Published on 2016/02/17

Scaling Allows Institutions to Grow Enrollment and Improve Experience Simultaneously

The EvoLLLution | Scaling Allows Institutions to Grow Enrollment and Improve Experience Simultaneously
Expanding institutional reach and responding to the expectations of students is critical in the modern era, and scaling is the best way to achieve these ends.

Institutions are often rewarded for keeping its enrollments low, as the common thinking goes that smaller student numbers equate to a higher quality of service. But this is not always the case. Today, students expect a high quality of service from their institutions and, regardless of enrollment numbers, some institutions are able to deliver on these expectations and others aren’t. The common thread that ties the institutions that can deliver on students’ customer expectation is scaling: the ability to do more with less. In this interview, Craig Maslowsky shares his thoughts on the importance of scaling in the modern higher ed marketplace and reflects on the importance of transparency in these efforts.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is scaling so important for colleges and universities today?

Craig Maslowsky (CM): The shifting dynamics of higher education demand a willingness for us to scale operations and programming in ways we have not in the past. Whether it’s adding programs or courses to scale up a certain college or school, adding online programs to extend our reach, or building our capacity to provide service at various stages of the student experience, change is necessary to stay relevant and competitive. No longer can we rely on a steady stream of enrollments from our usual sources. In most parts of the country, the traditional-age student population is declining. Across the country, online programs are popping up at all types of institutions and so are the marketing budgets to attract new students. Not-for-profit institutions are now spending more than for-profits to build their enrollment base and as a result the rules of recruitment are changing dramatically. For many institutions this increased competition demands an investment in building differentiated product and service offerings. Scaling up existing programs is often a pre-requisite to funding future development.

Evo: Do students notice when an institution is scaling?

CM: The impact of scaling can certainly have both negative and positive impacts on the students we serve. As an institution increases the number of students served, you’re spreading your resources invested from initial contact through to graduation ceremonies. If institutions carefully project and plan investments to serve larger numbers of students, the impact can be positive and provide supplemental value that might have previously been overlooked. As an example, building online course offerings can serve the new, entirely online student, but also present alternative options for credit accumulation by students attending on-campus programs.

The key is to establish practices in enrollment forecasting to anticipate growth and use those forecasts to justify the investments needed to serve the expected new student population. While the initial impact is increased expenditure, the long-term reward comes in the form of economies of scale and an increased ability to invest centrally in resources that benefit the broader student base.

Evo: How can institutions highlight scaling in marketing and outreach efforts?

CM: Institutions of higher education have long been positioned as drivers of economic and societal improvement. While a handful are able to sustain operations through the acceptance of a carefully vetted group of a selected few, most are increasing access to education as a path to future revenue. As increased access becomes more important—and the focus on access becomes increasingly prevalent—the opportunity to position the actions of the institution as a facilitator of positive economic and societal change emerges. Positioning the scaling of an institution in the context of its mission and purpose opens the door to engaging existing and new audiences in ways that evolve with the changing dynamics of the populations we serve. The key is transparency in our decision making. Yes, we are investing in growing enrollments. Yes, we want to generate more revenue. We are doing so to build our capacity to broaden the positive impact we have on the people and organizations we serve. We will use our growing resources to strengthen our institution and benefit members of our greater community.

Evo: To your mind, how will institutions that refuse to scale be impacted in the long run?

CM: Institutions unwilling to scale will likely face great challenges moving forward. Of course there are exceptions for institutions with niche offerings, prime locations, and deeply established brand equity. For most, as other institutions build more diverse programming, enhance services, and gain economies of scale, it will be increasingly difficult to compete. As higher education becomes more commoditized, and new technologies more accessible, it is clear that proactive approaches to pursue improvement and build efficiencies is of growing importance. Students are making decisions as consumers, with available options presenting them with choices they previously didn’t have. In order for institutions to thrive, they’ll need to be responsive to the changing demands of the market. That requires resources to fuel ongoing change and innovation in practice. Scaling presents the path to generating the level of revenue needed to ensure continued investment in the future.

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Key Takeaways

  • Scaling is necessary for higher education institutions to remain relevant and competitive.
  • By understanding the demands of its audience and investing in the areas that matter to them, an institution can achieve broad economies of scale to serve that population over the long term.