Pandemic aftereffects, inflation, and economic instability continue to create uncertainty in the value and relevance of higher education for many prospective students and their parents. This uncertainty, and challenging demographic trends, have created an enrollment crisis for many institutions.
Re-establishing confidence in students and parents begins with a creative reimagining of the system’s fundamental design with a goal of combatting two critical issues.
Students investing time and accumulating debt without earning a degree
Colleges and universities losing tuition revenue needed to keep many of their academic programs financially sustainable
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This redesign process begins with a reassessment of the current student population. Unlike in the past, today’s students must often work and/or support family members while attending school, and this trend shows no sign of abating. What hasn’t changed is the power of a degree to provide a bridge toward a better job or career path in the future. Yet too many students, especially working learners and students from under-represented minorities, do not make it to the finish line of degree completion. Part of the solution lies within the control of our colleges and universities – providing a clear path to completion.
Flexible scheduling sits at the retention nexus of enrollment and completion – one of the biggest levers an institution can use to retain and re-enroll students. With the need to manage school, work, and family, students must have scheduling options that consider reliable and consistent availability of courses in the same modality, time, and location. Likewise, institutions feeling the pressure to attract and retain today’s students can benefit from guaranteeing a clear path forward from enrollment to graduation.
Too often though, progress becomes impaired by faculty-centric scheduling and an institutional tendency to fall back on a “business as usual” approach that restricts the creation of clear pathways to completion.
Keeping our promise to provide clear completion paths means creating clarity for students and academic departments, offering the ability to plan into the future and support goals of on-time graduation.
Design data-driven pathways: Good pathways improve enrollment health, increased course sharing, and course cross-listing opportunities.
Make it clear: Regularly communicate schedule information and changes to students and advisors.
Employ data-informed completion paths: Data provides a discussion that’s productive and focused, highlighting the course offerings needed to provide clear completion paths for each academic program.
Keep it student-centric: Instead of beginning with faculty availability, start with students first. Then add part-time faculty and virtual offerings to ensure clear completion paths.
With uneven demand across higher education, institutions need to quickly and thoughtfully rethink offerings to meet demand in a sustainable way while making good on completion promises to students. Such efforts strongly increase the likelihood of attracting and retaining students and offer the ability for them to complete programs on-time and without unnecessary expense and debt.
The current economic situation and a looming recession offer even more reasons why institutions need to pursue a different approach to scheduling with courses based on student demand, allowing for predictable schedules across multiple semesters. By working together, we can meet complex needs and lived realities by helping students manage their life around college – meeting them where they in the moment.
Ad Astra partners with institutions to provide software solutions, benchmark outcomes, and forecast what will move the needle in higher education. **
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Founder and CEO, Ad Astra