But back to the data and all of this is uncharted territory. I personally feel more confident and positive about the future when I can forge a data-informed plan, so here are my takeaways for how you can immediately use your available data to plan for the future during a time of upheaval:
1. Budget. Is your university refunding dorm costs to students who weren’t able to stay the entire academic year? Will you charge online delivery fees instead? Forecasting tools that allow your team to look ahead are crucial to planning for the next biennium during unprecedented times.
2. Applications and Admits. If May 1st was the traditional deposit deadline at your college, and you have pushed it back to June 1st or beyond, be sure to track your trends compared to last year. Perhaps you have an increase in applications and admitted students, but your housing deposits are suddenly lagging. This is the time for communicating to your prospects about next steps and regularly tracking their responses.
3. A looming recession. It is possible that it has never been more important to easily pull tuition information by subject, department, program, term, course, campus, etc. and to model your expected costs and revenues. Recessions are complicated for higher education. I remember very clearly being a new faculty member during the Recession of 2008 when enrollments at the university I was working at surged. A seasoned faculty member said, matter-of-factly, “well when the economy tanks, everyone goes back to school.” However, after spending 2011-2019 as an administrator, I can tell you that recessions hurt higher ed institutions significantly in the short term and the one that’s coming is likely to be of a different nature than what we’ve seen before. For example, fiscal reserves face significant depletion during the next year as so many work to climb out of the aftereffects of COVID-19 and planned budgets are unexpectedly reallocated. Using available data and dynamic selection formulas will allow for leadership to at least understand what is coming.
4. Retention. There are so many unknowns when it comes to retention and persistence. Will your students return to you in the fall? Will COVID-19 no longer threaten us by then, or will we see a resurgence of infections and mandates for online education will continue until there are better treatments, herd immunity, and maybe even a vaccine? If students aren’t on campus to physically see and meet with their advisors and the giant “it’s time to register” banner that greets them every day, will you still meet your retention goals? It is essential to track registration for the upcoming term on a weekly basis and to communicate within the application to your students via text and email.
5. Human Resources. Communicating with current employees, tracking leave, and organizing new schedules and policies will now need to occur remotely as will on-boarding of new staff and faculty and continuing ongoing searches.
Here at Millennium, we are excited to announce a series of webinars that will address each of these areas above. Webinars will be available live every week and will be recorded and posted the following Monday morning. Join us this Thursday, April 9th for our first webinar focusing on retention.
Selingo, J.J. (2018). The new generation of students: How colleges can recruit, teach, and serve Gen Z. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington, D.C.
Blumenstyk, G. (2018). The adult student: The population colleges—and the nation—can’t afford to ignore. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington, D.C.