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In a day of reduced student demand, a number of colleges have turned to their athletic programs to help fill a portion of excess capacity.  The idea is that an additional student paying anything is better than no student at all.

At the outset, let me say that this strategy can be helpful within the context of an overall enrollment enhancement plan (EEP).  If ten or twelve percent of a student body is involved in intercollegiate athletics, it seems reasonable to move that number up two or three percentage points in the quest to fill empty classroom seats.  Athletics can be an important part of the college experience and many have gained leadership and lifelong fitness benefits from their participation. My thesis is that moderation is important.

Consider the following two issues as a plan is put in place.

  1. Marginal Revenue Analysis

First is a needed conversation about marginal revenue as it is practiced by many smaller, private institutions.  The idea here is that the new students provide added revenues and therefore benefit the institution that has excess capacity.

Let’s start with the non-Division III (D3) colleges that attract athletes through scholarships.  I recommend identifying the net tuition revenue (NTR) from scholarship recipients (excluding walk-ons) for each sport.  We’ll assume table tennis has an average institutional scholarship (discount) of 75% off tuition and fees of $28,000.  Each player thus contributes $7,000 on average. The math: ($28,000 X .25) = $7,000 NTR per person.  Ten players generate ten times that amount or $70,000.  The identification of NTR generated by individual sports is step 1.

For D3 schools, the entire roster can be used in terms of net tuition generated.  Some carve out the impact players and only use their revenues but that can be somewhat subjective.

For step 2, the budgeted costs of the sport are identified, including coach salaries.  That amount is then subtracted from the NTR sub-total.  In this case, the spending and salary budget for table tennis is $46,000, including salaries, benefits, travel, lodging, meals, uniforms, equipment, game day costs, etc.  Subtracting that amount from the $70,000 of NTR leaves a step 2 subtotal of $24,000.

Step 3 allocates athletic administration costs to each sport.  I typically use headcount for this exercise, ensuring that smaller programs are not abnormally hit.  Presuming $120,000 of athletic administration costs and 120 scholarship athletes, another $10,000 of cost is assessed against table tennis for its ten players (10 X $1,000.)

In the end, the ten players from table tennis generate $14,000 in NTR or $1,400 per person toward the cost of academic programs.

The final step aggregates all sports by net contribution to arrive at a total amount for the 120 scholarship athletes.  For some analyses, this has resulted in a negligible, even a negative number.  The question to be answered is whether enough is generated from these students to justify putting athletes in the classroom?

2.  Atmosphere

Second is a conversation about the qualitative aspects of athletic recruitment.  Put simply, too many institutions have accomplished increased athletic recruitment numbers in the face of an overall enrollment decline.  Why is this so often the case?

There are likely a number of answers to this question and I recommend drilling down to find what is affecting your institution.  Examples include scholarships being shifted toward athletes, leaving materially less for other students when an overall discount rate is targeted.  Aggressive roster requirements can also detract the attention of the admission team to assisting coaches in their recruitment work.  Other possibilities for non-athletic declines include deficient facilities or not offering the up and coming programs.  Institutional bad news or severe competition in the regional area could be factors in drying up the non-athlete pool as well.

I suggest that another factor is worth investigating.  When students visit, do they perceive yours to be a “jock school?”  Walking through the student union or into the dining room, are there a lot of students dressed for athletic practices?  Are athletes sticking together as they eat or walk around on campus?  If you offer a chapel program, are athletes together during that experience?  Do they sit together in classes?  Do they exceed 20% of your student body? The reality is that many great students who would be wonderful additions to your campus are not athletically inclined.  Oh, they may be reasonably good intramural players and enjoy being spectators for certain sports but their high school experience was primarily with non-athletes and they want something akin to that for college.

3. So what do we do?

Let’s replace our sports offerings with well-positioned chess boards and pipe-smoking, blazer clad sophomores debating each other on the sidewalks.  OK, maybe not. Let me suggest adding a few questions to the survey you give to all of your student visitors (you do survey them, don’t you?)  Ask them to rank what they thought your reputation was before arriving and their impression after visiting.  There could be five or more general descriptions of your atmosphere, including “athletic school, academically serious, socially active (party school)” etc.

In essence, find out how you are being perceived so that recruitment and messaging strategies can be adjusted accordingly.  Do this before embarking on a wholesale addition of sports in the quest for the next fifty students.  If forty students are lost who contribute more NTR, the strategy may backfire.  In too many cases, sixty or more are being lost.

Oh, and in connection with the NTR analyses I introduced (#1 above) it makes sense to work with the athletic programs to target a greater net contribution overall, to be accomplished over a period of years.  While athletic participation can be an important part of the college experience, these programs should bot consume all the resources generated.

A word about room and board.  Some argue that the contribution from auxiliary enterprises should be factored into these kinds of analyses.  My take on room and board is that it is used to support Student Life programs at the college.  This includes counseling, residential life, student activities, discipline etc.  When you match the net contribution from auxiliaries with overall costs of the student life program, there is rarely much remaining.  If anything is left over, investments in capital projects for dorms and dining are not a bad idea.  It isn’t good practice to direct those dollars toward the academic programs of the college.  That is why we charge tuition and fees.

I wish you well in this environment.  Keep trying new things but maintain perspective (and moderation.)  We want a balanced, healthy institution.  Let’s work together to ensure that.

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If you do not have a degree completion or graduate program for adults, you can skip this edition. For those who have such programs, a common approach is to recruit a group of students as a cohort. Ideally, that cohort remains together throughout the program, encouraging each other to stay with it and accomplish the goal that attracted them to the idea in the first place.

Reality can be a different story. The recruiting team, eager for a cohort start to come off, push for groups of ten or less to begin the journey together. Then, as life’s events unfold, adult students with very busy lives at work and home may be inclined to take a breather, or drop out altogether. Even reasonable starting numbers can whittle down to single digits. I’ve seen some wind up with three students. The quality of experience for student and faculty member alike are impaired in such situations, along with the institution’s bottom line.

Before we throw out the cohort concept, let me share with you that I haven’t seen another approach that delivers similar rates of retention. Offering a smorgasbord of courses with a constantly changing cast of characters in each class has not proven to be successful with the adult learner. Still, it can be hard to recruit the industry standard minimum of fifteen students for a start and it’s hard to make students wait six months or more before another opportunity arises. There has to be a better way.

And, in my experience, there is.

Consider the continuous cohort. Students can start at what has typically been the beginning of the program or at one point in the middle. The first course taken is online and called an “on-ramp,” meaning that it is meant to prepare the student for his or her return to higher education. After that course, the student joins the group physically meeting and takes the prescribed number of courses for his or her program. The last course is called the “off-ramp” and is offered online as well, allowing students who have completed all their other courses to jump off and graduate.

Another way of looking at this reflects the use of on-ramps and off-ramps. Consider the regular coursework to be an interstate highway that loops around a city. There are two entrances/exits at 12:00 and 6:00 where students leave the highway for an off-ramp course and enter after completing the on-ramp course.

Numerically, ten students are what is needed for each entry point into the ongoing program. With normal losses, this guarantees a group of sixteen or more are in the seats for each class. Those who manage this process well wind up with 22 or more consistently.

And, what about pre-requisites? Those who design curriculum for continuous cohorts make sure that pre-requisites and the sequential courses that follow them are contained within either of the half-program segments. It may require some rearranging of curriculum but the benefits are worth the investment.

Fewer actual cohorts. More options to start with smaller groups. Larger classes. Retention of the cohort model benefits. Those who have moved in this direction are seeing immense benefit.

How about you?

The first week of August is upon us and whatever will betide the fall is becoming more clear. What are some of my clients doing around this time?

Well, first of all, the deadline for finalizing payment for the fall often occurs this week. I have suggested a deadline of August 5th through 9th as what some call the confirmation date. A Wednesday is a good deadline; either the first or second one of August. This allows a little cushion for those who are late in their arrangements. By the close of business on Friday, everyone who has not yet confirmed will be assessed a late fee of $100. I can tell you that it works. If you are lax about such items, be prepared to have about three times the normal staffing for the first two weeks of school.

Second, those who have put in a mechanism to track financial aid by class are getting a clearer picture of fall’s revenues. Track the net tuition for all of those who have deposited for the fall and then for those who have confirmed (agreed to the charges and the method of paying them.) If your system doesn’t allow for this kind of analysis, create a work around. Census day is somewhere around six weeks from now and may deliver an unpleasant surprise. Better to know now. You’ll need the tools to do so.

Third is related to the second and involves gleaning more information off the invoice for room and board. Look at billed R and B and the same charges for those who are confirmed. This is typically the second largest source of revenue for most institutions. You want to be on top of it and should be able to produce a projection even now.

Fourth, under the assumption that the second and third considerations are well in hand, a projection of the second semester is appropriate. Most use a general retention rate. A better approach is to track the difference in populations for each class between the semesters. This is a little different from retention in that there will be some who earn enough credit before the spring to be classified in a higher class. Others will stop out and some will transfer in. By merely comparing the raw data for fall and spring by class, it will yield a better approximation of the total year’s pro-forma than a general retention rate.

Finally, CFOs and enrollment people are looking at where non-traditional activities are heading. For most programs, students who carry over from one year to the next represent between 65% and 75% of the new year’s revenue. This is true in part because the carry-over student is paying tuition from the beginning of the fiscal year, with many paying for the entire year (52 weeks worth.) Some of my clients are using my Non-Traditional Revenue Projection Model (RPM) to provide projections. It is available, free of charge, just for asking.

When the turnstiles stop and your audit is complete, please consider adopting the COMP4cast budgeting and forecasting tool, also available free to those who ask. The ideal time to deploy this is in late September. By October 15, you will have a good sense for the current year and a preliminary look at next year’s revenues. This has been very well received by every adopter. Oh, and I tend to assist with implementations in the fall, if doing it on your own doesn’t get you there. My involvement will set you back two days and about three grand. Most see it as a great way to fast track the process and deliver a pretty impressive series of reports to the board at the fall meeting. I’d love to chat with you about this.

I’m wishing you all great success this fall as the new class arrives and students return. You are doing important work, my friends. Keep it up.

When I was in the corporate world, it was common for one of the top sales people to make the most of anyone in the organization.  Sometimes, the heavy hitters, festooned with gray hair an a rolodex full of “friends” made more than the CEO.  The reason is simple; without sales, the organization fails.  Without good margins on those sales, a slow death occurs.  Any organization needs good people to get tasks done.  Every organization needs the best sales people.

So, why is it that higher education uses recent graduates who are paid very little to recruit new students; students who will not just pay the fall semester bill but may be with you for seven additional semesters?  It seems as though the paradigm lacks something.

And, while we’re on this topic, if it has been shown that Mom is a primary influencer in the college decision, why aren’t there more mom-aged women working in direct contact with prospective students and their moms (and dads)?

I say send counselors out on the road less and hire on mom-aged professionals with solid sales experience who can seal the deal with the student and their family on the campus visit.  And pay them like they are responsible for your entire revenue stream.  Because … well … they are.