Gainful Employment Into Gainful Advantage: How Non-Profits & For-Profits Can Turn The Tables

Posted: September 1, 2010 in Commentary
Tags: , , , ,

It has been over two weeks since the gavel came down at the U.S. Senate hearing examining for-profits and deceptive recruitment/financial aid tactics. The highlight was the release of videos of congressional investigators catching the largest for-profit schools “in the act.” While the hearing was little more than a forum for politicians to pontificate, it had a devastating impact. The secret-shopper scenes could not be defended and ever since, the media has been full of highly critical articles of how for-profit schools are taking gross advantage of students and taxpayers.

Over the past week, much of the chatter has turned to the implementation of so-called Gainful Employment regulations that would in effect establish price controls and eliminate certain occupational programs. These career programs are some of the most popular and profitable offerings for companies such as Kaplan, EDMC, and Corinthian Colleges. While the proposed regulations would apply to all institutions, the impact would mostly be felt by for-profit entities. Ironically, many of the schools that were highlighted by the secret-shopper videos are schools that would be most impacted by Gainful Employment.

Many of the larger for-profit education corporations have warned investors that regulatory changes and most specifically Gainful Employment could have a materially adverse impact on their businesses. These warnings coupled with all the negative press out there are not only hammering stock prices but also leaving many of the for-profits with questions on what to do next and what may happen next. Conversely, many non-profit institutions are trying to determine how they might be able to benefit from all of this.

STRATEGIES FOR FOR-PROFITS

Let’s start with ideas for the for-profits. The largest obstacles for having students obtain “gainful employment” so that they are in a position to benefit from their education and repay their student loans are a) making sure students actually persist until completion and b) securing appropriate employment opportunities for students. For-profits that have found ways to address these two issues (and there are ones that have) have a significant advantage.

For-profits should consider implementing proactive retention strategies as well as career placement solutions. This starts with providing each and every student with a caring, dedicated Retention or Reenrollment Counselor. The focus of this counselor should be to get to know each and every student as well as their unique needs. Furthermore, this counselor should make consistent contact with the student to check-in, motivate, and mentor. Whether it is providing a bridge to student services, social services, academic advisors, or financial aid; this counselor should be trained and empowered to help remove any and all obstacles that might prevent a student from completing a specific program. In essence, a counselor should act as a student’s advocate and be just as passionate about seeing a student graduate as an Enrollment Counselor might be to matriculate a prospective student.

Retention Counseling should be supplemented by professional Career & Education Advisors who not only help students write a resume or show them how to login to Monster.com but can prepare students for interviews, build confidence, and work as each student’s partner in securing employment. These advisors should be available to students not only before graduation but long afterward.

Another key strategy is administering a simple online personality assessment to all new students that measures student strengths and weaknesses in 15 key areas. The assessment provides counselors, career advisors, and faculty with a proactive glimpse of how each individual needs to be motivated, mentored, or coached.

These solutions seem costly and complex. The reality is they are, however, the ROI is substantial. Clients of ours that utilize these solutions see on average a 26% improvement in graduation rates and a 39% improvement in career placement even in today’s challenging economy. Not only do these solutions allow schools to better serve their students while providing better outcomes but they also help schools with their bottom line. Finally, schools that promote the existence of these services will recruit more students – especially in the current press climate!

For-profits also need to ensure their programs are at the cutting edge of employment demand – ensuring that students have a better chance to secure employment and maximize earning potential. The cumulative effect of all these strategies is to enhance enrollment revenue and profitability, possibly enabling schools to lower prices without reducing their margins which is so important to Wall Street.

HOW CAN NON-PROFITS BENEFIT

There is no way to sugar coat it. With each passing day, the for-profits are gaining a worse reputation than BP and the common cold combined! This provides non-profits with a unique opportunity to benefit at least in the short-term. While I prefer strategies that allow for long-term gains, a short-term advantage can help many non-profits generate more momentum that can produce long-term results. So what are the 3 key steps that every tuition dependent non-profit that loses student enrollments to for-profit schools should consider taking?

First, an applicable institution (schools that are not highly selective and cater to non-traditional students) must come to the realization that even though they may not compare themselves to a for-profit school, they may be losing students and relevance at the hands of for-profits. Stakeholders must decide to change and act with time of the essence so that they may effectively compete. Part of this decision involves taking risks and thinking outside of the box. There are many resources out there to help schools do just this. Further, institutions do not need to sacrifice their values or educational quality but they should realize that whether they like it or not for-profits will and (in the long-term) probably continue to be a growing competitive force that will draw students.

Next, schools must reevaluate their offerings. If non-traditional students are being served, fully online options should be available. Online programs should be of the highest quality, interactive, accelerated, and applicable to today’s most relevant career opportunities. In some cases, this may mean that institutions may need to look to offer new programs. In other cases, existing programs may need to be modified or reinvented. By way of example, an MBA with a concentration in Accounting that was popular 5 years ago may need to be retooled into a Masters of Accounting program that has much greater career relevancy today.

Finally, non-profits should not only focus on their strengths such as history, having traditional campuses, reputation, full-time faculty, and distinct missions but also on areas that have been traditional benefits offered by the for-profits – acceleration, career-focused programs, flexibility, and in many cases technology. Providing special support services including the type of proactive retention and career counseling mentioned earlier is also key – as it is a competitive advantage compared to most for-profits and non-profits alike.

Do you have other ideas? We would like to hear them!

John Hall
Greenwood & Hall
jhall@greenwoodhall.com

http://greenwoodhall.com/blog/2010/08/gainful-employment-into-gainful-advantage-how-non-profits-for-profits-can-turn-the-tables/

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s