The Agile College

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Nathan Grawe, Author and Professor of Economics at Carleton College joined the podcast to talk about his new book, The Agile College, and the enrollment growth strategies higher ed needs to consider to successfully navigate the new demographic changes that are coming.

Some institutions might recruit their way through this, but most are going to have to deal with the unpleasant arithmetic that we can't all increase the number of students that we are recruiting. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect eedu podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helott education and we're here today with Dr Nathan Groth, author and professor of Economics at Carlton College. Nathan, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Really excited to talk with you today about your new book, the Agile College and some of the enrollment growth strategies that hire d needs to at least consider in order to navigate the...

...new demographic changes that are coming. But before we dig in, getting good listeners, a little bit of background on both Carlton College and Your Role. They're sure so. I teach in the Economics Department at Carlton, where I've been for twenty two years. Carlton is a highly selective liberal arts college located about forty five minutes south of Minneapolis St Paul. We have about two thousand students, so we're a residential liberal arts college. Love it. Ei Than Your first book. Demographics in the demand for higher education provided, I would argue, a sobering reality check for many of us that the consistent eight percent year over year in Roman gains we had been experiencing earlier this century were perhaps not only because of our brilliant marketing strategies but because of sheer demographics being in our paper for so long, with the continually growing high school graduating class year over year. That's no longer true. So, to catch us up to speed, what are some of the biggest demographic challenges that higher it is going to be up against in the next two decades? I think they're really two...

...and the first we have a bit of experience with, and that's the changing composition of the American student body, the domestic student body. Obviously we can also think about international student markets, but thinking about the domestic pool, it's becoming more diverse in a number of dimensions, and that's because of changes in fertility patterns across different demographic groups. It's also the case that we're seeing changes in composition geographically due to migration and immigration. So this sort of changing composition is something that's relatively slow moving and I think most campuses have certainly gotten pretty accustomed to being aware of at least and beginning to think about how they need to adapt. The second challenge is simply the number of kids being born. So if we go back to two thousand and seven, right before the financial crisis, the United States was actually producing children a rate greater than what's called the replacement rate, the rate necessary to replace the population just with birds alone. But then the financial crisis we saw young families experiencing economic uncertainty and pull...

...back on fertility. And in fact, all the way through two thousand and twenty now we know that we've seen a contraction in the number of birds. And so if we flash forward eighteen years, the traditional aged college student market will start to contract in the mid S, while isn't going to be a contraction really until the mid twent S. I think we're actually experiencing some of the the pains associated with that shrinking pool already because, as you noted, we sort of grew up and got used to and ever increasing pool, and so it's some sense grappling with scarcity. Just having the same number of kids come out every year is a challenge in itself because you can't paper over maybe some less than best practices just by getting some additional students into your school. And on top of that we already have in some parts of the country started the downturn in the number. So if we look in the Great Lakes region up into the northeast, we're already on the downward slide and that will that the pace of that slide will pick up in the next five years or so and we do see then in schools in those regions the struggles that come from...

...a shrinking student pool. It's interesting you look at that. Two Thousand and seven, two eight is this really interesting turning point. I wonder if anything else happened in the last eighteen months. That's a my greatest similar one down the line, Nathan, is there anything that we can learn from looking at past pandemics or similar events to try and, as tomate some projected demographic changes that covid may be creating for future higher education demand. Yeah, there's been really interesting work done by Melissa Kearney and Phil Lavine writing over at the Brookings Institution about just that, that question. And so they look back at the one thousand, nine hundred and eighteen flu pandemic and in particular what they find is that when the numbers of deaths spike, we see nine months later that there are fewer children being born. In addition, pandemics, of course, can also have financial consequences, and so, using the great recession as a guide, they also think about what the economic consequences of the pandemic might be.

Putting those two things together, they estimate that we might see that in two thousand and twenty one there are three hundred to five hundred thousand fewer birds than we otherwise might have. So your listeners might have heard maybe three months ago, two months ago, the CDC announced numbers for two thousand and twenty and they were down four percent. It's easy to hear the year two thousand and twenty and immediately have this adverse reaction. Oh my gosh, that's covid. But the four percent decline in two thousand and twenty and burghs was largely not covid, remembering that covid didn't really start to affect us in terms of having lockdowns and things like that until March. So nine months after March, the December day it up might reflect Covid, and December was indeed particularly bad. In Two thousand and twenty but we already saw declines all the way up through November, suggesting the birds were already low. The real consequences of Covid will happen in two thousand and twenty one. So Kurnie and Levine are pretty pessimistic about what the pandemic will do. We can hope that that's just delayed birds rather than lost births, so that maybe two thousand and twenty two we...

...might have more brave babies born. And I'm hoping that their analysis is overly pessimistic because they're looking at the consequences of the financial recession in two thousand and eight, two thousand and nine to try to gage what will the pandemics, and I'm a consequences be, and we've been really aggressive in the last eighteen months with stimulus, and so it's possible that the fallout won't be quite so severe so remains be seen. I mean we're living it right now and so we'll have more information very shortly about how two thousand and twenty one actually bears out. I'm excited for a surprise chapter in your book eighteen years not called bitcoin babies, the yeah population we didn't see coming. Nathan. In your last book you pointed out our demographic reality in the Agile College. Your new book you provide some strategic options about what higher read should could do about it. What are a few of those high level strategic suggestions? The first place that people obviously are going to look at is let's recruit our way out. If the pool is shrinking, let's find new market, and I think to...

...some degree we should look at this. When we look at the differences in matriculation by, say, race and ethnicity, we know we have more work to be done in the area of access, even as we have made progress in recent decades, and so I'm not saying that we shouldn't do that. But on the other hand, I think if all we do is look at the decline in babies that we are expecting and say we're going to offset that by increasing matriculation rates, we're not being terribly realistic. Some institutions might recruit their way through this, but most are going to have to deal with the unpleasant arithmetic that we can't all increase the number of students that we are recruiting if the pool is falling and matriculation rates don't jump in some absurdly strong way. So I think, in other words, we're going to have to look at some additional strategies as well. Yes, let's be on our a game when it comes to expanding access and recruitment, but we also, for instance, need to look hard at retention. Perhaps the cheapest student to recruit is already on our campus, and that often falls to enrollment management office. And...

...obviously a lot of campuses are working hard to break that conversation out to the rest of campus to get other staff and faculty engaged with what is really a problem that belongs to all of us. If we can increase retension, then it's possible that even though the numbers of students who walk in the front door remains the same or even declines, we might have stable or increasing enrollments in total. And so I think we're at tension work and student success work might be some of the most optimistic ways to approach this problem. But of course you can't simply tell the enrollment management office to do something to change retention and student success while leaving the rest of the campus untouched. And so I think we also have to be open a conversations about how do we change the academic program and how do we think, maybe differently about how we identify ourselves? Who Are we? And if we aren't willing to do this work, then we might have to do some harder work, things like retrenchment. So I think we do have some opportunities in terms of recruitment, but we're going to...

...have to look beyond recruitment, given the size of the decline in fertility we're seeing. What about a green field exercise? You have have out argue unique nostre Damas esque knowledge of what is coming based on your research. If you were starting a university from scratch, knowing what the demographics are going to look like in two thousand and thirty, and you get to launch that university in the fall of twenty nine, what are you building and maybe more importantly, who specifically are you trying to build it for? I think it's a great question. I think the answer. It's probably going to be a little unsatisfying for some of your listeners. The answer is probably that there isn't a single answer. Yeah, one of the great attributes of the American hied system is that it is so diverse. We have to year schools, we have highly selective for your schools. We of open access for your institutions. We have residential campuses, commuter campuses, we have sectarian and non sectarian, we have single sex and and so on. And what that means is that don't matter...

...what it is that someone needs in the higher education sphere, they can probably find it, and I think there are going to be opportunities from most institution types. If we were thinking about it from an existing institutions point of view, I guess at what I would say is we have to think hard about the context and the circumstances. I give examples of tactics to address these various aspects of higher education practice. But I also stressed that we can't simply take somebody else's activity off the shelf and plug it in on our campus. We have to think about how it needs to be adapted to fit our circumstance. And so similarly here, yeah, I'm biased, obviously. I teach a Carlton, which is a residential Liberal Arts College, and I feel very, very strongly that that's an important form of education. So, frankly, if I were to create an institution, I would probably start with that kind of education because it's what I know. But that doesn't mean it's the only kind that we work I think they're going to be opportunities for two year institutions that focus on the adult learner market. We have about a hundred and fifty million...

...workers at any point in time. It doesn't take very much market penetration there to offset whatever decline we're seeing in the traditional aged we have campuses that will focus on Hispanic communities and we'll have campuses that will focus on white communities. We have campuses that will focus on the southwest, but will also need campuses continue in the northeast, even though that's disproportionately declining. So I you know, certainly the case that if you find yourself in the mountain west, say you are advantage just because the demographics are stronger there. But that's not to say that there aren't successful paths forward for institutions of all types. If in super helpful. Finally, leave us with some next steps advice for institutions listening there, looking to prepare for an align themselves with this next chapter of higher education. Where should they start? First, I would say start with mission. Whatever is going to happen next had better aligned while with your mission. Quote John McGee, the author of break point in my book, where he talks very eloquently about the importance that as we approach these changing tactics, that...

...it better align with a bigger strategy. Often campuses come to a point of change when they when they experience crisis. Maybe crisis is an important motivator, but it can also lead US astray, because in that point of crisis we can just be grasping for anything, and if we end up grasping is a set of tactics that don't line up with each other and don't line up with who we are as in institution, what our mission is, we end up having less than success as we move forward. So really knowing who you are and asking whether what you've been is what you need to continue to be seems to me like a great place to start. I think a second thing that needs to happen early on is is a little bit of realism to look at the markets you're serving. Some institutions have a small number of feeder schools, for instance. You can easily get enrollment data and see in the feeder schools that I am working on. What do I see is coming down the pike? Now, I think if you see that the schools that you draw from are doing relatively well, you can't stop there because you have to remember that...

...we are in a national context and if other schools are drawing on pools that are shrinking, and I guess the other pools have to be shrinking faster than average, if your pool is not shrinking at all, then we have to expect competitors to start looking at our healthy pools. But at least it's a good place to start. What is going on in the the markets that I'm serving and how big a change do we need to make? Once you you know what your mission is and you know the size of the challenge that you potentially face, then I think it becomes clearer what needs to be done. Will it be sufficient to increase our first year attention rate by three percentage points? Well, if we know kind of what we face in terms of the demographic challenges, we might be able to conclude that yes, that will suffice or no, that's not nearly aggressive enough. We need to do that and a whole bunch more. So having a clear sense of who we are and who we need to be and having a laser like focus on that, while sizing up the size of the challenge that we face, I think is a great place to start these conversations. I hope also the book will be helpful...

...just because it gives so many different examples of what other people are doing, not that you would copy those exactly, but that it might be a starting point for conversation, to break people's minds open and maybe they adapt something that other people are doing or maybe observing what others do sparks an entirely novel response of how Your Own Institution might respond. Yeah, Nathan, let's point them to that starting point. Thank you so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to go? Grab the Agile College so they can get at the John Hopkins University Press website or at Amazon or a number of other online booksellers. Awesome, Nathan. Thanks so much for joining us today. Thank you for having me, attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Download...

...it today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the shown itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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