Shorter’s CAPP (College of Adult and Professional Programs) numbers are down – way down. The program was building steadily, albeit slowly (from 1917 in Fall 2007 to 2220 in Fall 2010) but had gone down slightly in Fall 2011 to 2006. The Fall 2012 numbers, however, show the CAPP numbers falling substantially to 1444. Why the numbers fall and what did does this mean to Shorter’s future success?
One of the fastest growing market segments in higher education is the non-traditional student. No longer does education only belong to the young. Many adults are finding that the education that they received “way back when” is no longer enough to earn them a significant place in the jobs market. The old standard of being able to earn a good wage with merely a high school degree is gone. Today’s wage earner has found that most companies demand a bachelor’s degree for any job that requires more than manual labor. With more and more traditional aged students entering the job market with masters-level degrees, even those jobs with limited required skill-sets are requiring at least some form of higher education.
To its credit, Shorter recognized this trend and in 1992, began its School of Professional Programs (SPP)in Marietta. In 2003, the university expanded their program to include other schools within the institution. Today, the old SPP program, now CAPP, boasts of campuses in North Atlanta, Riverdale, Gwinnett and Rome.
Why did Shorter pursue the non-traditional student and create the SPP/CAPP program? The first answer lies in one word – demand. Lifelong learning is now a given and as more and more adults demand educational opportunities, wise colleges and universities rise to meet that need. The second reason is not as obvious.
Shorter’s infrastructure is aging and aging rapidly. Buildings that were built fifty years ago or more require major funding to keep them in good repair. Old steam heat radiators must be updated or replaced, old floors, roofs, walls must be kept up. Like any older structure, the cost of upkeep is enormous, but those buildings are what makes Shorter appealing to so many of her students and alumni. Within their walls, the old buildings hold the memories of many generations that have walked those halls. Even with a “full house” enrollment, the upkeep often costs more than the revenue received through room and board.
As schools reach a higher degree of diversity and sophistication, more and more administrators are deemed necessary to run the school. Staff too, has increased, with the addition of everything from athletics to the Internet. No longer are we in the days of Dr. Minor, where limited number of administrators and staff were necessary.
To put it simply, Shorter had to expand in order to generate the income to support the Rome campus and the traditional students it attracted.
Programs designed to reach the adult learner audience came at a relatively low cost to operate. There is no residential component, therefore no need for housing. Rather than investing in building a new campus, classroom and administrative space could be rented from one of the hundreds of office parks in greater Atlanta. Programs required minimal investments in faculty as well. Faculty are mostly adjuncts (less than 15% of all faculty are employed full time) who are hired on an “as needed” basis and are not paid benefits. Without the residential component, professional schools do not require the administrative staff that a residential campus does.
Shorter’s administrators in the early 2000’s wisely knew that they could create the programs, but they needed strategic data-driven recruitment to market the program and to convert inquiries to enrolled students. Like many colleges and universities, Shorter chose to out-source the marketing and recruitment. Soon, adults all over Atlanta heard Shorter radio ads, saw billboards, read ads that popped up whenever they searched the Internet for programs for the adult learner.
For a while, the outsourcing worked fairly well. In 2005, enrollment in the Professional School was 1478. By fall, 2011, enrollment grew to 2006. The bonus of all the additional student revenue acquired with lower cost investment meant that CAPP quickly became vital to Shorter’s bottom line.
In 2011, Shorter decided to make a change. Rather than change the company on whom they relied for marketing and recruitment, they chose to end out-sourcing entirely. To those who questioned that decision, assurances were made that Shorter had “millions” to do their own marketing and recruiting.
That’s when Shorter shot its cash cow.
Proper marketing is, perhaps, the most important factor in making a professional program work. The adult programming market is enormously competitive. According to Datamark, a data-driven enrollment marketing company,” when schools rely on internal resources to plan, create and implement direct marketing campaigns while simultaneously creating programs, marketing messages become fragmented and poorly timed, and once-engaged prospects quickly lose interest.”
When was the last time that you heard about Shorter on the radio? Where are the numerous billboards and online marketing? Most importantly, Shorter’s branding has been fractured. Television advertising uses images of faculty who are no longer with the school. The Shorter Experience is gone in its place is – religion? Somehow, it doesn’t seem to be selling very well to your adult learners,
The precipitous drop from 2006 students enrolled in the CAPPS program to its current reported 1444 –a loss of over 500 students and approximately $2-3 million dollars in revenue – should be a red flag for Shorter’s future. Trustees, take heed. The cash cow is dying because of very poor decisions.
How, then, will you support the flagship campus?