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Can Higher Education Learn from the Past?

Barb Sheehan

Barb Sheehan
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Recent years have delivered a significant slump in college and university enrollment numbers. That fact is both unfortunate and well-documented. For the last 8-10 years we have seen continued decline in enrollments, which appears quite ominous considering it was immediately preceded by 20 years of extraordinary growth in the higher education market.

While some may attribute this slump to a declining population or even a shift in attitude toward higher education, it may ultimately prove to be a natural overcorrection. Although determining the WHY is important, figuring out HOW to deal with this decline is vital to higher education institutions already struggling to remain financially viable. As with any market segment, these institutions must become more competitive. But how?

Dwelling upon the answer to this question reminds me of an experience I had nearly 20 years ago. I had recently accepted a position with a manufacturing firm that had, in recent years, recorded phenomenal sales, mainly within the telecommunications industry. With their focus firmly on engineering and the creation of quality products, they had previously engaged in very little active selling to generate the boom they enjoyed. They were simply riding the coattails of an industry experiencing extraordinary growth. However, in the year 2000, a suffering stock market, a shortfall in investment capital and a sudden, quite remarkable downturn in the telecommunications industry abruptly ended the boom for the company and for other companies feeding off a period of skyrocketing growth.

That’s what led to my hire. And let me tell you, it is more than a little intimidating to be hired into a company, that for the first time in its 50-year history, was experiencing layoffs and decreases in pay. The looks of “why did they hire YOU??”, were less than comforting. But as it turned out, the company was beginning to take all the right steps. Now, I’m not claiming I was the savior of the company - just that my hire aligned with a two-fold shift in thinking for the company as an entity. First, they evolved from being an engineering-focused company to one that was driven by marketing and sales. Secondly, they embraced new ways to become more efficient, without sacrificing the quality of their products, in order to become more competitive.

Now, can higher education institutions learn from this example?

I believe so. We are already witnessing marketing becoming a much more perceptible part of the education market. Yet, as enrollment numbers have decreased, tuition costs and the resulting student debt have continued to rise. Many potential students are either electing to enter or remain in the job market or are pursuing their education part-time and/or online. Those contemplating becoming a full-time student face an increasingly complex set of pros and cons to consider.

And while the future for some traditional colleges continues to look troublesome, the future already seems a bit brighter for those that are willing to develop additional efficiencies and get serious about competitive tuition costs. The same is true for institutions spending as much time on retaining students as they do on recruitment and enrollment. The desire to provide students with a positive, efficient and modern enrollment as well as financial aid administrative experience-in other words, improving the student experience-should lead to better student outcomes and a reduction in transfer and dropout rates.

Today, many institutions are finding that enterprise content management (ECM) systems, like Softdocs’ Etrieve platform, can help pave the way. And since Softdocs deals exclusively with colleges, universities and other educational institutions, we intimately understand the nuances required to help you overcome the challenges you face.

Higher education institutions are increasingly turning to our time-saving and efficiency-increasing solutions, choosing to leverage Etrieve to minimize paper records, increase processing efficiencies and improve the service they provide to their students and employees. Already in 2019, we’ve added almost 40 new logos to the Softdocs community - a community that is continuing to grow as more institutions recognize the benefits provided by ECM.

Today is the perfect time to embrace the change that will make your institution more competitive. Perhaps it’s also time to take another look at Etrieve by Softdocs?