Three Questions will Lead to a Bright Future

Becky Morehouse

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Most colleges will make it through this pandemic. While a handful will stand stronger than ever, a majority will limp through and emerge battle-worn, but still standing.

But there is one group that will be mortally wounded. They are relatively unknown private institutions with precarious finances that largely focus on residential, full-time students. Many are church-related. The Chronicle of Higher Education, calls them “the colleges in the middle.” They are, by any measure, the nation’s most vulnerable schools.

This year may well prove to be their Waterloo.

But it need not be.

I am confident that these colleges can emerge from 2020-21 more viable than ever if they look at their answers to three tough questions:

They are:  

1. What is the thing we do best that other colleges will not or cannot do AND that is in most demand in the marketplace?

Key observations:

  • If you don’t know the answer to this question then it’s likely your marketplace doesn’t know the answer, either.
  • Answering this question will require a careful look at your historical data as well as research directed at prospective students. You need absolute clarity here because you are literally betting the ranch on your response.
  • Your answer will not only have a dramatic impact on your vision and strategic plan, but your recruiting and fundraising strategies as well.

2. Are the students who are demonstrably interested in the thing we do best of sufficient number and sufficiently resourced to provide the financial resources we need to survive?

Key observations:

  • If there are not enough students in your marketplace to sustain you, then you have three options:
    • Identify other nearby target geographies. Though this will require investing in brand-building, it is the best short-term strategy and the least difficult to initiate. 
    • Change your offer. If decide to follow this path, make sure you are: 1) Creating an offer that is in demand by a sufficient numbers of academically able and affluent students; and 2) Creating an offer that is not currently being met.
    • The third option is to meet the needs of another kind of student. Ideally, this is a student group with unmet needs that is geographically contiguous to your institution. Again, you will need brand-building resources.

3. If we are committed to this group of students and it is not sufficiently large or affluent to sustain us, what other sources of non-tuition revenue can we aggressively pursue?

Key observations:

  • Early this year we wrote a blog that outlined 18-20 different revenue sources. It reviewed fundraising, grant-writing, intellectual capital, and more than a dozen other non-tuition sources of revenue.
  • Are you willing to invest the resources, hire (not grow) the talent you need, and conduct the essential research to develop these sustainable revenue streams?

Stanford economist Paul Romer once stated that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” By any measure, this pandemic is a crisis. Even as you scramble to make it through the day to day, don’t let this crisis go by without taking the time to imagine a different, brighter future.

Want to learn more? Schedule a free consultation today.

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