[Podcast] How to Connect with Today’s Post-Traditional Online Student – A Panel Discussion

How to Connect with Today's Post-Traditional Student

 

Panel Discussion: Connecting with Today’s Post-Traditional and Online Student presented by Carol Aslanian, President, Aslanian Market Research; Lisa Braverman, Dean, Petrocelli College of Continuing Studies, Fairleigh Dickinson University; Lindsey Johnson, Director of Graduate and Adult Recruitment, Creighton University; Aja Baxter, Chief Compliance Officer, EducationDynamics

 

Transcription:

Carol Aslanian: I think you’ve seen the item on the agenda, so hopefully you’ve been thinking about what you want to ask. And I’m going to ask each one of our panelists just to introduce themselves and where they are in their area of expertise, so you know what questions to address to each one.

Lisa Braverman: Hi, everyone. I’m Dr. Lisa Braverman. I’m dean of the Petricelli School of Continuing Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University, right over the river. And just wanted to again say hi and welcome you and tell you that Carol’s seminars and workshops over the years are iconic. Carol and Scott have done such a job of informing and educating everyone in our field with adult and continuing studies over the years with terrific data and lots of advice, so you’re in a good place.

Carol Aslanian: And your area of expertise?

Lisa Braverman: Adult and continuing education.

Carol Aslanian: Okay.

Lisa Braverman: And just going to say that as we talk, I’ll be describing the unique ways that my unit actually engages online learners and nontraditional students in ways that are a little bit different from what you may or may not have used before.

Carol Aslanian: Great. Aja?

Aja Baxter: Good morning, everyone. My name is Aja Baxter. I’m general counsel at Education Dynamics. I have been with the company for 3 years. And while I’m a generalist by training, obviously having been with Education Dynamics, I’ve sort of developed an expertise in compliance with education marketing, marketing in the education space, and so Carol and Scott were kind enough to ask me to join today to kind of, perhaps, speak a little bit to compliance. Compliance is obviously a hot topic in the education space these days, and hopefully I’ll be able to answer some questions.

Carol Aslanian: The new idea we had. We hadn’t really thought about this for a long time, but with Aja’s expertise and know-how, we thought some of you might have some compliance issues or questions to ask or where do you get your advice on key matters that reflect your work? Lindsay?

Lindsay Johnson: Lindsay Johnson from Creighton University. I’ve worked in Enrollment Management for about 12 years from traditional, spent 7 years in Health Professional Enrollment Management, and now I work on graduate and adult undergraduate side.

Carol Aslanian: Online?

Lindsay Jonhson: We do online, on-campus, the whole gambit.

Carol AslanianRight. And Roger?

Roger Sublett: Roger Sublett, I’m president of Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although we have academic centers in Los Angeles, Sacramento, North Miami Beach, Florida, and Brattleboro, Vermont. Even though I went through the traditional education programs, I’ve spent most of my lifetime in adult and continuing education, and Carol would probably say I entered through the back door. A lot of us did.

Carol Aslanian: He’s always a front door man, let me tell you. Okay, so, we’re going to open it up for our first question or comment or some issue you want to bring up that you’d like us to reflect on. And good.

Q: My question has to do with educational partnerships, I come from a small private school…

Carol Aslanian: Hold on. Okay.

Q: I come from a small private school in the northeast, a very typical story of built-upon education and nursing as education enrollment has waned and nursing enrollment has gone through the roof, we have wonderful relationships with hospitals in the area. However, for business, education, and our other programs, it’s been very difficult for us to build meaningful partnerships. So I’ve had everything from my travels to asking my counselors to knock on doors and make phone calls, asking my VP to go out. We’ve tried all sorts of things to build our business and our educational partnerships, but we’ve struggled with that. So any advice, any guidance, any thoughts in terms of educational partnerships?

Carol Aslanian: Great. We used to call that doing business with business or contract education in the former days. Who wants to start? Lisa?

Lisa Braverman: So, in order to engage business and industry, you need a robust strategy that really invites them to your campus as part of a set of business forums, where they get to know you, you get to know them, and they are invited to your campus, so you don’t have to go out doing cold calls. You can convene these in different industry sectors: health and human services, finance, retail, wherever you exist, what the biggest parts of your economy are or also a reflection of what curricula you have. Invite them in, conduct a business forum, and record that data. Once they’ve been to your house, and you’ve invited them to breakfast, it’s far easier to go back out to them and talk about the meeting and say, “In our meeting on October 13th, you told us that these were your most important gaps and skills, these were your future trends, these are the problems you’re having in your workforce,” so you’re armed with data, our best friend. And then when you go back, you can begin to have those robust conversations, and I’ve written articles about this. I can tell you a little more about how to kind of go through the process. What’s the reason you say it hasn’t worked though, you’ve tried? What’s the biggest impediment you’ve found?

Q: I’ll give two different answers. For business, it’s more we’re down the road from them, it’s more reputation.

Carol Aslanian: Where are you?

Q: Felician.

Carol: Oh!

Q: We’re on the original FU campus.

Carol Aslanian: Yeah.

Q: People don’t know us in business. That seems to be the biggest hurdle. For education, it’s more developing those relationships, but getting them… “I’ll talk to my superintendent next Tuesday, I’ll talk to my superintendent, oh yeah…” It’s moving them through the ladder more than anything.

Lisa Braverman: Your president also needs to be involved in this process. They need to know your CEO is firmly behind these partnerships, and then they tend to respond more frequently.

Carol Aslanian: Also, would you advise about advisory councils by departments?

Lisa Braverman: Absolutely, and a lot of people do that. And they need to be robust with engaging agenda and meaningful reasons to get together, not just sort of a social event. Yeah.

Q: It’s one of the things we just instituted.

Carol Aslanian: They just instituted that?

Lisa Braverman: Yeah, make it a friendship, and then a contract or a partnership, whatever you want to call it.

Q: When I started with Carol, so many of the schools we worked with had these kind of advisory panels by discipline.

Carol Aslanian: They’ve faded away.

Q: They’ve faded away. How many of you have advisors’ panels that bring in folks from industry to the campus?

Crowd: Yeah, big common practice…appearance.

Q: It really is important to—

Carol Aslanian: Okay.

Q: –What we have.

Carol Aslanian: Good. Roger?

Roger Sublett: Union does not have a strong business program, but we do have pretty good relationships with businesses in the area. And I will particularly select Western Southern, which is a large financial institution. And it’s not so much what we can do for Western Southern or whether they needed our information, but we provided space for them to do professional development programs, which brought a lot of people in the community on our campus, who might not otherwise have been aware of it. And recently, we just had one on retirement benefits, and all of our employees could go to that free. So it was a win-win for the university and for the campus, but moving outside this, and I know your question was there, we have used advisory panels. And my only caution—I think they do work, and I know they work really, really well—but when you select an advisory panel, they’ll tend to give advice. Some of that, there’s credibility to them. The other partnership that I think… what we’re trying to do in the greater Cincinnati area… there’s a greater Cincinnati source on colleges and universities, and we’re beginning to try to work and impact the community. Higher ed is the largest employer in that region. Now we’ve not talked about that, we’ve not talked about the economic impact. So we’re trying to do it as a collaborative, rather than individual institutions. My last comment… Our largest undergraduate program is criminal justice management, and let me tell you, we have really worked with individual police departments and sheriff’s departments all over California and Florida, as well as in Cincinnati.

Carol Aslanian: Right, and when we were with you about ten years ago, you had a gentleman out in California that had that criminal justice constituency in his back hand, right? He was very good. He made hand-to-hand contact, he visited them, he made great plays with them, and it made a big difference in your criminal justice program. Any other advice from the panel? Anybody from the audience want to add anything to that? Anything successful in doing business with business?

Q: Let me share one thing before we move on from that. We’re doing a mammoth study for Brandman University in Southern California focused on their customized training for employers in the region because it’s struggled. It’s at least flat, it’s not growing. And they want to grow. And what we’re finding in that study is the appetite of employers, at least in Southern California, for customized training offered by a college or university, is, I’m not going to say imploding, but it is just not there like it was years before. And that is just because employers have limited funds for employer training, they’ve hired one staff trainer who they think can do everything, and they are using online resources that are… they recognize as being inferior to what they bought from a college in the past, but they are willing to sacrifice because that’s all the money they have. So that’s a reality check. It’s not great news, but the takeaway there is it’s going to take a lot more than it ever did to be successful in doing the actual customized training, kind of going out and getting business that way. So it’s much more about partnerships like Lisa’s talking about.

Lisa Braverman: And one more thing to add: if you’re looking to engage employers, businesses, not just in customized training but in degree programs, then of course, what people have been doing over these years is you put your program onsite at that business.

Carol: That’s called contract education. I remember back in the 80s actually, right, Roger?

Roger: Right.

Carol: We have services that can help you, we’ll give you a good fee, we’re in your neighborhood, don’t go outside, and don’t spend your internal resources on it. We can help you with our outside, your great provider area universities. So there’s a lot of buying power there. Okay. We need some more issues and questions. Uh huh, we do everything. No, Kathy, go ahead.

Kathy: So I’m New Program Development for the part-time and continuing studies, mostly degrees. If you’re a unit, not a school, and don’t have faculty, the big issue is how do you create new on the backs of faculty that are already at full load and the cost ratio of what your expenses are and what your revenue would be in developing that? That’s kind of going to be a sticking block for us because we tend to have all our part-time, continuing studies students going into programs that we already run for our full-time undergraduates. So we don’t have faculty designated to this adult population. They use the resources of the university. As we create new programs and areas, that will expand, but I’m wondering about the faculty load and conversations that you have at your schools. And adjuncts. That conversation gets everybody all at alarm, too.

Carol: Are you head of adult and continuing studies, Linda?

Linda: I’m involved in it.

Carol: Oh, but you don’t head it up?

Linda: We don’t have a unit. We got rid of the unit at…

Carol: You got rid of it. And what college is this?

Linda: [inaudible]

Carol: What is it?

Linda: Fairfield University.

Carol: You just put something up for us, a dean of… Didn’t you? You’re running an open so you’re going back the other way now, a unit? Interesting.

Kathy: Oh, no no no. Not a real unit. It’s a unit, not a school. So it’ll be its own degree-bearing school, will work and facilitate with the other schools, but the single biggest issue in developing these programs is the financial model that makes it viable with using… And then how do you cajole current faculty members who are at load already to teach…

Carol: Well, whoa…

Kathy: …program.

Lisa: It’s difficult when you don’t have a unit. Carol and I have gone back and forth about this for many years. The advantages, let us say, of a unit, though you’ve gone the other way strategically, is that you can go to the president, you can negotiate for faculty. Right now at Fairleigh Dickinson, I’ve got 60 full-time faculty reporting just to me, and over 200 adjuncts, which is kind of new, and it gives me lots of freedom. So in a way, you’re hamstrung, yes, but what can you do about that? Whoever’s heading it up needs to make really, really, really good friends with the other deans at Fairfield University. So that there can be an advantage sort of sold to those deans about how their faculty can get involved, how their adjuncts can make more money, to try and lure them, but good continuing ed units, if they can’t really make those negotiations well and it’s difficult with load and all of the rest, you go externally. You must. I mean, most continuing studies units rely heavily on adjuncts, but good adjuncts. There are many, many more of those than ever before with great credentials, so you can run your programs to really get the thing. How much money do your programs make a year?

Kathy: On the credit side?

Lisa: Yeah.

Kathy: Probably… It’s going down every year, because we don’t have anybody…

Lisa: That’s why you’re looking for some leadership in this field. Yeah, and I can talk more about that with you.

Carol: Any other points of view about that? Roger?

Roger: I think you do need to make friends with the president quickly, and what presidents are going to listen always will be the bottom line of the budget and the contributions, not only to make to the budget, but also expanding the life of the culture, of the organization because adult students can bring in a rich understanding and a richness to the classroom that you may not have right now. And I think if, in your unit, if you have faculty ranked, that gives greater credibility for you in working with individual faculty. But faculty sometimes… I’ve run continuing education units in my career. It’s really difficult to get faculty who consider themselves to be fully loaded already to take on additional, but there may be some additional remuneration that could be available for them to help develop courses or to participate, which can be a motivational factor. But also even some negotiating some release time to help, and if you can get the president to give you a position where faculty can rotate in and out of your programming, I think that would be a great benefit for you and really won’t cost you much. And it’ll be an opportunity for you to invest in professional development for your faculty, and if it’s a good experience, he or she will tell their stories back to their colleagues.

Lisa: The other thing maybe is to have some market data, Kathy, that shows that we need these one or two courses or this series of courses because people are calling about it, we know it’s an area in demand by major industries, so on and so forth. And if we invest in it, we’ll make it back in revenue.

Carol: Let’s…

Lisa: Just one last thing, sorry. How large is the university? How many students?

Kathy: Overall?

Lisa: Yeah.

Kathy: About 5,000.

Lisa: Small, but you are in an area that’s kind of urban. Maybe a market research study on the immediate Fairfield area would be helpful, in order to justify–

Kathy: Checks in the mail.

[Whole group laughs]

Carol: Compliance. We’ve been talking about this a lot at Education Dynamics. Has anybody come across some issues, some forks in the road? Aja is an expert on this, he handles it every day for us. Has anything come up? Do you have your own resources to do this? Do you seek outside counsel? Or is this totally out of your hands?

Aja: Yeah, we were curious. And one of the reasons that Carol and Scott invited me today was it’s just a topic that we hadn’t talked about too much with some of our clients, and wanted to hear a little more from you in terms of, does it come up in your day-to-day? Or do you engage with anybody in compliance internally? I’m just curious. Even informally, by show of hands, have you had those sorts of discussions lately? What were the topics? Just kind of curious if anybody in the audience has had a conversation along those lines.

Carol: I think we’ve got one right here.

Aja: Great.

Q3: So it comes up about every 15 minutes.

Aja: Yeah.

Q3: So, we have a 5-year plan we’ve been working out with the folks at the Department of Education and we’re on the right track. How about the things you can’t control? You know, our webpage and things like that, we can pay people to make sure everything’s right—

Aja: Yeah.

Q3: I’ve got videos and things, even from like Pearson and the big folks, that are noncompliant.

Aja: Yeah, it’s really interesting. And not only, when you say things you can’t control, one of the things that makes it even more difficult is… In recent years, and I’ve only been with the company for 3 years, but even in this past year, is the interconnectivity between the different compliance frameworks. So, you talk about video, you could have an FTC issue from the marketing perspective, you could have a DOE issue from what’s the contents of the video, is it talking about financial aid? Is it guaranteeing somebody admission? I just got an article this morning about the expanded role of the CFPD and education and higher education through the student loan element, and their regulatory oversight over that. So, I think… And the worst part is, and one of the things that we encounter and that our outside counsel tells us a lot… Even the rules on the paper from the DOE sometimes, and from some other regulators, you don’t know that you’re on the wrong side of it until it’s tested and until somebody gets in trouble for something that’s being done. So, I can’t answer the question of what’s out of your control and what we can talk about is what’s within our control, right? So, that is do we have a policy in place? When we’re producing a video, do we have a policy in place about what checkbook boxes need to be checked before that video gets distributed? Did we consider it, not only on our website, but if it goes viral? So, you know, beyond something that’s just sitting on your home page, if it’s … We’re working with a school to develop a Snapchat video the other day, and so what are the considerations when it’s being distributed through another medium, rather than just on your website? Do we have a policy in place for that, too? We even get the person’s permission to use them on the video and have them… Well, have the release for that to make sure we distributed it, not just on our website, but somewhere else. What’s the content? And so, I think these are all things where my team at Education Dynamics, we’re trying to… And sometimes that’s organic, it keeps going, right? It’s, what’s the latest issue and how are we responding to it? I think what’s within our control is trying to develop policy, is trying to have procedures in place, and constantly reviewing them, constantly monitoring them, constantly getting information from outside resources and getting help. We talk to outside counsel, we talk to various compliance experts in the field who help us monitor and help us develop our policies. Those are the types of things that we spend our time on. But you’re absolutely right, there’s going to be surprises. And our job is to try to minimize those surprises as much as we can.

Carol: Just a quick show of hands before we go to you, Kathy. How many people feel that compliance issues are handled by certain positions within your institution that are already there, and you address them with them? How many feel that they have internal resources for this? How many people go outside and seek external advice? Three or four.

Aja: For those who are doing internally, I’ll just maybe ask the panelists. Is it your legal department or do you have a specialized compliance department? I’m just curious.

Lindsay: We have a general counsel that we go to typically. And then there’s other professionals that we can use over in student affairs when it comes to issues of admitting a student or something like that. So that they revealed… So we have different resources of who we use, but generally it goes to general counsel.

Carol: Roger?

Roger: We have outside counsel, generally, but we do have compliance offices. We have an office of compliance that looks at content online, for example, and HR, employment, etc. I have to say, I had never been sued in my life until I became a university president. So, I’m almost immune to it now. The issues are really, particularly with regulations, are emanating from the federal government and even from states. I think those are things that you ought to be concerned about, or probably your presidents and provosts should be more concerned about them, but there are challenges every day around admissions, whether in our doctoral program, if somebody fails their preliminary exams, there are lawsuits and accusations, and it really becomes a much more interesting, dynamic environment than I ever anticipated as a president.

Carol: The only thing I’m thinking about, Aja, is whether with the new forms of learning and new arrangements and new populations, that your compliance offices do need to keep up to date—

Aja: Always.

Carol: –which I’m sure they have means to do, but—

Aja: Absolutely.

Carol: –that’s an opportunity. Anything else on compliance anyone want to add? Alright, well, looking for some more topics. Interests? Advice? Personal stories?

Q4: I have a question for Lindsay. And that is, you have—we know because you’re working with Education Dynamics—that Creighton has gone through a decision-making process obviously to increase institutional dollars for marketing outreach. I ask this because we’re about to release a little white paper on how institutions have been able to do that. And I’m wondering whether you could talk a little bit, because everybody in the room is probably looking to make the case to their leadership on getting more marketing dollars. Could you describe a little bit about how that process went along at Creighton?

Lindsay: I can speak to some of it. Not being part of the leadership team, that’s the decision-maker and the person who makes it happen. I’m enrollment side, but we’ve been in the online space for quite a while. I was telling the group here last night that whenever anyone at the university says that we can’t teach that online, our very first online program at Creighton was a doctorate pharmacy program, started in 2001. So that argument goes pretty much nowhere, because if you can teach pharmacy students online in a doctoral program, you can teach undergrads… well, pretty much anybody at that point. And we actually had a new president who started at the university, I want to say like 2010-2011, and he was a huge believer in online education, adult education, expanding our graduate programs, and that’s really what the precipitance was, and then being able to put together a team of individuals who glued. My boss, the vice-provost for enrollment management, folks from marketing, we have our center for academic innovation, which is our unit at the university that works with new program development and things like that, who put together a plan and said, “This is where we believe that the university needs to grow when it comes to enrollment.” And so between having the support of a president who was willing to put the institutional dollars behind it and devote that, we had academic units that were willing to get behind it because, again, we had deans who saw that we could educate health students online, they could figure out how to educate everybody else online. We had an infrastructure that was supportive as well, which was hugely important. We’d already built that; we were already on our way to that. So those were really some of the first steps of being able to do that, which kind of ultimately led to my position being created along the way, so we could actually work with the students toward the enrollment side.

Carol: Good answer. Other topics? Okay, yes. Good.

Q5: This is for the whole room, I guess. Two data points I’ve heard in the last two days, and I just want to reconcile them in my own mind. Curious to hear what other people say. Yesterday, I heard that 41% of post-traditional learners, the time frame between first inquiry and first day of classes is 4 weeks or less. Today, from Google, I heard 51% take over a year in terms of the process. Those two data sets don’t, on the surface, match.

Carol: And I’ve put that down. I’ve got to go back and find out where they got their data because first of all, when she says “online adult learners,” what does she mean by that? Anybody of a certain age? And is she looking at an older population whereas we took anybody? And we talked to actual, remember story of demand? We talked to people who have done it. How did they get their data? I swear to you, they did not go in and qualify people by, “When did you take it? Did you take it? Where did you take it?” It’s something more on a Google search arrangement and they’re searching? And you’re asking them questions. You’re asking questions of people who may not have done it. That’s what I suspect. And they may be saying, “How long do you think it’ll take before you make your decision?” “Oh, I don’t know, long time” or “a year or something.” So that is one data point I wrote down, and I’m going to check it out because our philosophy is you only ask to people who’ve been in the market, you ask the consumer. You don’t ask people who intend to study, who go to Google. We talk to them after they have studied, so they can say accurately what they did, how they did it, and so forth. Or during their studies, so they still have the accuracy, or they say, “The next year, I’m going to go to Creighton and I’m going to study a Bachelor’s in Leadership.” And I have those particulars, and I wrote those down. So we’re going to actually relate to one another and see whether Google and Education Dynamics might improve some of the survey work, although they’ve given a great lay of the land and there’s something to be said about a lot of the points. But when it comes down to the demand versus need, we might work together on that to better refine it.

Q5: Could I ask something related to that? For all of you, does our data feel more correct or does that time frame—

Carol: On that one point?

Q5: –feel more correct? As those of you that are working students? My gut is they’re both right. It’s the idea of a sort of stealth inquiry. There’s a general casual search that takes that long, but from the moment I decide I’m going to inquire and find out more information, it’s 4 weeks or less.

Lisa: Is that the majority, though, of adults? Is that what we were saying? That it was a majority?

Carol: Not… Those who’ve actually done it is who we’re surveying, and who Google is, I suspect, are those who are still in the process of it and haven’t done it. So, therefore, it’s going to be longer because they haven’t done it. There was one thing else I was going to say about that. In terms of actual versus need.

Anthony: With regards to—

Carol: Anthony.

Anthony: Yeah, with regards to the way Google did it, and this is just my belief on it, I’m going to assume it was probably related to search queries. So as people searched for things like online education, they appended that query to an idea in their database, and then they track that person for over a year or two, and they got… So the reports, while tangential to each other, are actually different. They cross, they intersect–

Carol: They do, and I think we need to work together because we could enhance each other’s positioning for the use of a you. And you remember when she said how many million people are in the market? Didn’t she say something like 50 million?

Q5: 15 million.

Carol: So listen to this, and I’ve always said this, this is very curious. We have 19 million students in the country. 3.5% or 4 million are in online education totally. Each year of the 4 million, how many enter the market? About a million and a half? Because you’ve got juniors and seniors, right? So we only have a million and a half buyers in online education, starting anew each year?

Lisa: Out of 50 million?

Carol: So there are a lot of people searching, there are a lot of people looking, but only one and a half million each year start an online degree program. Isn’t that interesting? So a lot of these people are probably… And that goes to… And then they do it the next year, or the next year, or the next year, but when they really come down to searching and make a decision, and when they’ve made the decision and you backtrack, they’re shorter than longer. But those… Sounds wonderful. 50 million people online.

Q5: 15 million.

Carol: 15 million people’s a lot, when in actuality, only one and a half enter the market each year. But 15 million…

Q5: Wait a minute. That was not only online. That was adults looking at education online.

Anthony: Yeah, that was one of my questions. She had—

Carol: She had a lot of different strings. I thought it was online. Because 15 million, that would be little. Okay, we’re clarify that sometime. But…

Lindsay: I think it was 8 billion in 2015, and about 25 million per month or per day.

Carol: Yeah, 25 million per day, that’s what I remember.

Lindsay: Or some sort of education-related search. But it’s 8 billion different searches.

Carol: The point I wanted to know is, you are all competing for one and a half million people each year, right? Based on actual data. That’s interesting. Okay, another issue. That was fun. Financing? Incentives? We talked about business. We talked about… Oh, 3- versus 4-credit courses. Who had 4-credit courses? Pretty tough. We worked with a college recently where it’s hard to compare yourself to other institutions in the region when they have 3 credits and you’re 4 credits, you got to explain but we’re 4 credits, but we’re fine. Our numbers are higher. It’s usually a decision made by the faculty.

Q5: I actually don’t mind the 4 credits.

Carol: Why?

Q5: Because it’s easier to sell to the full-time student that they only have to take 3 courses for the term.

Carol: A full-time adult student?

Q5: We actually have more full-time students than we do part-time students.

Carol: Because of that, because they can squeeze more in to a shorter period of time. Okay, good.

Q6: I’m on the graduate enrollment side at Fairfield University, and every year we do a competitive analysis on our per-credit hour price. And we do this by school, by program, as it is necessary, and we’re very competitive. We’re a little higher sometimes, a little lower. We’ll share this with our faculty and deans. People on our campus are always surprised at how well-priced we are because they think we’re more expensive because they’re coming at it from what they know about our undergraduate full-time day tuition. One of the things that we are very inexpensive on, or what I would call hidden fees, and so when we look at a per-credit hour comparison with our direct competitors, we look great. But we are much cheaper, when you really add it up. Our registration fee is $35. Our nearest competitor is $150 for registration fee. How do we market ourselves? In that way? Because people don’t know what the hidden fees are, so they’re searching on price, which you talked about. And they look at our school and see that we’re $15 per credit hour more, they may think that we’re more expensive, but I don’t think that… We’re not that much more expensive, obviously, but how do we convey to our public that we really are a good buy?

Carol: Well, I just think do it. Just do it. You don’t want to seem like Macy’s retail, but you could draw attention to the fact that when you compare us to universities and colleges in the region, just point it out. Registration fee, add it up. It comes out to less than our competitors. Get your marketing department on that, and I would really highlight it.

Q6: Just go right at it?

Carol: Sure. I mean, there are ways that it can be done without becoming too… You know, we’re always afraid, as a university, that we will become like retail sales, so we want to do it in a way that is emblematic of a university, but I’m sure your marketing department can help, if you go to them and say, “We really need to pump up the attention on this particular part; our price-point is lower when you add up all the fees.” Something, you know, politically correct, but still.

Aja: I also wouldn’t be surprised if the law catches up with you pretty soon, in terms of—no, in your favor. In that, disclosure and transparency are obviously things that are becoming increasingly emphasized in how we market to students, and are we telling the students, showing the students here’s where your dollars are going. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, in your support, that eventually everyone’s going to have to disclose what those hidden fees are, and making sure that when we talk about how much a credit hour costs, the student is advised really exactly where their dollars are going. So go ahead and be a leader in that space right now, because I would think that eventually your competitors are going to have to catch up with you and also disclose those fees, and that’s only going to make your pricing that much more attractive. So I think, as a leader in that space, you’d be supported by where the law is going. Can’t give you legal advice, but that’s my thought in terms of the marketing perspective.

Q6: Good to know.

Q7: I wonder if anybody on the panel wants to comment on what they think the sweet spot is in tuition per-credit, putting hidden fees aside. Just right down the middle. What’s the right tuition for the adult baccalaureate and/or the master’s degree program? You see variants between the business program, perhaps and the education program. What are some thoughts on the tuition per-credit online?

Lisa: That’s a tough question to answer, because you know that this is a very multi-dimensional market in education, right? It’s… You’ve have all kinds of things going on, deeper discounts here, state university tuition rates there, tuition-driven privates, and different rates for different programs. I just think it’s institutional, and also the immediate ecosystem of universities in your particular market. Where are you located again?

Q7: In New Jersey. So for example—

Lisa: Which part?

Q7: Hudson County.

Lisa: Oh! Yes, so you have a terrific situation with a pretty innovative vice-president, you’ve gotten good funding over the years, and you’re a public sector. So you are able to predatorily price your programs?

Q7: Well, not really. We’re a private university.

Carol: Oh, you’re not Hudson County—

Q7: No, no, no. We’re in Hudson County, St. Peter’s University.

Lisa: Oh, you’re St. Peter’s. I thought you said Hudson.

Q7: We’re in Hudson County.

Lisa: So you’ve got a great reputation for adult learning, right? Adult and non-traditional programs. I spoke to a dean a few years ago there. You seem to have a local reputation in that.

Q7: We think so.

Lisa: And the problem with Jersey is the same thing at Fairleigh, is that the tuition-driven privates are being driven out of business by the multiplicity of state options. It’s very tough, it forces you to lower tuition.

Q7: In the online space, I have spoken to a number of online program management groups over the years and very recently, they don’t think that we should be priced over $500 per credit. Now, some folks offer scholarships, I’ve heard at this meeting, and that’s an interesting possibility and I’m going to take that home.

Female: Like your tuition discounts for your traditional students.

Q7: I understand.

Lisa: For many of my non-traditional groups, I’ve just been on the job 2 ½ months, we give a 50% discount. We totally discount our fees.

Female: For what students?

Lisa: For our adult and non-traditional. We have all kinds of myriad, hybrid 50% discount.

Female: Do they know it in your advertisement or do they…?

Lisa: Absolutely do.

Female: Okay. So what do you say, it’s $10, and your discount is only $5?

Lisa: For your group, for your… For the policemen’s benevolent association, the Latino Promise—

Female: It’s on your literature?

Carol: Sure is.

Q7: So does it come down to less than 500 per credit?

Lisa: I’m there two and a half months, I can’t exactly tell you, isn’t that wild? Exactly how much, but I can check it out and get back with you. We’re very expensive.

Q7: Maybe Carol has some ideas on it.

Carol: Can I ask just one question? What’s the difference in doing that and just lowering the tuition?

Female: Exactly. Thank you. That’s the discussion going on in my institution.

Male: In Minnesota, we’ve found when we ask graduate students whether they would prefer to have just lower tuition or that priced mimicked as a scholarship, 63% said that they would rather have the scholarship.

Carol: Oh, they did?

Female: It’s psychological.

Male: To me, it’s 20% off, it’s a sale.

Male: The shift is regal in the undergraduate space, and every president that I… Once you’re discounting about 98%, and that’s a private college, I know… Not 98% discount rate, but 98% of the students getting some kind of discount. Yeah, no. But here’s the thing, many schools are in that space, and the traditional undergraduate and the compensation becomes with the president, say since we’re discounting 98% of the students at some level, why don’t we just tuition reset?

Female: Yes.

Male: LaSalle yesterday, they reset their tuition from $40,000 to $28.

Carol: And it is what it is.

Male: Yeah, well, and they’ll discount off of that still.

Female: Oh my god.

Carol: Don’t forget it’s not a number. It’s your region, it’s the market that you’re in, all relative. It wouldn’t be fair to say 500 nationally. No, no. It’s what is it in Hudson County? But not online. Online, different situation.

Lindsay: Our online programs are offered at a discount. They are under 500 per credit hour, we’re at 433 currently. And it is a tough sell, though. Because we compete with institutions that say, “If you’re a single parent, we’re going to do a $5000 scholarship” or whatever they come up with.

Carol: What do you tell them about the 500? Do you wait til they call?

Lindsay: No, it’s in our literature.  

Carol: So everybody gets a $500 discount?

Lindsay: No, no, it’s 533 per credit hour. We are under 500 per credit hour.

Carol: What do you say about the discount?

Lindsay: That is the rate.

Carol: So you don’t have a discount, that is the rate?

Lindsay: Well, I mean, a traditional undergraduate student is going to pay over $1000 per credit hour. Right, so the two online programs that we offer, well actually three now, are all offered at a lower rate than what our traditional…

Carol: Aren’t your faculty and deans worried that some of your traditional students might go online for that half-rate fee?

Lindsay: All the time.

Carol: That’s what I thought.

Male: But aren’t most of them getting it anyway? Because traditional students are getting—

Lindsay: Oh, absolutely. I mean, with the discount rate it’s not…

Carol: It’s the same?

Lindsay: It’s not the same, but it’s not really all that different.

Carol: That’s really interesting because you have a chance with the traditional age to tell them right on, “Oh, it’s $10,000 but for you, it’s 5,” whereas for the online, perhaps older, students, it’s what it is.

Lindsay: Right.

Carol: So you don’t have to have that funny conversation.

Lindsay: That’s the point. And then we actually scholarship their first class; it’s an orientation class offered online, and it is a fully scholarshipped class. Three credit hours, counts towards their degree, and so that’s how we’re able to build them a scholarship that’s tied directly to that.

Carol: Why not just set a price?

Lindsay: And that’s where we look at it, because if you offer in the scholarship, then there’s always these variables. There is something psychological about—that you earned a scholarship, well, I’d rather just say you have this many credit hours and this is what we ask—

Carol: You do…

Lindsay: –cost.

Carol: You do what Shreya does for all its competitors. Right on its webpage, it gives their price and the competitor’s price. And they’re lower.

Male: Oh, wow.

Carol: That’s a very smart tactic.

Male: I think it is pretty much psychological, but for our institution, we have programs that we have no problem getting 100% of that tuition down without any discount. So, and those two programs probably bring in the majority of the undergraduate students, so from that perspective, they would lower because it’s definitely a loss of income right there.

Carol: Meeting demand.

Male: Right. Whereas for the other programs, we do have like a 30% discount. We do like a 50% discount. And if we were just to lower to that, we’d still have to discount. The schools that are doing tuition resetting, which is a trend if you start looking around the country, Ohio Northern has done it, Utica has done it up in New York state, so there’s a lot of schools around the country that are resetting their tuition. But it’s again psychological, so now we’re not 50,000, we’re 30,000, but now you get less, so your discount rate has also changed, so from institution point of view, you’re probably still bringing in the same amount of money, but maybe more students because of the marketing that’s going on.

Male: What it does say is that colleges are starting to hear what we say in every presentation, is the American family’s had it up to here with the cost of education.

Carol: Yeah, that’s what they were saying.

Male: Well, you know, quality costs. You’re turning—

Carol: –never on an institution to lower its costs. I could have said that three to four years ago.

Male: Utica did it this year, so even in more traditional undergraduate offices they’re doing that. Not in the post-traditional, these are almost all traditional—

Carol: And then they do the discount on top of it again?

Male: So they—

Carol: But it’s a less of a discount with the price on it?

Male: What Lindsay can do, is Lindsay can say, if you have a tuition fee for your adult or online programs, you can say adult tuition is discounted, your tuition is $433 a credit, a day student is paying $1,285 per credit, something like that. And even though few people are probably paying $1,285 per credit, because they’re discounted, you have that strategy also, possibly.

Male: Some of this is… Sitting… When you have… Sitting in these meetings when you’re talking about a bond ratings and things of that nature, your also discount rates affect those ratings so when you just lower the tuition, the price point for these adults, these post-traditional students, it makes you look better institutionally. So there are a lot of reasons why they do it this way.

Male: John, say a little bit more about that. You… Less discounting makes your bond rating higher or…?

John: Right, when you’re having a discount on so much of your revenue that you’re receiving and discounting it down, then from the bond rating standpoint they look at that as a negative piece, that you’re having to spend so much institutional dollars, so where your traditional and post-traditional students would generally get all revenue from that population, so it makes you look a lot better.

Carol: It gets back to the point I was trying to make yesterday about why are we so age-oriented here? Why isn’t it just one price line, whether you’re taking an evening, day, weekend, online, hybrid, why do we make it so complex? Is it history? Is it that we always had these separate units that we always had that’s over there, we’re over here? We’re Creighton University, we’re here morning, evening, noon, weekend, online, and hybrid. This is the cost of our credit courses. Undergraduate versus graduate. Why do we have that complexity? We make it terribly confusing to the audience.

Female: The distinction dies hard. There’s traditional students, and that’s what these institutions have been set up to do, and there’s the non-traditional. Some universities… They integrated beautifully. UMUC, there are places… Where there the big exception.

Carol: Is anybody here from a public university? Do you differentiate by age? You can be 42 and go to the public and community college, have no age distinctions and they have 80% of the market.

Male: We do distinguish between face-to-face and online.

Carol: But they don’t pay as much. No, you know what it is? Because you have your primary goal is a traditional day student, and these others came in, as the history purveyed yesterday, as revenue sources and separate units, get them out of the way, take the cash, and support the traditional. The public universities never had that problem. Morning, noon, and night, any age, any sex, any background.

Female: Communities.

Carol: Community college, and they have 80% of the market. You know, 80% of college students go to the public. So the privates… It feels to me they may have started coming around and not making these artificial distinctions about your background or your status in life. We’re one place, we have programs at these hours and these times and at these speeds, what’s right for you? You can be 19 and want an accelerated program, you can be 50 and want a full-time day. Just depends on the circumstances.

Female: They removed the stigma to do that. It removes the stigma to do that.

Carol: Well, and the privates start thinking that way, the others who are holding these distinctions are going to fall by the wayside.

Male: Rankings have a lot to do with this in the background. Why schools discount so heavy a lot of times with the traditional students is because they’re trying to get the right freshmen. They’re trying to get ones that make their profile look better, so when they’re in US News and World Report, because that’s all they’re reporting on, the scorecard, all those things really just look at [inaudible] data and first-time freshmen. That’s why a lot of schools will even push a first-year student into the spring, because they’re not counted against their whole.

Carol: Why don’t the publics think that way?

Male: I think a lot of them do.

Carol: Well, but they don’t have distinctions.

Male: It’s different when you talk about distinctions about can you start an evening program or things of that nature, but in terms of the structure of who you want to come as a first-time freshman, that’s what US News looks at. That’s what… My campus, we can handle that.

Carol: You’re right. And NCS, all the iPads, all of them have that same traditional viewpoint. Maybe that has to change first. Or the more competitive privates will see, wow we got to get a larger share, we just act like the publics.

Male: I was wondering what everyone thought about the investment of big dollars by Penn State World Campus, Arizona State, that are publicly-funded universities, backed by the states in Arizona and in Pennsylvania going up against public and privates throughout adult education. It’s a big deal, and we see them on digital radio, for those in New Jersey, we see them on the Path train, they’ve taken over trains and, yeah.

Lisa: Huge units with great people. Lots of innovation, mooks, wonderful employees and experts, it’s successful. Campus at Penn State just took off, they couldn’t keep up with the growth, these are entrepreneurial models, they’re driven by state universities that are able to keep the tuition controlled, and their programs are terrific and ubiquitous. They’re leaders in the space. Is there something you think you…?

Male: No, I just think that what you have is essentially… We complain about China, investing in different kinds of state government-funded enterprises, competing against American’s independent private companies. What I’m seeing here is the state of Arizona, the state of Pennsylvania—

Lisa: And New York.

Male: –investing and competing against not state-run necessarily entities, and using the financial support of those states to build this enterprise.

Lisa: This is hurting our market.

Carol: A very good point.

Male: My only caution there is, if you look at it, the support that states are providing public institutions, it has decreased dramatically. And to the point that most, what big public universities are saying, they are state-affiliated, they are not state-supported. And so, Lisa, you’re absolutely right. They have become far more entrepreneurial and they are competing, certainly with all of us who are private universities. But I think you’re not getting the response from states and from politicians because they really aren’t putting the money into the institutions the way it used to be. And they’re saying, “Why should we put in our state dollars to educate a student from Arizona? Why should we put Louisiana dollars into those?” That’s why Louisiana taxpayers are paying, what benefit are they getting? So, they’re not… Our state legislature is not thrilled when we have out-of-state students taking our courses.

Male: There was a huge story in the Chronicle of Higher Ed in the last year about institutions, big in state leadership, lobbying their state legislatures to decrease the number of students that must be from the state by demonstrating that they were going to… The out-of-state tuition was much larger, and it would pay for it. And Penn State… Actually, out-of-state people could, from all over Penn State, could help to fund—

Lisa: So why isn’t that true in Louisiana? They pay higher from out of state.

Male: We jacked up our out-of-state tuition and that dropped our out-of-state enrollment. So, yeah. But it’s problematic in our professional programs that are highly competitive, but we have maybe 26 slots a year for a Master’s in speech language pathology because of the limited number of clinical positions that they can fill, so if we fill half of those with out-of-state students and somebody from Louisiana doesn’t get in, they contact the legislator and we get a call: “Why did this student not get in?”

Carol: Okay, one final comment.

Female: I was CAO of an all online university, a for-profit which closed, and we had that problem. There were states, I believe North Carolina, that began to just tell us no because we were predatorily taking their students and making it difficult for the students in the state to get education through their own, yeah.

Carol: Great. Roger?

Roger: Carol, just a question for the audience. Are most of you aware of SARA and the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement because I think that’s going to have a huge impact on some of the cross-state enrollments, particularly as it impacts online learning. And then, just one last comment, there’s a lot in the media, about 1.3 trillion dollars of student debt out there, and it is huge, but what most people don’t realize is that the average cost of the student that graduated from a private university is about $31,000, from the public about $29,000, a lot less than most of us pay for cars I think. And if you ask the average American citizen on the street, they probably would tell you that people are graduating with in excess of $100,000. The other part of that, you can take $68 billion, was made last year by the federal government on interest, on that 1.3 trillion dollars. And we need to figure out what’s happening to that 68 billion dollars when it goes back in to the federal government. So the issue is true, it’s a huge debt, but you start breaking it down, there are a lot of significant questions that all of us need to be asking in higher education.

Carol: Good closing statement. Gives us something to work toward. Thank you very much. Good panel. Appreciate your comments.

Anthony Levato
AUTHOR

Anthony Levato

I'm the Director of Marketing at EducationDynamics. I enjoy taking classes online, reading and writing about marketing, and riding my bicycle in New York City. You may contact me directly at alevato@educationdynamics.com

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