The Frogs are Boiling!
Senior Vice President of Higher Education Partnerships, Greenwood Hall
Years ago I read Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline. There was a lot of valuable insight and advice to companies facing an uncertain future. Most memorable was his invoking of the time worn story of the “Boiled Frog.” The core tenet of the story is that organizations react to rapid changes in their environment (a frog thrown into a pot of boiling water will immediately leap to safety while a frog in a pot that is gradually heated will react too slowly and boil to death).
I was reminded of this story while reading the following article in Inside Higher Ed this week: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/09/28/moodys-predicts-college-closures-triple-2017. Moody’s predicts small colleges will triple their closure rate. The article thoughtfully places the blame at declining enrollment (and I would add atrocious retention and 6-year graduation rates). While there are vigorous defenses and vociferous refutations of Moody’s predictions; such as the spirited statement, “Schools will do anything to survive;” such statements don’t do much to build confidence that the schools are actually doing what is necessary to survive.
Decision-making on college campuses is notoriously slow and cumbersome… and it probably needs to be given the contemplative nature of school governance. But, for many of these schools the water in the pot is heating up rapidly. I would contend that for many it has already reached the boiling point. Schools need to rapidly do the kinds of things that will increase revenue, sustain revenue and reduce operating costs…dramatically. And many of them need to do it now! Today!
Increasing revenue is a function of enrollment management… getting students into seats! Sustaining revenue is a function of assertive and effective student retention programs… giving students the service and care they deserve. Reducing operating expenses is a function of resolve at eliminating those things that don’t progress the school’s mission or differentiation… not fun, but it’s a necessary component and one which American business learned dearly in the 1980s in the face of international competition.
Fortunately, there are models in the market in which the enrollment, retention and cost issues have been beaten. In short, education leadership teams need to look to the market for help and good models. They need to make bold moves to get out of the pot. It may not be fun. It may not be glorious. But, it beats the alternative.