4 keys to survival in a rapidly changing ed-tech market

Connor Gray, chief strategy officer at Campus Management, shares four strategies for ed-tech leaders to adapt to new innovation

HR-PI-institutions(Editor’s note: This article is part of “Industry Insights,” a new column in which ed-tech executives offer advice and opinions for campus leaders to consider.)

When Borders Books opened in Ann Arbor, Mich., more than 40 years ago, the company was ahead of its time. The Borders brothers had created an inventory system that tailored each store’s offerings to its community. As recently as 2010, the company boasted 511 superstores in the U.S.

What a difference a year can make. When Borders liquidated its remaining stores in 2011, among the reasons cited for its demise was the company’s failure to foresee the rise of eBooks.

While the quality of higher education in the United States is the envy of the world, colleges and universities are approaching a critical inflection point in the way they do business. As with the bookstore industry, adapting to new innovation, technology, and delivery models will be critical to survival.

In my conversations with dozens of institutions within higher education, I’m hearing about similar challenges across multiple fronts. Greater competition, lower enrollment numbers, reduced funding, and changing demographics are impacting almost every institution. At the same time, we’re all trying to improve student outcomes (Borders was under no pressure to increase literacy while trying to survive market forces).

Higher education is not just sitting back, however. Most, if not all, colleges and universities are offering online education and services of some kind to attract more students and keep them enrolled. Still, offering online academics may not be the “eBooks” equivalent or panacea for higher education.

One of our most successful clients, an early adopter of online and emerging technologies as its model, has seen tremendous growth in its online programs, tripling enrollment year over year, but admits to feeling greater headwinds as more online programs come aboard. While the pool of applicants for this institution has remained fixed in the past several years, the number of online programs competing for those students has increased.

Today, it’s a basic supply-and-demand issue. You may still be able to squeeze out your enrollment numbers by offering online programs, but you may be lowering your prices and digging deeper into a degraded pool of students to hit those numbers. You’re achieving your recruiting goals, but now your revenue and retention rates are shrinking.

While the issues and dynamics of adapting to change are complex and often unique to each institution, some remedies may be found in an honest assessment of your current technology.

(Next page: Four strategies to help campus leaders adapt to change)

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