How Small Colleges Can Drive and Manage Rapid Growth

Matt Jenkins

Corporate Director of Operations, Valley College

In a recent webcast, Matt Jenkins explained how Valley College (West Virginia) managed to grow efficiently and cost-effectively while increasing enrollment 100% in just 12 months. Gain insight into how you can achieve this at your small college by reading this thought-provoking Q&A session.

Is there opportunity for growth online?

CAMPUS MANAGEMENT: What we love about our customers, our organization and technology is watching institutions grow from the time that we engage them initially and how they just expand over time. It is really important when we engage with our customers, we engage with any of our industry peers, that we embrace growth.

When you embrace growth it is recognizing that there is an ebb and flow of growth. You don’t just implement a new technology and push a button and all of a sudden you’re growing your population. It moves through your organization. Typically, it starts with investment in technology tools, marketing dollars, positioning your institution and your area with your programs.

You then start to see an increase in prospects coming in. Increase in applications and so typically you start to scale your organization starting at the front end and then moving through the back end. You want to do it appropriately at the right time so your students are feeling engaged and feel important while you are able to manage those administrative tasks. You don’t want to overengineer administrative tasks so that you lose the ability to connect with these students now that you’ve got them in the door.

How do you plan for growth?

CAMPUS MANAGEMENT: The first part of embracing growth is really understanding what your plan for growth is. How you’re going to handle the increased volume whether it is just time to first contact, to approve applicants, getting those transcripts and transfer credits in so you can be properly packaged and properly scheduled and having more students means having a different way of scheduling faculty and recruiting.

You may have operated very, very successfully at your size for a long period of time running a set of schedules but as you start to have more students come in you have to front load your first classes or prerequisite classes in the beginning. So you need to make sure that as you set milestones for growth you have an opportunity to reevaluate different ways in which you roll your curriculum out, different ways in which you think about scheduling or faculty recruiting or faculty loading or course offering.

You don’t want to create a situation where your students can’t get the classes that they need to move forward or an environment that is too rigid for them to be able to stick with it and have the options that they need to stay engaged and be successful. When you are designing processes or putting in a new system, you want to be open to change.

We are all about adapting and transformation. Looking at the way that you used to do things, looking at the new technology and tools that are available and rethinking the way that you do things to take full advantage of all the technology and the capabilities and modern business practices that are out there. You may have to do things a little bit differently in order to get those efficiencies that you want and that can be very difficult for people to grasp or accept over time.

An important thing that we always talk to with our clients is…Okay, what are the milestones we want to reassess? Are we at a point where we are struggling to have 30 students managed by financial aid processors? Do we now have it under control? Are they now handling 100 at a time. So let’s focus our energies now on having a better student facing experience by using other features that we weren’t able to implement or go live because we weren’t ready for it.

The same for the 90/10 report. We got to a certain place, we see the money coming in, we see the things getting posted to the ledger card and now we can report on it. Okay, now I can start taking advantage of the out of the box features where I wasn’t mature enough to use them in the beginning.

It is really important to remember that even though all of our institutions are unique and we all do things differently, we all do a lot of things alike and there is someone out there that already solved the problem that you are trying to solve so get to know your industry peers. Your peers will challenge your assumptions and give you new ideas or tell you stories about how they went through different growing pains so really be engaged and be opened to your peers in the industry.

How do we continue to grow?

CAMPUS MANAGEMENT: You’re going to realize that the processes that you created were probably not as efficient as you thought but based off the information you had at the time was the best that you thought you could do so be open to looking for red flags, for performance starting to stagger, things starting to take longer or time delays in your processes and be open to challenge yourself…Are we using the systems the way that they should be used or are we making it more difficult for ourselves?

It is really important for all of us to be able to be open and adaptive to change for the students' benefit. You want to have most of your people’s time spent engaging with students so you are not looking for them after they leave. You should be engaged with them and know before they start to leave that this person is in trouble or they have fears that need to be managed and things like that. On top of that, all the software companies are constantly developing new features, constantly adapting to changes in the market and so your institution should be open to looking at those changes and changing the way they do business also.

Information Gathering: It is really important for key stakeholders who take ownership of the features and applications to understand how their business processes impacts other departments. It is also impoetant to build this collaborative environment of people who are experts in the system, who are experts in your business, who can work with the technology teams, who can listen to your executive or your Provost and be able to take the goals that the university has and execute them in a cohesive and collaborative way. Once an institution starts to do this, they will see huge gains in efficiency and automation and just overall satisfaction in the organization altogether.

What is the master schedule and how does it help with retention?

MATT JENKINS: When a student enrolls their schedules are already set up in CampusNexus Student so we can track their progression. Campus directors run the master student listing summary to tell them how many students they have, when the last time they were in the building was and it gives them a real time snapshot. That is one of the major things that I can think of off of that report that really helped us with retention. Our retention rate for each campus ranged from 83% at our higher campus to 74% at our lower campus. Online retention was our lowest at 74% but that is pretty typical.

For anybody who has worked in the online industry and worked for an online school knows, typically online retention is going to be lower than an on campus retention rate as it is.

When the student registers, do they register for courses per semester or for complete degree completion?

MATT JENKINS: Our programs are typically short-term certificate programs and we do offer some associate degrees. When our students enroll and register, they are registered for the entire program and so their course schedule is set up in the master student schedule. Basically, we can track how many courses they are in at the time, how many they have left, how many they have completed. That is the way our system is set up.

Does CampusNexus support clock hour programs and if so how does it integrate with systems?

CAMPUS MANAGEMENT: CampusNexus Student supports all six financial and academic calendars and clock hour specifically. We’ve done a lot of innovations over the last two years including automated payment period based off of all three of the reporting rules whether it is at the time the student hits the mid-point of attended hours or scheduled hours or successfully completes both the hours and the weeks.

We also have a thing called the student pace evaluator which basically monitors a student’s academic progression so as a student attends at the right rate…and this is for non-term or clock hour…the system automatically updates the payment period and loan payment period dates and sends that information back to CRD so you have a lot of clock hour and non-term functionality built within our system.

How do I manage the changes that are needed once I grow?

CAMPUS MANAGEMENT: Before you start adding more people to do the same thing you did before the growth occurred look at where you can leverage automation or data-driven decisions.

Understand the volatility of growth:

  • New interest leads to higher contact volume
  • More applications to be reviewed lead to more enrollments
  • More enrollments lead to more financial packaging
  • More students attending leads to more course offerings and the need to facilitate courses
  • It happens in cycles and could be dependent on your ability to appropriately resource

MATT JENKINS: After you’ve implemented CampusNexus Student, you will start to see the things that you’re doing well with and then you’ll start to see…Okay, we can improve this if we make this change. That is something that from my experience comes from just having the software and using it. I don’t know if you can necessarily forecast any of that.

CAMPUS MANAGEMENT: I think one of the most important things is to have someone at your organization who reports to the business and is looking across all different departments and processes and is saying…How long does it take you guys to do this today and how can we look to measure and incrementally improve every department, every business year over year, start over start, academic year, semester or however you want to measure your timeframes and really take a look at the different processes that you have and seek ways to leverage technology and to cut that time down and measure it over time. It really needs to be centralized across the entire organization and not be just the initiative of IT or just the initiative of an Operations Division.

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