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Strategy During A Pandemic

In case you missed it, Huron Consulting published an interest white paper entitled "From Pandemic to Transformation: Higher Education Leadership During COVID 19."

In the paper, they mention a three-phase process for responding to and moving beyond COVID 19.  And from what the press is reporting, and our clients are telling us, most colleges and universities are in the late part of phase one ("Triage") and the early part of stage two ("Stabilization").

Those are two nice names for "running around and putting out fires" and "trying to determine where you are and what you need to do next."

Stabilization is a challenging time because with so much uncertainty remaining, it's challenging to determine where you are and what you need to do next.  That's why so many colleges are turning to scenario planning to help them prepare for the unknown.  If you haven't seen it, check out Paul Friga's article in The Chronicle Review on budget planning - it's unlike anything we have seen before.

An example of institutions in the stabilization phase are the several colleges announcing their plans to re-open campuses in the fall.  Yet when you read the official statements, there seems to be a lack of details and an abundance of "subject to change."

As your institution enters this second phase and works through to the third phase, transformation, here are some key insights you should continuously monitor.

How Are You Forecasting Enrollments?

We are not living in a typical spring-summer, so your 'summer melt' models could very well be useless. How are you gathering data on an on-going basis so you can start to identify trends that will help you forecast enrollments?

And are you collecting that information based on the more likely scenarios your institution faces?

Are you focusing on the different audiences you serve – traditional, working adult, military, international, etc.?

You should be because each segment may have significantly different wants, needs, and problems that you are going to need to address in your communications and offers.

And you should ga If you have a significant number of working adults enrolled in your programs, you might want to look at them as a unique segment.  They might be making different decisions based on different wants and needs – and knowing this, you can develop appropriate strategies to enroll new and retain current adult students.)

What Are You Saying To Key Audiences?

Faculty and staff might be working remotely for the first time – and that's a significant change.  How are you helping them make that change a positive and productive one?

And your prospective and current students are most likely interacting with your institution remotely more than ever before.  Are you proactive in your communications, or just reacting to their inquiries?  Are you going beyond COVID 19 related updates and touching on topics that deliver relevant information that reminds them why they enrolled at your institution?

Take a look at the topics the University of New Mexico is putting out there. And yes, that is their home page.

Tuition, Financial Aid, and Revenue

Students are already pushing back on tuition rates for online courses.  And close to 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment.

You are facing threats to your pricing – what are you going to do about that in the summer? What about fall? And what about spring?

I realize that depends on your ability to get everyone back on campus and open the classrooms – but what if that isn't possible?  What if it's possible, but under circumstances that are very different than what was the reality back in January and February?

And with interest rates on student loans dropping, are you stressing this benefit to your students and their parents'?  Being able to get better financing can help you retain enrollments with at least some students.

Programs, Services and Gap Year

With recent reports stating that 20% of students might elect not to enroll in fall and that gap year is becoming a more popular option – what programs and services can you offer to overcome this threat?

Yes, those same reports found that students don't like the online education they have been receiving and that 85% want to return to campus.

Do you know why? And is the reason something you can fix now so that summer and fall benefit?

Again, I know you are fighting countless fires, but understanding your key audiences is crucial to your ability to make decisions that deliver short and long-term benefits to your audiences and your institution.  Are you engaging your audiences so you can make informed decisions?

Facing the 'New Normal'

Humans don't care all that much for change.  But I am afraid to be the one to tell you that the future is uncertain, and you need to prepare for things you probably never thought of before now.

That 'new normal' seems to be a time where you will need to be constantly gathering information so you can identify opportunities and threats early in the process.

And the 'new normal' seems to be a time where you will need to be using scenario planning, so you have a clearer understanding of who does what, when, and why – because as you just discovered, trying to make that up as you go along is not optimal.

Written by

Strategic turnaround consultant and writer.

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