Published on 2012/05/14

Student Needs Come First

When developing new continuing education programming, the promise of new revenue must be weighed against the student need, both in terms of content and delivery. Photo by Hans Splinter.

New programming is a persistent challenge for all continuing higher education (CE) units whether in a community college or flag-ship University. From the perspective of senior campus leadership, new programming often equates to more dollars; to the academic unit it equals more work; and for the CE unit it means meeting the campus’ expectations. The topic of ‘student needs’ is often left out of this discussion. It begs the question, “what is the real reason new programming is important?”

Most seasoned CE administrators understand there are many different perspectives that are alive and well on campuses when it comes to new programming and the potential of new or additional revenue. My sense is that this prospective new revenue often clouds the decision making process and frequently marginalizes the ‘student needs’ aspect. In this era of reduced funding from states, foundations/endowments, and other internal campus sources, the lure of new money is a real attention getter! But… be careful!

I think we all recognize that new and more vibrant revenue streams are important to the entire campus. However, when the new revenue comes from potential new CE programming, caution must be exercised. We know that the concept of ‘build it and they will come’ infrequently works in the CE and higher education world. I would be preaching to the choir to note that research, environment scanning, analysis, and bench marking must first be completed for any new programming effort. This business aspect must be thoroughly explained and discussed with campus leadership so that they understand the risks as well as the potential rewards. This is an important step that the CE administrator must assure. If there is a ‘student needs’ component in the review and it is positive, reliable, and optimistic… the potential success of a new revenue stream is greatly enhanced. We must be careful not to allow the band wagon effort to influence new programming decisions.

Another task to address in order to meet student needs is to determine whether the program is best delivered in a face-to-face or online mode. There is another band wagon effort present throughout CE units regarding new programming: online is the only way to go. Maybe! Certainly there are a lot of major successes with online delivery of program courses. Students make their choices as indicated by registrations. Many adult students learn that online courses better meet their life style balance of education, work, and family. But online delivery does not meet the needs of all programs and students. This is another area that requires assessment, evaluation, and research.

A further concern regarding student needs is to allow new program development to be influenced only by the desires of campus senior leadership, the needs of the academic department, or faculty members’ wishes. All have favorite projects and aspirations based upon independent factors that could result in lost resources, both time and money, and potentially place the CE unit and the campus in financial jeopardy. Appropriate assessment, evaluation, and research are really important.

Despite both the pressures and potential rewards to develop new programming and grow revenues, CE administrators must be vigilant to assure that student needs remain a high priority when considering new programs. The likelihood of new programming success and new revenues is much higher when student success is adequately addressed.

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Readers Comments

WA Anderson 2012/05/14 at 9:36 am

I agree 100% and am so glad you pointed out the importance of defining a delivery system during the planning process as well.

You can build the most relevant course in the world and make the content line up exactly with what’s needed today and tomorrow… but if you’re delivering the class at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday and it’s aimed at mostly adult students… you’re going to have an empty room

André Levesque 2012/05/14 at 11:03 am

The danger of this method, though, is getting caught up in a cycle of excessive data-collecting and never delivering the program in the end.

It’s easy to continuously assess and measure… but eventually it must lead to an action!

I think it might even be best to have a vague idea of what’s best, run the program under that assumption and then modify the program either on the go or for the next year to make up for the downfalls it encountered.

Chuck Schwartz 2012/05/14 at 2:05 pm

That’s a really compelling point, Andre. I remember reading something not too long ago about HEIs publishing their mobile apps before they were considered “perfect”, just so that the product was out there in the first place. Then, once its out and being used, they can diagnose issues and solve them, as well as add more.

Is the fear of waiting too long before releasing a course a real one?

I have a couple of comments to add:

First, I think the aspiration to “assure that student needs remain a high priority in new programming” follows a proven practice in the business world. It is analogous to the widely-adopted Quality Function Deployment (QFD) method. QFD is a method to transform customer (or in the case of CE, “student”) needs into engineering features (and accompanying quality metrics) for a new or upgraded product or service (i.e., new course, revised program). In all its various applications, QFD is essentially used to shorten the product development cycle and improve product success, which is benchmarked by such business measures as customer satisfaction, cycle time, cost, revenue and break-even time (BET).

Second, because of divergent cultures, different missions and disincentives to collaborate, implementing “QFD” in a CE unit and/or institution wide is a big challenge. QFD is a method or system that embeds the “voice of the customer” throughout the planning, development and launch process. Hence, successful implementation requires a transformational approach vs. piecemeal fix. CE leaders need to put in place an end-to-end system that engages multiple stakeholders (i.e., academic, program, business) in a unified process, provides stakeholders with access to one version of relevant data pertaining to programs and courses (enrollments trends, outcome results, survey feedback, etc), and fosters purpose-driven collaboration and decision-making from initial idea to launch. This new approach or business model would not only meet student needs far better than the “build it and they will come” orthodoxy, but yield better financial results and enable the CE unit to become more responsive to future market and/or student changes.

Thanks, Bill, for a great article!

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