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Staying Fresh in the Educational Marketplace

October 20, 2015

Faculty and staff:

Necessity is the mother of invention.  It can also lead us to think more creatively about how we do what we do.

We’ve seen cycles in degree choice before.  Students historically have seized upon the hot new career track, turning some departments into the latest enrollment champions.  Students control important variables in the higher education marketplace that affect the surge and ebb of our enrollments as well as access to resources.  Students choose what to study, the type of degree program, when and where to study — in a classroom or in the home — and, ultimately, whose seal they want to appear on their diploma.

Shifts in enrollment aren’t the only reasons we must ensure our programs are relevant and our delivery methods are in demand.  Dips and jumps in enrollment are simply an easy way for us to see and, more importantly, feel the results — including financial — when interest falters.

Budget constraints should prompt us to find new ways to show the great value of our degree programs to students and their future employers, to grow our programs, and to build our brand.  Limited resources are an invitation to define the value propositions for each of our majors and programs and ensure they resonate with students and prospective students.  The sustainability of our programs depends upon it.

Success Stories

This fall, KU saw great examples of success in graduate enrollment in the schools of Business and Education.  By offering new degree and certificate programs, making forays into online course offerings, and delivering messages that resonate with prospective students, the B-School saw graduate enrollment rise by 21 percent, while Education saw graduate enrollment grow 22.6 percent over last year.  What are the secrets to their success? 

  • Being responsive to student needs
  • Conveying the breadth of career prospects to future students
  • Identifying industry and discipline needs and assembling a certificate package of existing courses to meet those needs.

The proactive approach of Business and Education helps ensure they’ll continue to be respected names in their fields for years to come.

Looking more closely at KU’s enrollment data, additional trends emerge:

  • The entering first-year class size is up for the fourth year in a row.
  • International undergraduate enrollment is up, especially among first-year students.
  • Off campus (online) and nonresident full-time enrollment is up
  • Off campus and nonresident part-time enrollment is up.

Revitalizing our programs and approach

Chancellor Gray-Little recently asked us all to play a more active role in recruiting students.  Swings in enrollment, changing admission standards, and heightened competition can be the wake-up call we need to ensure our respective programs continue to attract talented students. The task will require creative thinking, collaboration, and enhanced marketing.  We are only limited by our imaginations.  We can take advantage of resources already available, such as recruiting tools in Graduate Studies and the Office of Admissions.  We can partner with other units on campus to create unique value-added course sequences, degree programs, and certificates that capitalize on issues of the day to make classic disciplines come alive and more relevant than ever.  We can attract new students to KU through our Law 3+3 program and 4+1 and 3+2 programs with colleagues across our university, as well as with other institutions.

In addition to revitalized degree offerings and certificates, we can extend our reach through online instruction and international recruitment.  Our approaches can enhance quality and even exclusivity — as long as they don’t lead to extinction.  The KU Honors Program, a priority and pride for KU, thrives in part because of smaller class sections.

Career planning services for every major can help current students see the possibilities, set goals, and develop action plans.  Programs — especially those experiencing declining enrollments — need to identify how they contribute to successful careers, and alumni can help greatly with that exercise.  Prospective and current students need to see distinctive ways their degree makes them competitive and sought after by a variety of employers.  Engaged graduates often provide illuminating stories of how their degrees prepared them for success in a variety of career paths.

Ultimately, we must understand — and be able to articulate — how our particular disciplines and programs speak to today’s challenges and prepare students for a lifetime of success.

Finding the opportunities

It’s imperative that we continue to increase success rates — retention, progression, and graduation.  Our primary responsibility is to the students we attract and enroll at KU so that they set rewarding career goals, chart academic paths to reach those goals, and graduate.  We also share a responsibility to establish goals and strategies for our majors and programs so they can weather national peaks and troughs of popularity. 

Equipped with insight into national trends affecting higher education, David Attis of EAB gave an eye-opening and inspiring presentation during the Provost Retreat with deans in August.  David returns to the Lawrence campus in January to meet with associate deans and department chairs to help them identify ways to support programs in being both effective and efficient.  The workshop promises to be motivational and valuable.  KU has a wealth of data available online through the Office of Institutional Research and Planning.  When paired with EAB’s grasp of trends and data about specific programs, units can more readily see scenarios for vibrant new directions. 

The past 150 years have shown just how creative KU’s faculty and staff have been when addressing challenges and opportunities.  The years ahead will be just as remarkable.

Bits and Bytes

  • KU has achieved a new milestone with the creation of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center.  The new center, a recommendation of the Chancellor’s Task Force on Sexual Assault, now provides centralized coordination of the many services and programs KU has provided.
  • The KU Academic Accelerator Program will hold a series of forums to review the first year of operations and answer questions.  The first forum will be 11 a.m. to noon, Wednesday, October 21, in Alderson Auditorium.
  • Nominations are open for the annual KU Men of Merit poster.  Created by the Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equity, the poster honors men who positively define masculinity, challenge norms and take action. November 6 is the deadline for submissions.
  • Faculty Development has created a new page with a list of workshops and networking events for new faculty. These are great opportunities to stay current on trends and resources, develop skills, and learn tips for career success.
  • Administration and Finance staff members can sign up for “Creating Momentum” a professional development event featuring keynote speaker Jay Pryor, author of “Lean Inside: Seven Steps to Personal Power.” A morning, afternoon, and evening session are offered. Registration closes November 6.
  • The annual United Way campaign is underway. Many of us feel strongly about efforts to help low-income and underprivileged individuals in our communities.  I encourage everyone to consider making a pledge or gift.
  • The Office of Diversity and Equity launched its redesigned website. The site delivers information about initiatives and programs as well as provides an opportunity to discover resources available to all.
  • The Tunnel of Oppression is back on the Lawrence campus November 18 to 20.  The project provides an immersive experience that helps participants understand, first hand, different forms of oppression. Groups and classes can schedule a visit through the experiences. Individuals are welcome on a walk-in basis.
  • Upcoming lectures in the Bold Aspirations and Visitor Lecture Series:
    • Alcides Velasquez, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogota, Colombia, will present the Langston Hughes Visiting Professor Lecture titled “Follow Us: Understanding Social Media Individual and Collective Political Participation and Activism” on Wednesday, October 28 at 3:30 p.m. in The Commons of Spooner Hall.
Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

Follow me on Twitter at @KUProvost

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