The question I asked wasn’t some highfalutin smarty pants show-off nugget. It was pretty basic.
“Why do you want to grow enrollment?”
The president and her leadership mulled this. At least one person, the provost I recall, snickered with that “Duh-why-do-you-think?” smugness.
“Well, we are a tuition-driven institution and we could use the numbers.”
I calculated my response. “Yes, I realize that. But here’s where I sit after the research and going into the next phase of this. Your faculty don’t want more students; they want better students. Your student-serving staffs are resistant to growth given they all perceive themselves to be stretched thin in all phases of sound delivery. Your students feel this place isn’t very student-focused.
“And your prospective students are willing to pay your offered price if you deliver more personal service—but they don’t give you that position in the marketplace, and your own stakeholders don’t support that.
“So, wanting more money from more bodies isn’t setting up to be a stellar business plan.”
I am not a Ph.D. or the book-smartest counsel folks might ever hire. But my mother taught me the difference between moonshine and a shiny moon, an idea that is good and an idea that simply sounds good. The metaphors can get crazy.
But I’m pretty sure that wanting more students can take a couple of clear paths: adding bodies can capsize the boat, or first build a bigger boat and THEN add students. The truth is likely somewhere in between.
The president sat back. She got my point. “So, how do we address this problem?”
I laid out a series of priorities: What can you do better/differently that doesn’t cost anything? Where can you next invest (it is an investment since there is a measure of return)? What is a distraction? What is a required front-and-center issue? In the end, I said, I appreciate the need for more students, but in their case, wishing it doesn’t make it so.
And more students might best come from new programs that said provost can help birth. Define enrollment goals with the most specificity possible, and build on that while addressing the many other moving parts.
The final moment of clarity—it starts internally. Fix the stakeholder opinions first and build acceptance and understanding, strive for like, dream of love.
Soon I meet with a client’s Board. Seems they heard about this “online” thing and are ready to triple the enrollment because, you know, they are going to put all their offerings “online.” BANG! All problems solved.
Enter Chuck with his hammer of truth. Sigh.