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 throughthis, but most are going to have to deal with the unpleasant arithmetic thatwe can't all increase the number of students that we are recruiting. You're listeningto enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for highereducation leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're lookingfor fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come tothe right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growthuniversity, a proud member of the connect eedu podcast network. I'm Eric Olsonwith Helott education and we're here today with Dr Nathan Groth, author and professorof Economics at Carlton College. Nathan, welcome to the show. Thanks forhaving 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 toat 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 backgroundon both Carlton College and Your Role. They're sure so. I teach inthe Economics Department at Carlton, where I've been for twenty two years. Carltonis a highly selective liberal arts college located about forty five minutes south of MinneapolisSt Paul. We have about two thousand students, so we're a residential liberalarts college. Love it. Ei Than Your first book. Demographics in thedemand for higher education provided, I would argue, a sobering reality check formany of us that the consistent eight percent year over year in Roman gains wehad been experiencing earlier this century were perhaps not only because of our brilliant marketingstrategies but because of sheer demographics being in our paper for so long, withthe 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 thebiggest demographic challenges that higher it is going to be up against in the nexttwo decades? I think they're really two...

...and the first we have a bitof 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 ofdimensions, 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 andimmigration. So this sort of changing composition is something that's relatively slow moving andI think most campuses have certainly gotten pretty accustomed to being aware of at leastand beginning to think about how they need to adapt. The second challenge issimply the number of kids being born. So if we go back to twothousand and seven, right before the financial crisis, the United States was actuallyproducing children a rate greater than what's called the replacement rate, the rate necessaryto replace the population just with birds alone. But then the financial crisis we sawyoung 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 seena contraction in the number of birds. And so if we flash forward eighteenyears, the traditional aged college student market will start to contract in the midS, 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 shrinkingpool already because, as you noted, we sort of grew up and gotused 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 challengein itself because you can't paper over maybe some less than best practices just bygetting some additional students into your school. And on top of that we alreadyhave in some parts of the country started the downturn in the number. Soif we look in the Great Lakes region up into the northeast, we're alreadyon the downward slide and that will that the pace of that slide will pickup in the next five years or so and we do see then in schoolsin those regions the struggles that come from...

...a shrinking student pool. It's interestingyou look at that. Two Thousand and seven, two eight is this reallyinteresting 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 thereanything that we can learn from looking at past pandemics or similar events to tryand, as tomate some projected demographic changes that covid may be creating for futurehigher education demand. Yeah, there's been really interesting work done by Melissa Kearneyand 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 eighteenflu pandemic and in particular what they find is that when the numbers of deathsspike, we see nine months later that there are fewer children being born.In addition, pandemics, of course, can also have financial consequences, andso, using the great recession as a guide, they also think about whatthe economic consequences of the pandemic might be.

Putting those two things together, theyestimate that we might see that in two thousand and twenty one there arethree hundred to five hundred thousand fewer birds than we otherwise might have. Soyour listeners might have heard maybe three months ago, two months ago, theCDC 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 adversereaction. Oh my gosh, that's covid. But the four percent decline in twothousand and twenty and burghs was largely not covid, remembering that covid didn'treally start to affect us in terms of having lockdowns and things like that untilMarch. So nine months after March, the December day it up might reflectCovid, and December was indeed particularly bad. In Two thousand and twenty but wealready saw declines all the way up through November, suggesting the birds werealready low. The real consequences of Covid will happen in two thousand and twentyone. 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, sothat 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 consequencesof the financial recession in two thousand and eight, two thousand and nine totry to gage what will the pandemics, and I'm a consequences be, andwe've been really aggressive in the last eighteen months with stimulus, and so it'spossible that the fallout won't be quite so severe so remains be seen. Imean we're living it right now and so we'll have more information very shortly abouthow two thousand and twenty one actually bears out. I'm excited for a surprisechapter in your book eighteen years not called bitcoin babies, the yeah population wedidn't see coming. Nathan. In your last book you pointed out our demographicreality in the Agile College. Your new book you provide some strategic options aboutwhat higher read should could do about it. What are a few of those highlevel strategic suggestions? The first place that people obviously are going to lookat is let's recruit our way out. If the pool is shrinking, let'sfind new market, and I think to...

...some degree we should look at this. When we look at the differences in matriculation by, say, race andethnicity, we know we have more work to be done in the area ofaccess, even as we have made progress in recent decades, and so I'mnot saying that we shouldn't do that. But on the other hand, Ithink if all we do is look at the decline in babies that we areexpecting and say we're going to offset that by increasing matriculation rates, we're notbeing terribly realistic. Some institutions might recruit their way through this, but mostare going to have to deal with the unpleasant arithmetic that we can't all increasethe number of students that we are recruiting if the pool is falling and matriculationrates 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 andrecruitment, but we also, for instance, need to look hard at retention.Perhaps the cheapest student to recruit is already on our campus, and thatoften falls to enrollment management office. And...

...obviously a lot of campuses are workinghard to break that conversation out to the rest of campus to get other staffand 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 numbersof 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'reat tension work and student success work might be some of the most optimistic waysto approach this problem. But of course you can't simply tell the enrollment managementoffice to do something to change retention and student success while leaving the rest ofthe campus untouched. And so I think we also have to be open aconversations 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 wearen't willing to do this work, then we might have to do some harderwork, things like retrenchment. So I think we do have some opportunities interms of recruitment, but we're going to...

...have to look beyond recruitment, giventhe size of the decline in fertility we're seeing. What about a green fieldexercise? You have have out argue unique nostre Damas esque knowledge of what iscoming 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, whatare you building and maybe more importantly, who specifically are you trying to buildit 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. Theanswer is probably that there isn't a single answer. Yeah, one of thegreat attributes of the American hied system is that it is so diverse. Wehave to year schools, we have highly selective for your schools. We ofopen access for your institutions. We have residential campuses, commuter campuses, wehave 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 inthe higher education sphere, they can probably find it, and I think thereare going to be opportunities from most institution types. If we were thinking aboutit from an existing institutions point of view, I guess at what I would sayis we have to think hard about the context and the circumstances. Igive examples of tactics to address these various aspects of higher education practice. ButI also stressed that we can't simply take somebody else's activity off the shelf andplug it in on our campus. We have to think about how it needsto be adapted to fit our circumstance. And so similarly here, yeah,I'm biased, obviously. I teach a Carlton, which is a residential LiberalArts College, and I feel very, very strongly that that's an important formof 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 goingto 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 inthe traditional aged we have campuses that will focus on Hispanic communities and we'll havecampuses that will focus on white communities. We have campuses that will focus onthe southwest, but will also need campuses continue in the northeast, even thoughthat's disproportionately declining. So I you know, certainly the case that if you findyourself in the mountain west, say you are advantage just because the demographicsare stronger there. But that's not to say that there aren't successful paths forwardfor institutions of all types. If in super helpful. Finally, leave uswith some next steps advice for institutions listening there, looking to prepare for analign 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 hadbetter aligned while with your mission. Quote John McGee, the author ofbreak point in my book, where he talks very eloquently about the importance thatas 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 upwith 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 moveforward. So really knowing who you are and asking whether what you've been iswhat you need to continue to be seems to me like a great place tostart. I think a second thing that needs to happen early on is isa little bit of realism to look at the markets you're serving. Some institutionshave a small number of feeder schools, for instance. You can easily getenrollment data and see in the feeder schools that I am working on. Whatdo I see is coming down the pike? Now, I think if you seethat the schools that you draw from are doing relatively well, you can'tstop there because you have to remember that...

...we are in a national context andif other schools are drawing on pools that are shrinking, and I guess theother pools have to be shrinking faster than average, if your pool is notshrinking at all, then we have to expect competitors to start looking at ourhealthy pools. But at least it's a good place to start. What isgoing on in the the markets that I'm serving and how big a change dowe need to make? Once you you know what your mission is and youknow the size of the challenge that you potentially face, then I think itbecomes clearer what needs to be done. Will it be sufficient to increase ourfirst year attention rate by three percentage points? Well, if we know kind ofwhat we face in terms of the demographic challenges, we might be ableto conclude that yes, that will suffice or no, that's not nearly aggressiveenough. We need to do that and a whole bunch more. So havinga clear sense of who we are and who we need to be and havinga laser like focus on that, while sizing up the size of the challengethat 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 differentexamples 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'sminds open and maybe they adapt something that other people are doing or maybe observingwhat 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 youso 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 Presswebsite or at Amazon or a number of other online booksellers. Awesome, Nathan. Thanks so much for joining us today. Thank you for having me, attractingtoday's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations datadriven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrivein this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition oftheir enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solvetoday'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. Toensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the shown itunes or yourfavorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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