5 Entrepreneurial Strategies Universities Can Use to Boost Enrollment

Is your small, private college suffering from low enrollment? If you are the President or VP of Enrollment at a small college, non-profit or traditional university, now may be the right time to make some entrepreneurial changes to your offerings. Looking at your university outside of your college walls, with an entrepreneurial mindset can help boost enrollment while setting up a place for the next generation to not only succeed, but to thrive as well.

According to NPR, undergraduate college enrollment in the United States is down for the sixth straight year. This decline is happening across the board in higher education. Also, enrollment of adult learners in higher education institutions has decreased by more than 1.5 million since 2011.

The National Center for Education Statistics states that 38% of college students are now older than 25 years old. For colleges to accommodate all learning populations, they must think outside the box–provide real-world offerings, offer flexible degree options, and build curriculum that provides a strong ROI. 

To this day, most small colleges and traditional universities are not equipped to attract and meet the needs of the traditional and non-traditional students, which include older students, working adults, and adults with children at home.

My Role in Higher Education

In 2006, I completed a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction at National Louis University. Upon graduation, my last professor along with the Department Chair asked me to stay and build out a new advising program for graduate students. Over the course of six years, I launched, managed and grew the first graduate advising program in the history of the institution.

With a roster of over 2,500 teacher advisees working on their Master degrees and ESL and Bilingual endorsements, my role came with a great deal of responsibility and various challenges. It was my job to ensure that all current and prospective students received the right services, necessary resources, and career guidance as needed.

The role was a phenomenal success, as we saw enrollment grow over 50% on-site for the M.Ed., and over 500% for teaching clusters out in the field. 

Empathy and Personal Connection

The increase in enrollment could also be traced back to two areas: personalization and connection. Because I went through the M.Ed., and was an ESL teacher myself, I was able to connect with our current and prospective students in a unique way. I was able to empathize with student teachers, advise them toward the best fitting instructors, and provide personal career guidance.

During my time at National Louis, I learned how a traditional university can change its mindset, pivot when necessary, and thrive for years to come. And, this past June, National Louis University’s Pathways Program won the Eduventures 2018 Innovation Award for Student Success.

Today’s Student

Today, students are educated consumers. They are looking for affordable educational solutions that provide flexibility, technology, and a path that includes not only a career, but also one that incorporates and builds upon natural entrepreneurial skills.

In order to keep up with the vast changes and demands in higher education, traditional schools risk becoming obsolete if they don’t make changes to accommodate the needs of the 21st-century learner. As a higher education institution, the keys to success must include the ability to provide real-world learning, listening to graduate student feedback, relevancy to the global population, as well as providing affordable options to the community. These factors better the chances for universities to thrive, while achieving profit at the same time.

Dr. Ron Wagner, CEO and President of Relearnit states, “By positioning yourself as an entrepreneurial institution that not only values a superior educational experience, but also provides first-rate student care, profit will be a natural byproduct.”

Five Ways your Institution Can Increase Enrollment:

Create Curriculum that Meets Real-World Needs and Provide Unique Choices

Universities can increase enrollment when they offer curriculum that meets real-life business and career challenges. For example, if a potential student wants to become a teacher, a university can offer various courses outside of the standard curriculum, which is typically learning methods and materials, educational theory, and curriculum building courses.

When universities think outside of the box, students will begin to enroll again. For example, offer classes that will provide new teachers with the abilities to expand his or her opportunities outside of the classroom. Offer courses about networking, LinkedIn, branding, writing, building an education business, and provide opportunities for potential teachers to see outside of classroom walls. Bring in speakers who can share their stories of transition or different ways they may be using a teaching degree. Adding innovation and entrepreneurship experiences will attract potential new enrollments, and will help your university stay relevant in our fast-paced world.

Help Students Launch Their Own Businesses

According to Nation 1099, “Anyone following workforce trends will have seen eye-popping numbers about the gig economy along the lines of all workers are freelancers, or half of us will be in the gig economy by 2020.”

Considering the rapid technological changes that took place over the past decade, nothing would be better than teaching, exposing, and helping students launch their own businesses. Universities, both large and small, can create community partnerships with local businesses and non-profits. They can also provide hands-on experiences by shadowing leaders, meeting with other student-entrepreneurs, and creating opportunities to learn from some of the most successful founders.

If universities can see life outside of their classrooms, they can create ways to build relationships with external entities such as the Small Business Administration. Students can learn how to file patents, create pitches, find funding, and network with people who can mentor and assist them.

In addition, Dr. Ron Wagner states that universities can also do the following to boost enrollment:

Engage with Graduates

Ask questions to glean information from the students who are about to leave and embark on careers. Do they feel like their chosen degree path prepared them to go into their field? Students tend to be quite frank when questioned about their classroom experiences, professors, and the caliber of their education. If you garner the opinions of your graduates, you might uncover some weak areas that need to be changed, as well as learn which educational experiences were valuable to them.

Create a Student Discussion Forum

To set yourself apart as an education entrepreneur, bring in key administrators and students who are in diverse stages of their education, and listen to their points of view in a “town hall” style discussion. Hearing about various student experiences will provide insights that can bolster student satisfaction in the future if your school is open to change.

Placing the concerns and opinions of the students as priorities will definitely increase your profit margin. Students don’t often get a say in their educational experience, so if you want to be an innovator, change up the dynamics and let the students communicate where change needs to occur.

Hire Staff with the Same Vision

Be bold, and hire staff and faculty members who possess that entrepreneurial spirit as well. When you model being an entrepreneur of education, you will see the trickle-down effect across your campus. Not only will there be a shift in mindset, but the programs themselves will also go through a transformation. The faculty will push the idea of being an education entrepreneur into the “market” well before a board or committee would. That will be the turning point in your school. The faculty will build an atmosphere of growth and change, creating a paradigm shift on the campus that will provide superior student-centered training opportunities.

When you put students in the driver’s seat, you’ll be surprised at how much they can do with some in-house guidance and mentors from the outside–and this includes building thriving businesses.

Look outside of those classroom walls, and make the education process pertinent to real life.  Universities may find simple changes can lead to grand results.

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