Between the LinesAll Roads Lead to Student Success
Early in my career I worked at an institution that employed what I called the seesaw approach to student recruitment. When enrollment was up and their recruitment targets were achieved, everything was great—the status quo was the answer; when the university’s traditional market yield was down, they began looking at out-of-state recruiting. That would last about one recruitment cycle and they would then re-focus on their traditional markets. The admissions staff didn’t seem to comprehend the need to establish a long-term, strategic approach to enrollment. Of course in the 80s few public universities thought about comprehensive enrollment management.
Non-Traditional Backgrounds and the PresidencyLeading and Learning
Admiral Tom Cropper was serving his 31st year in the Navy, when he got a call from his son, a student at California Maritime Academy, a member of the California State University (CSU) system in Vallejo, Calif.
“He said, ‘Dad, you’ve always wanted to be a college president, now’s your chance,’” Cropper recalls. The current Cal Maritime president had just announced his retirement.
Cropper and his wife had a great affinity for Cal Maritime; their son flourished after transferring to the campus. In addition, Cropper had spent most of his career training and working with 18- to 22-year-olds. “I really enjoyed that transformative experience that I got to witness and be part of working with that cohort. That’s what attracted me to higher education,” he says.
Cropper threw his hat in the ring, and after grueling interviews with the CSU system board and the institution’s board of trustees, he was offered the presidency. While his maritime experience is clearly relevant, he’d never worked in higher education before.
Staying PUTState Incentive Programs Strive to Attract and Retain Young College Graduates
The competition is on. Facing a demand for—and often a shortage of—highly skilled workers, many states are looking for ways to recruit and retain recent college graduates. The New England region, where the population of college graduates has grown at a slower pace than in other parts of the United States during the past 20 years, is particularly vulnerable to this “brain drain.”
A report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston estimated that although a healthy 30 percent of New England’s college students come from other parts of the U.S. and around the globe, only 64 percent of the region’s 2008 graduates still lived in the area a year after graduation. This was the nation’s lowest retention rate, considering that 88 percent of college graduates in the West and 83 percent in the Mid-Atlantic, for example, remained in these areas for at least a year following graduation.
Managing Your Enrollment Destiny
Ah, for the good old days of public college admissions. Institutions could dip into an abundant pool of prospective students, maybe cherry-pick those with the highest high school GPAs or SAT scores, and rest easy knowing that there were enough students out there to fill the available spaces.
Unfortunately, those halcyon days are gone. Today, the squeeze is on. Competition is intense for pools of traditional students that are shrinking. To bridge enrollment gaps, institutions avidly recruit adults, transfer students, and other previously underserved populations. Further complicating things, the scramble for students comes at a time when universities need more tuition revenue—with state appropriations down, the State Higher Education Executive Officers tells us, public institutions now rely on tuition to provide an average 42.7 percent of their budgets, up from 32 percent just 10 years ago. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in 2014, 53 percent of public universities did not meet one or both of their goals for enrollment and revenue.
So what’s a college leader to do? Pining for the good old days won’t fill classrooms. Neither will enrollment plans developed when students were aplenty. Rather, solving the interrelated conundrums of recruitment, admissions, retention, and revenue calls for leaders with the vision and drive to shape bold new strategies.
The environment for enrollment management “is only going to get more competitive going forward,” says Peter Farrell, a senior enrollment management consultant with the higher education consulting firm Royall & Company. “I think that the institutions that are most competitive for students—the institutions that are having the greatest success—are ones that seek to really control their own enrollment destiny and not wait for the market to define their enrollment for them.”
Why College Are Flawed on College Value Report Cards
Nationally, there has been a recent explosion in the number of college report cards, rating and ranking initiatives.1 Examples include those supported by the White House, student activists, for-profit companies, non-profit foundations, college associations, and even social media enterprises such as LinkedIn. Values driving these grading/rating schemes have a mix of commercial and public accountability objectives. But one factor connects their purposes: an overriding concern about what drives college cost (expenses) and the price students pay. This principal concern diminishes rather than adds to their usefulness for many students and families, especially first-generation, poor and underserved populations.
Our research indicates that more than price concerns, citizens link college value with availability of practical experiences (such as internships) tied to academic studies; better advising about academic choices and careers; and easier credit transfer to reduce time to degree completion; leading to the most important outcome of college—an increased prospect for a good job and a better life.
The Higher Education Strategic Information and Governance Project (HESIG) of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University (N.J.) qualitatively reviewed 10 college rating websites, following a 2014 New Jersey poll on college value (summaries of websites’ content, how to use them, and survey results are available at www.stockton. edu/hughescenter/hesig). These report cards should be judged not only regarding the validity, reliability and utility of the data provided, but also on principles guiding their development in the first instance. We suggest an approach based on college value and outcomes expectations that might work better in providing information to advance college opportunity, affordability and success.
Community Relations and Rural InstitutionsThe Role of the New President
In the midst of the cataclysmic change affecting all of higher education, one factor remains constant, especially for a college located in a rural environment: the importance of positive community relations.
Still, the imperatives of positive community engagement can be overlooked when a president is confronting challenges as varied as academic relevancy, external mandates, shrinking budgets, and intense competition for a dwindling number of students. In the case of a rural institution (loosely defined here as institutions located in a community with a population of 9,000 or less and that is at least two hours from any major metropolitan area), these challenges face not only the college, but the community as well. It is vital to understand that the lives and fortunes of a rural community are undeniably entwined with the college itself; if the college is not achieving its goals, then the region suffers by extension. Therefore, establishing and sustaining positive community relations must be institutional and presidential priorities at rural institutions.
The first and most important component of community outreach is that the incoming president understands that he/she represents to both the campus and community the potential for change. Depending on the campus environment and the attitudes of the community, that change can be a point of dread (“Will I lose my job?” or “Will this new president fit into our community?”) or anticipation (“We’re looking forward to a new and exciting future” or “The community will benefit from his/her background and experiences”). As a result, the campus and community will already have developed certain perceptions of how the new president will conduct him/herself, based on rumor or the ubiquitous Internet search.
A Federal Workforce Agenda
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA or The Act) was signed by President Obama on July 22, 2014. WIOA dramatically enhances the collaboration between employers and education/training services across federal agencies; supports cooperation with state and local partners; and promotes increasing postsecondary education. The significance of WIOA is demonstrated by the fact that it has been more than 15 years since the last legislative reform of the public workforce system. Effective July 1, 2015, WIOA replaces the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, reboots the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, and updates the Wagner- Peyser Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
It is widely accepted that in order to be competitive in today’s labor market, a worker needs postsecondary education. Workers with higher levels of education consistently experience lower rates and shorter periods of unemployment, and earn higher incomes. The unemployment rate is approximately 5.4 percent for adults with some college experience and 3.2 percent for workers with a bachelor’s degree. And for adults with less than a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is a startling 9.1 percent. Even more significant for colleges and universities, it is estimated that by 2020, two-thirds of jobs will require postsecondary education.
Although good jobs can be hard to find, it’s not only due to a lack of opportunities that the unemployment rate is as high as it is. Jobs today are extremely complex and specialized, matching the rate of technological growth. While it is true that more than 10 million Americans are unemployed, the other side of the story is that 4 million jobs sit unfilled due to a “skills gap”—the void between the skills job seekers currently have and the skills employers need to fill their open positions. Staying competitive in today’s economy requires a workforce that is smarter and more skilled than in the past.
Policymakers and Parents:Privacy Bills Proliferate
The sudden rise and precipitous fall of inBloom, the stillborn national data warehouse of K-12 education records, can in retrospect be seen as having ushered in a new era of parental activism around educational privacy rights.
When it was launched in 2013 with a powerhouse board of directors and $100 million in funding from the Gates Foundation, inBloom seemed poised to become the de facto national K-12 student information system that would in quick order house the entire education records of all elementary and secondary students in a robust, state-of-the-art cloud-based data warehouse. The stated goal behind the effort was to bring cutting edge practices to data management, enable schools—using third-party vendors—to create data dashboards and predictive analytics, and to generally “revolutionize” learning through technology.
The educational benefits claimed by inBloom’s advocates, however, came in a distant second to visceral and immediate opposition from parents, who saw the system as a giant national educational surveillance system. Their privacy concerns—alarm about future uses and abuses of their children’s data—were compounded by the barrage of bad news about data breaches and hacking of allegedly impregnable data systems, like those of the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency. (These concerns, coincidentally, proved justified when a few weeks after its official shutdown, inBloom announced that its system suffered the “Heartbleed” security bug because it used OpenSSL cryptography.) The resulting firestorm of national opposition to inBloom resulted in states and districts withdrawing from the initiative, causing it to collapse in early 2014, almost exactly a year after its unveiling at the trendy South by Southwest (SXSW) education conference.
Presidents & PracticesThe Strategy of Strategic Planning
When I was selected as the fifteenth president of South Carolina’s Clemson University in fall 2013, one of the first—and most frequent—questions I heard was, “What is your plan for Clemson?” People were surprised that I didn’t come with a fully formed strategic plan, but based on my experience at three institutions, a successful strategic plan can’t be the “President’s Plan.” It has to be the university’s plan.
That’s especially true for a new president. Leadership changes create “transition jitters,” and a rapid shift in goals and priorities will only make these worse. An unhurried planning process gives the new leader time to learn the campus culture, a chance to get to know the faculty and staff (and vice versa), and ample opportunity to assess existing plans.
That was particularly important at Clemson, where I broke rule #1 for presidential succession by following a successful president, James F. Barker. During his 14-year tenure, Clemson saw unprecedented rise in the national ranking (#20 among national public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report), record numbers of applications, and a steady rise in private fundraising.
Project Degree Completion SnapshotUniversity of Houston-Victoria
Administrators at the University of Houston-Victoria eagerly signed up for Project Degree Completion in 2012 because they knew the importance of increasing the number of U.S. adults with college degrees. Even though I was not yet at UHV then, I support this goal and am proud to say that the university is making progress in this area.
UHV is unique in that it was an upper-level institution, offering classes for transfer and graduate students only, until fall 2010. At that time, UHV began accepting freshmen and sophomores at its Victoria campus in the Coastal Bend Region of South Texas.
This region provides UHV with some challenges in that only 20.2 percent of area residents older than age 24 hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with the state average of 25.8 percent.
UHV was named a Hispanic-Serving Institution in 2013 and has many first-generation and economically disadvantaged students. More than 50 percent of the university’s students start college deficient in either math and/ or English. As a public comprehensive university, UHV has an opportunity to impact both the lives of the individuals in the region and the economy of the Coastal Bend Region.
EndSightsHigher Education and the Public Good
The benefits that higher education bestows on individuals are well-known. In some circles, these personal benefits are as easily recited as the Pledge of Allegiance: College graduates are more likely to be employed and will earn more money over their lifetimes than those who do not have college education; college graduates are more likely to have retirement benefits; college graduates enjoy better health; college graduates are more likely to say that they are happy with the decisions they have made for themselves.
Those of us who work in public higher education, particularly state colleges and universities, know that this list is woefully incomplete. This list of personal benefits represents the sales pitch of the admissions office. These are the ideas we push when we are trying to encourage applicants and their families to make the sacrifices that justify a personal investment in higher education. In truth, the reasons that nations invest in higher education is that education advances a larger public good.