Students Over Profit: The Entrepreneurial Approach To Education
Can your institution be entrepreneurial and put students over profit at the same time?
When a company offers exceptional customer service and high-quality products that are cost-effective, it will reap a profit. Consumers desire and seek out such businesses, so why wouldn’t an educational institution offer the same for today’s students? 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.
Today’s students are shrewd. In the midst of affordable educational solutions, they also desire flexibility and increased technological application. To keep up with the rapid changes in society and technology, schools must be quick to change, as well, or risk becoming obsolete. As a higher education institution, your ability to stay on the leading edge will be the key to remaining successful and achieving profit in the education marketplace.
Since 2010, colleges have seen a decrease in student enrollment due to the demographic changes. Students are no longer as “traditional,” they are in different financial situations, and they are more concerned about securing a career after college. They are asking themselves whether a degree is really all that valuable. If your institution isn’t focused on these pertinent student concerns (and is instead solely concentrating on profit), your bottom line will be affected.
Will PROSPER Affect You?
Another area that might affect colleges is the new PROSPER Act that is an attempt to revise the Higher Education Act of 1965. Educational reform seems like a step in the right direction — post-secondary education needs to keep up with the changing needs of students in the current economy — but there are several key points that still need to be fine-tuned.
For example, financial aid will be completely streamlined, and one loan and one grant will be offered instead of several. Federal aid will also be offered to schools that offer more experience-based programs, and more grants will be offered to students who take on more credit hours. Lower-income students might suffer from the changes due to the fact that several financial aid options will be eliminated.
Another potential change will be the elimination of the public service loan forgiveness programs. In the past, if students entered a public service-related field, after 10 years, their college debt would be forgiven. This bill phases that out, as well as certain grants that assist teachers in high-need districts.
While this is not an exhaustive list of the PROSPER Act changes, your institution will see changes in its lifetime and needs to prepare to approach education differently.
How to Foster an Entrepreneurial Environment
For-profit educational institutions have succeeded in pinpointing the programs that students want and businesses need. Programs that fill the shortage of healthcare providers, for example, are always quite popular. Technical and trade programs also rank highly in higher education. These institutions strive to fill a skill gap in the workforce and are quite successful in marketing their programs professionally.
Traditional schools can learn from this model and add to it. Even though it can be tedious to propose an untraditional approach to programming, design it to fit your school and its staff, and then get it accredited before it can be utilized, there are still several ways you can foster an environment at your educational institution that places students as a priority over profit:
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.
Entrepreneurship vs. Education
In the near future, educational institutions will make an about-face. Those that incorporate forward-thinking, entrepreneurial discipline will be recognized and held up as the new standard. The old educational strategies are falling behind the changing needs of today’s workforce. The traditional two-year and four-year degrees aren’t always the solution for the workforce needed in your area — a highly-skilled workforce is.
If your college can flex and adapt rapidly while also producing learning tracts that get people trained and placed into well-paying positions, that will be the key to helping both employers and employees. There is risk involved with this approach, but the evolution of education and the opportunity to partner with employers and their needs is what drives the economy. These partnerships between a business and education entrepreneurs will close employment gaps and reduce the amount of student debt.
Even if your college is “traditional,” why not take a non-traditional approach to running your it? What happens when you take that courageous step and become an education entrepreneur? Your retention rates increase, educational satisfaction soars, and those savvy career-minded scholars will fill the workforce with the exceptional learning experiences that your school provided.
Ron Wagner is the president and CEO of Relearnit, an organization that partners with universities to offer niche online programs and increase enrollment through strategic marketing. Dr. Wagner has a Ph.D. in pedagogy and a Master of Science in educational/instructional technology, and he’s a tenured associate professor in the department of exercise and sports studies.