“What Now?” Colleges and Universities Ask

Not a day (or night) goes by that enrollment management professionals and college leaders aren’t wondering about the next chapter of the higher education marketplace. A new budget year and recruitment cycle prompts the utterance of a familiar soundbite: “What now?”

Campus communities are grappling with the realities of the marketplace as word-of-mouth storytelling and media coverage heighten a sense of consternation among the families of college-bound students. Families are considering whether their investment is worth it during a time when polls show only half of Americans believe that colleges have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country. “The American middle class is falling deeper into debt to maintain a middle-class lifestyle,” reports The Wall Street Journal, and more students than ever (over two-thirds) are taking out student loans. Cost is likely a factor in the Chronicle’s “Almanac 2019” finding that although 76% of first-year students at four-year colleges were accepted by their first-choice college, only 57% actually enrolled at their first-choice college.

Part of the economic issue is that the bottom of the triangle has become larger in Maslow’s hierarchy, where basic needs reside. Food, clothing, shelter, health insurance, car/transportation payments, etc., are all consuming more of family budgets. Preoccupation with fulfilling their basic needs is seriously tempering families’ ability and, in some cases, willingness to pay for college. Yet higher education represents a genuine opportunity—if it provides a relevant experience that leads to authentic mentoring, personal growth, career preparation, and job placement.

Among colleges and universities making the case for their value proposition, the good news is that “What now?” is no longer a rhetorical question. It is a top-of-mind prompt for facilitating edupreneurial ideas and solutions to seriously create differentiation and provide genuine value-added experiences. Continuous improvement is the new mantra that is finally beginning to permeate campus cultures. Proactive discussing, discerning, and doing is motivating higher ed leaders to think more about viable solutions so they can focus on the next chapter after “What now?”: “What’s next?”


Partisan Divide

Americans see value in higher education, but there is also an undercurrent of dissatisfaction about the role colleges play in society. (Pew)

More Borrowing

The average loan amount borrowed for a bachelor’s degree at private nonprofit institutions in 2017 was $31,200. (NCES via Inside Higher Ed)

2019 Almanac

Being able to get a better job was cited as a very important reason for attending college by 85% of new undergrads. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)


Lawlor Recommends

Asking “What now?” is a catalyst for taking steps that allow you to make better-informed decisions. That may mean conducting market research, creating interactive planning opportunities, or providing staff training with genuine insights. Lawlor Advisory gathers market intelligence in a quest to facilitate intelligent solutions that impact one or more of the 5Ps—product, price, place, promotion, and people. With the right data and perspective to inform your strategy, you can communicate with target audiences in a more market-smart manner to move them from some familiarity with your institution toward highly favorable views of it.