P3 Higher Education Summit Recap: Educators Getting Creative to Increase Enrollment

There has been a paradigm shift in higher education about the competition faced by every institution. It’s no longer a matter of universities such as USC and UCLA competing against each other for the brightest students. It’s a matter of institutions competing against the idea of going to college at all.

According to the latest statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), only 69 percent of high school graduates were enrolled in a college or university.

Increasingly more students are choosing not to pursue higher education. Why take on thousands of dollars in student debt that will seemingly never be paid off? Why hassle with on-campus living or commuting to college when you can start your own career path after high school?

What I learned from attending the P3 Higher Education Summit October 23-25 in San Diego is that institutions need to get creative in how they appeal to recent high school graduates to increase enrollment.

The answer is a better blend of private funding, institutions, and corporate financing to create the types of learning environments that fuel career growth and opportunity while in college. It boils down to creating a living and learning environment that students want to be part of.

The Importance of Finding New Funding Sources

Finding the funding to create the ideal environment for students is a big challenge, especially when students are shying away from higher education because of the cost.

My takeaway from the P3 Conference is that the equity is there to build modern learning environments, the financing is there to support these initiatives, and now the discussion is shifting to being more creative in how to generate money from alternative sources.

Universities cannot squeeze more money out of tuition. And, universities can’t just raise bond funds. Instead, how do you leverage assets such as mobility and power on a typical campus to generate revenue? For some universities, those lease checks could be worth billions of dollars that can be incorporated into the institution’s master plan to change the dynamics of the university.

Every university has a different challenge in front of them. A completely different solution might be needed from one university to the next. The key is to know your university, know the types of students you want to attract, and know how to have the conversation with private equity and local corporations to support the master plan.

Examples of Successful Creativity Blending Private and Public

Universities in conferences such as the ACC, Big 10, and Pac-12 are embracing corporate interests as part of the on-campus environment.

– ACC campuses such as Clemson, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech are enhancing the value of their university education by leveraging corporate interests to provide their students with broader resources and education.

Clemson, for example, launched the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) that has brought together 37 different companies to create a campus learning environment focused on auto design.

This has created a unique environment for Clemson students centered on learning and living. These future automotive professionals can engage in their college community and prepare for their career in the automotive industry.

Plus, automotive companies can use the CU-ICAR facility to test new technology, gather new ideas from engaged students, and share intellectual interests in a safe environment. It’s a great marriage of private and public interests to grow people and companies.

– In the Big 10, legacy institutions that have been around for hundreds of years are re-thinking how to leverage their existing assets to generate revenue. There is interest on the investment side because investors know these institutions aren’t going anywhere, reducing the risk of investing in a largescale project at a university such as Ohio State or Michigan.

The key is that institutions cannot wait five years at the typical university pace to get private equity players involved in the process. These projects need to get done in 12-24 months.

Now, there is more creativity around the process and more players involved in the conversations to get projects done. Because higher-ups see enrollment declining, they are more apt to support the marriage of private funding and public institutions to monetize fixed assets.

– On the West Coast, Pac-12 school Arizona State moved into the Los Angeles market to open a new campus. Why did the Sun Devils cross into the ultra-competitive Southern California population when USC and UCLA are having their own battle for students?

ASU thought creatively and outside the box. The university wanted access to more economies in Asia, so they decided to open a campus with greater access to overseas markets. It’s about playing at a higher level and thinking more strategically about where to access capital resources and attract students.

How RESET Helps Make The Connection

One of the primary reasons why I attend the P3 Higher Education Summit each year is to get a sense of how higher education is trying to bring scope forward and how they are competing for students. This always relates back to fundamental institutional issues of universities being resistant to change.

This year at the P3 summit, I was encouraged by the creativity and openness to new ideas. I saw much more focus on seeing concession structure financing to get these projects done, as opposed to complicated private-public partnerships that most institutions are accustomed to.

Where RESET comes into the picture is helping to facilitate these connections between private equity and higher education. We take the time to understand the unique needs of each university, understand the scope of the issue to increase enrollment, find alternate choices, and serve as a facilitator advancing the timeline of projects — while also building excitement around the opportunity to increase the value of a college education for prospective students.

Universities that get creative about finding alternative funding sources will be the leaders advancing the value of their education to students in the decades to follow. Creating the ideal living and learning environment that increases enrollment, serves corporate interests, and attracts more funding is the answer for today’s universities.

We would appreciate the opportunity to help be a facilitator of change for your university. Contact RESET or subscribe to our eNews to receive valuable information directly to your inbox.


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