As you’ve probably already read, TargetX hosted an event called iThink at NACAC in Seattle in the morning of Thursday, September 25th the Seattle Public Library. Our objective was to get people talking about issues instead of just coming to hear so-called “experts” speak.
We had more than 150 senior enrollment offers attend. We intentionally setup the room with the chairs facing each other with one aisle down the middle in order to get people to talk with each other. Topics revolved around the growing economic crisis, the importance of the campus visit and the need for internal communication and support on college campuses.
Coincidentally, the event was held in the Washington Mutual Meeting Room. The next day, Washington Mutual collapsed under the weight of bad business decisions.
And this brings me to my concern. My sense coming out of that session and since then speaking with enrollment directors across the country, is that the reality of the still-growing economic crisis has not impacted decision making on college campuses.
Here’s how I see it:
- consumer spending is declining dramatically
- the stock market has declined 40% in the last 52 weeks
- investment and college savings accounts are losing their value
- this impacts individual families as well as college endowments
- many colleges rely on the income from their endowments to pay for operating expenses
- families rely on their investments to pay for growing college costs
- banks began to cease offering student loans last summer
- we’ve reached the peak of the number of high school graduates
- Differentiate or Die. You look the same to prospective students. If I can’t see any significant difference or value-add from the next institution, I’m going to focus on price and that means you have become a commodity.
- Strong, Experienced Leadership. Face it, you are running a business. You take in money from consumers, you provide a service or product, and you have expenses. You need someone that knows how to operate a business and has the experience in doing so to survive.
- Focus. Focus. Focus. You must understand and accept who you are, what you are good at, and if the market demands that. Then you must focus on only that. Too many colleges lose their focus and get lost in the marketplace. See the first bullet.
- Business, Consumers, Sales, Marketing, Costs, Return, Investment, Experience. Get used to these words. If they don’t roll off your lips easily, then you’ve got a problem.
- Do what you do best. Outsource the rest. Colleges exist to provide an education. Define that however you would like, but all other things are either secondary, or unnecessary. If you can’t do it better than anyone else, let them do it. Bookstore, food services, student email accounts, facility management – to name just a few to consider.
- Read different things. Start with a subscription to Fast Company. Read blogs from writers inside and outside higher education. Attend different professional development events – start with ThinkAbout.
- Everyone on board. If the people at your institution (faculty, administration, staff, students) don’t feel they have a stake in the future health of the college, you need a culture change. Everyone recruits future students. It starts with the President and ends with the groundskeeper.
- Share financial reports regularly. While everyone who works at your institution needs to have a vested interest in the future of the place, they can’t if they don’t have the information. More than 1x per year share standard financial reports with everyone.
- Cut out the meetings. Take the chairs away. Someone asked me in Seattle why I left working in higher education. Without thinking I said, “I couldn’t take the meetings anymore.” True. You’ve heard me say it before – get rid of the conference room chairs.
- Cut costs. Higher education is wildly out of step even before this economic crisis began. One attendee in Seattle said they see greater government oversight in their future (perhaps even a bailout years from now). Families (especially up-and-coming GenX parents) are more than ever questioning the value of a traditional path through an undergraduate degree.
Read more about our authors. Brian is the CEO and Co-Founder of TargetX. Over twenty years ago, he started his career in admissions at a small, liberal arts college. He was a constant thorn in the admission director’s side – always wanting to try new ideas and technology. He took his energy (and vast collection of suspenders – it was the early 90′s) to lead the graduate and adult enrollment and marketing at a national university. In this leadership position, he helped differentiate his employer in one of the most crowded higher education marketplaces in the country and pioneered the use of the Internet in recruitment marketing. His passion sparked the genesis of TargetX, the company he has served for over 14 years as its co-founder and CEO. Along the way he’s earned his master’s degree in education at the University of Pennsylvania and built TargetX into a multi-million dollar technology and consulting firm serving over 450 colleges and universities. Brian is now a voice of change in an industry at its tipping point, helping colleges who have the gumption to embrace more effective recruiting techniques as traditional methods wither away. He is also the author of “Overthrowing Dead Culture: A Vision to Change the World of College Recruiting” available on Amazon.com and BN.com.