest will indeed materialize. Institutional leaders should deliver such certainty and outcomes. In addition, philanthropic strategies must be comprehensive and diversified and include distinct fundraising objectives for individual and major donors, corporate partnerships, and foundations.

Private postsecondary institutions have for years now been facing economic uncertainty given static business models, fixed and increasing costs, declining enrollments, and diminishing state and federal resources. The negative impact of these realities has been accelerated during this pandemic. Difficult and timely decisions are required by institutional leaders to establish economic equilibrium and position the institution for survival and future growth. Terra Firma Consulting provides institutional leaders with the insight and support to make such decisions.

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