St. John's Episcopal Day School in Tampa, Florida has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for research and strategy consulting. Our work will commence in May. St. John’s is the oldest Episcopal school in West Central Florida, with a history of excellence in education that results in stellar students. Grounded by a commitment to spiritual and ethical values, a love of learning enhanced by advanced technology, and the development of strong character, St. John's students grow into caring and successful adults who are equipped for our ever-changing world.
Manlius Pebble Hill School (MPH) in Syracuse, New York has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for research and planning services. Our work will commence in May and continue through the summer. We are excited to welcome MPH to our client community.
Manlius Pebble Hill School’s history dates back to the founding of The Manlius School in 1869. In 1970, The Manlius School merged with Pebble Hill School to form Manlius Pebble Hill School. Many of their continuing traditions, including Red & White Day and the opening day Handshake Ceremony, began at their predecessor schools. Perhaps the most important legacy of those schools is the commitment to academic excellence. While The Manlius School was recognized as one of the top military academies in the country, serving at one time as a feeder school for West Point, Pebble Hill graduates went on to attend some of the best colleges and universities in the country.
Today, with more than 4,200 alumni throughout the world, Manlius Pebble Hill’s students have a strong sense of MPH history. Plaques dedicated to alumni who gave their lives in World War I and World War II personalize those significant events. Photographs of the undefeated football teams of The Manlius School encourage school pride in our athletic tradition. “Headboy” plaques lining the hallway of the McNeil Science Center and Pebble Hill award plaques in the dining hall inspire top students to work hard so their names, too, will be recorded in the history of the School.
In a culture increasingly obsessed with “today,” Manlius Pebble Hill often looks to its past for guidance. With Central New York roots stretching back more than 140 years, the School continues to provide an unparalleled education that prepares its students for the challenges of the future.
I think we can all agree that education, just like many other industries, is moving through a stage of considerable change. As our industry moves through this current inflection point and reemerges on the other side, how different might education look in just ten years? A decade is a long time, considering that the Apple iPhone is just celebrating a decade long anniversary. Will the same schools and colleges still be around? In the same configuration with the same programs?
The University of Wisconsin at Steven's Point recent news highlights some of the issues that education is facing. The University has proposed dropping 13 majors in the humanities and social sciences — including English, philosophy, history, sociology and Spanish — while adding programs with more clear and direct career pathways as a way to address declining enrollment and a multimillion-dollar deficit. It is a classic conversation about the role of liberal arts in a new world of career preparation.
While the news was a shock and generated a lot of dismay and protests around the campus, it was not a surprise to many in our industry who have seen these issues bubbling under the surface for years. Find an industry that does not occasionally have to recalibrate offerings, price points, and delivery models. You won't find one. This is the normal regeneration and life cycle of any industry. It is commonplace and I suspect will be a more frequent occurrence in the future.
As we look to the future, there are three prevailing questions facing the future of education. If your school or college is developing a strategic plan or formulating priorities for the future, you should probably start by considering these basic questions as they relate to your organization and context. They are:
- What will be the role of education in the future?
- What should “high quality” educational models really cost?
- How should education be delivered?
While none of us can predict the future, I believe it is fairly certain that it won't look the same as it does today. Building some assumptions about how your school or college will respond to these questions now may save a tremendous amount of recorrection in the future.
Most of us develop strategies for our organizations on a regular basis. However, we often forget exactly what we are trying to accomplish in that strategy. In other words, to what end or intended outcome does each strategy accomplish?
We have found that there are four distinct purposes or intended outcomes under which you can categorize any strategy. They are:
- Missional Mandate - Achieving this goal will purely align with your mission.
- Competitive Imperative - Achieving this goal will be responsive or "catch up" to marketplace demands.
- Element of Distinction - Achieving this goal will position your organization as the only one of a kind in a specific category.
- Revenue Producer - Achieving this goal will produce revenue which can be invested back into program or product.
If your strategy does not meet any one these goals, you might want to question exactly what it does accomplish for your organization. A successful portfolio of strategies typically are balanced among the four distinct purposes listed above. For example, it is often best if your organization is meeting missional mandates, being responsive to the market demands, creating new distinctions, and generating new revenue to invest in program.
Remember a strategy is in and of itself not enough. It must be intended to accomplish a specific objective. Understanding what you are trying to accomplish and aligning your strategies accordingly is a best practice in planning.
I'm feeling a bit inspirational and a need to stay grounded in our cause this morning. Nelson Mandela reminded us that education remains the most powerful tool to change the world. That sentiment became the foundation of our #JustCause campaign. As we look to the future, we know that the work of education - particularly independent schools and colleges - can continue to play the primary role of transformation of people and culture.
No matter how divisive and hurtful our geopolitical context, I know that education will continue to transform people and that love will always win. I believe the values of the 21st century can be largely dictated by the work of our independent schools and colleges. How we define, shape, and solve our accessibility is not so much about our own sustainability, but the rather the health and well-being of our future.
Education does equal transformation. Here's a quick reminder of what we are really working for in this video by U2 celebrating the work of Nelson Mandela.
Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tennessee has launched their strategic plan. Developed through a comprehensive planning process with Ian Symmonds & Associates, Baylor continues to establish themselves as a definitive leader in independent day and boarding education in the Southeast and beyond. Baylor's strategic plan will continue to fuel the "Baylor Leads" and "Forever Forward" campaigns. Check out this recent video as part of their ongoing communication effort on leadership.
Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, Tennessee has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for strategic planning during the 2018-19 academic year. Already part of the ISA client community, we completed a comprehensive strategic plan in 2014-15 for the school.
Battle Ground Academy is an independent college-preparatory school for grades K-12. BGA is located in Franklin, Tennessee. Founded in 1889, the school was originally located in part on the site of the Battle of Franklin in the U.S. Civil War.
Excellent implementation and extraordinary leadership has readied the school for a recalibrated plan for the following year. We are excited to be back working with BGA.
This next month we will begin tackling an interesting topic. What is the future of education, especially as it relates to independent or private education models? As part of our series on Recalibrating an Industry, we will explore three different scenarios that are potential futures for our industry. Watch for the series to begin in April and continue throughout the month.
Polytechnic School in Pasadena, California has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for research and consulting services. Our work will begin this spring and continue through the summer and fall. We are pleased to welcome Polytechnic School to the ISA family.
In 1907, Polytechnic School became the first nonprofit, independent school in Southern California, enrolling 106 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. True to its name and to the educational philosophy of the day, Poly’s curriculum emphasized both academics and manual arts—from English and math, to sewing and woodworking.
Fifty years after the school’s founding, the decision was made to expand the educational program through the 12th grade. Poly’s Upper School campus opened in 1959, and in 1962, the first senior class graduated.
Today, Poly remains an ambitious, forward-thinking school community—one devoted not only to scholarship but also to the creative arts, the camaraderie of team sports, the joy of service to others, and the welcoming spirit of friendship—here on our historic campus and around the world.
Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, Oregon has selected ISA for research and strategy work. A long time member of the ISA family, we have completed strategic plans, marketing plans, and strategic enrollment management counsel over the past decade. We are excited about continuing our long term relationship. We will begin working on research and consulting activities with the school in the spring 2018.
Among the woodlands, wetlands, and wildlife of the hills of Southwest Portland lies the unique educational experience that is Oregon Episcopal School. The school occupies a 59-acre campus where 870 students in Pre-K– Grade 12 share an excellent faculty, a college preparatory curriculum, and a strong sense of community.
Offering a true liberal arts curriculum, OES is dedicated to scholarship and an enriched academic environment of "learning by doing" that strives to help each individual reach his or her fullest potential. Small classes provide intimate learning environments that allow teachers to instill in each student a love for learning and the joy of discovery.
The oldest Episcopal school west of the Rockies, OES values developing the spirit as well as the mind. Though steeped in Episcopal heritage and tradition, the school welcomes students of all beliefs. OES provides instruction about all major faiths, and encourage individuals to discover their own spiritual path.
Derryfield School in Manchester, New Hampshire has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for research and strategy work. The only independent day school in the state, Derryfield School enrolls roughy 400 students from throughout Central New Hampshire and Northern Massachusetts in grades six through twelve. We have a long history or working with Derryfield School, including developing their strategic plan, marketing campaigns, and strategic enrollment management practices. We are excited to get back to working with the school!
As we continue our series on recalibrating the industry of independent education, we turn our thoughts to an age-old question about our price:
Are all of our collective strategic woes simply about our price? In other words, as we see declining demand, increased financial aid leveraging and tuition discounting, and shrinking enrollments in many areas of the nation, does it simply boil down to our pricing model? Is independent education, as it is currently defined and practiced, simply too expensive for the future?
From my vantage point, it’s a mistake to think that price is a unilateral issue with private education. It is a serious issue, make no mistake. But, price has to be considered within a larger context, such as the varying delivery platforms of education, new types of schools (micro schools, charter schools, etc), new consumer mindsets, changes in generational thinking, or the role of education in our society. Each one of these areas is a moving target, evolving as we speak.
Is there a role for independent education in our society? What should it cost? How large should be the enrollment? And how should it be delivered? We will look at three potential scenarios later this week.
Community School in Sun Valley, Idaho has selected Ian Symmonds & Associates for research and consulting services. Community School is a pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade day and boarding school in Sun Valley, Idaho, where students are known and challenged by an inspiring faculty to think critically in a collaborative, close-knit community. The school has been a long time member of the ISA client family, partnering with us in 2009 for a strategic marketing plan. We return to Community School to continue our partnership and build upon our prior work.
We are pleased to announce the appointment of Ann Masterman as the director of enrollment management at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Saratoga, CA. This appointment is to a newly created position at St. Andrew's to lead the implementation of an integrated strategic enrollment management system. ISA led the search for this appointment, and it is sure to be a great partnership.
Ann impressed the selection team at St. Andrew's with her of 11 years of experience in the enrollment management field. Most recently, Ann served as the Executive Director of Enrollment Management, Marketing, and Operations from The University of Miami. Ann holds a PhD from Boston College in Higher Education Administration and a Master's Degree in Higher Education Administration from The University of Miami. Ann will utilize her education and expertise in the field to provide leadership in enrollment planning and will serve as the point of integration for the recruitment, admissions, financial aid, information management, re-enrollment and retention functions of the school. .
Please join ISA in congratulating both Ann and St. Andrew's Episcopal School in their new partnership and the creation of an integrated strategic enrollment management system.
What do luxury retailers and brands know that perhaps private schools do not yet understand? I think they know with relative certainty that a high price/low volume enterprise is very difficult to sustain in challenging market conditions. Think of many luxury brands of considerable retail expense, such as German import cars (Mercedes, Audi, BMW) or Swiss watches (Rolex, Tag), and you will find that they have had to diversify their offerings into an ecosystem of different price points in order to build a long term financial model. Even Apple understands the value of getting people onto their ecosystem with a "gateway drug", such as the iPod or iPhone, in order to build a system of consumers.
It turns out that colleges and universities have been doing this for over 20 years. When the market for full pay undergraduate, residential consumers dwindled in the 1990's as Baby Boomers had fewer college age children, colleges went after parents with online learning, degree completion programs, MBA's, and graduate degrees. Universities built a strong ecosystems of schools and colleges with a variety of delivery models and access points that would enable them to weather the uncertain luxury retail consumer storm.
Independent and private schools are learning the hard way that, for most of them - the relatively underfunded and low endowed schools - they cannot sustain themselves on high price, high selectivity, and low volume models. They will have to diversify their offerings in the future in order to sustain themselves. They are going to have to remove the barriers to access and leverage their brands in order to build sustainability into their financial model. With the innovative learning approaches taking place throughout education including lower entry price points and different delivery models, private schools are going to have to adjust to the changing times. And, if the industry and their schools are strategic, they will use this opportunity to remove barriers and address access, diversity, and inclusion efforts in a financially responsible way. There are so many opportunities on the horizon to build a strong ecosystem, serve a variety of different type of students, diversity our audiences, and enlarge the footprint of our industry.
How do you successfully "stay out of the weeds" and "stay at the 30,000 foot level" when developing strategic plans? Our experience tells us this is an area of considerable difficulty for some people. The fact is that most people - by their very nature - find it easier to develop a short-term tactical solution than a long-term strategic solution to a problem. How do you change the orientation and thinking of people to this higher level thinking?
Strategic thinkers, by their very nature and discipline, tend to seek structural and systemic solutions to problems identified by research. For example, let's assume that a small college has identified that "food" and "food service" has been identified as an issue in the research for strategic planning. Here is how different thinkers would solve that problem.
- The operational thinker would revert to a personnel issue and want to fire the food service director.
- The tactical thinker would likely assume that this problem could be addressed by firing the food service provider and hire a more effective vendor.
- The strategic thinker would see "food" and "dining" as an extension of nutrition, wellness, and building community and would look to the mission of the college (which speaks to these issues) to build a dining experience that is congruent with the educational philosophy of the college.
It turns out that strategic thinkers are always "pushing up", seeking to identify the higher level or systemic issue to a problem. They look at the symptoms indicated in the research as clues to what the larger issues really are to be revealed. Doctors don't tell patients complaining of a stuffy nose and sneezing that they are suffering from "stuffy nose" disease. No, they look at these symptoms as a picture of a larger condition and then try to treat the condition.
Staying out of the weeds requires great discipline. Remind your strategic teams to "push up" and use the issues revealed in the research as clues to a larger, more systemic issue. Then, treat the issue with a structural or systemic change. It's not easy, but it is far better to view the world from 30,000 feet than to be stuck in the weeds.
Looking for a brief, simple explanation of the principles to strategic enrollment management? Ian spoke at the annual conference of the Sacred Heart Network in St. Louis in November. His keynote talk focused on two important topics: 1) the future of education and 2) strategic enrollment management. This short video outlines the seven core concepts behind strategic enrollment management and is excellent professional development material for school and college executives, administrators, and enrollment management and advancement professionals. Special thanks to the Sacred Heart Network Conference for their invitation and video work.
What's the forecast for the future of private education? Ian spoke on this topic to the Sacred Heart Network Conference in St. Louis in November. This annual gathering included Sacred Heart Network heads and board members of member schools. In this video, Ian outlines the major forces and trends that may prevail and impact our progress as an industry. He outlines a very stratified sector of education that will empower some and leave others behind. Special thanks to the Conference on Sacred Heart Network.
Brownell Talbot School in Omaha, Nebraska has selected ISA for research and strategic services. Our work with the school begins in February and continues on through the next academic year. Brownell Talbot is Nebraska's only private, preschool through grade 12, independent, coeducational day school. We are delighted to welcome the school to our ISA family.
Brownell Talbot School was founded by the Rt. Rev. Joseph Cruickshank Talbot, D.D., then the Episcopal Bishop of the Northwest. Bishop Talbot's decision was inspired by his desire to bring cultural and educational opportunities to the daughters of the pioneers, while sparing them the long journey to eastern boarding schools. As a girls’ boarding school, Brownell Talbot was originally named Brownell Hall. Bishop Talbot named the school for the Presiding Bishop of Connecticut, Thomas Church Brownell, whose parish provided a large portion of the funds needed to purchase the school’s first home, at what is now 24th Street and Grand Avenue.
In 1952, the decision was made for Brownell Hall to become coeducational, and boys were enrolled in the Talbot School for Boys, named for the founder of Brownell Hall, Bishop Talbot. The school was called Brownell Hall-Talbot School for Boys until 1963, then renamed Brownell Talbot School. In 1967, Brownell Talbot became independent of the Episcopal Church. Today, Brownell Talbot is Nebraska's only independent, coeducational, college preparatory day school serving students from preschool through grade 12.
There is no doubt that the private education sector is under duress. A universal softening of demand at the K to 12 sector, increased price, leveraged financial aid, and a changing set of core customers in Millennials places this industry in a challenging place. In our series "Recalibrating an Industry", where we explore the potential solutions to these current woes, we first look at the business model. It seems like the most appropriate place to explore revision.
Our current situation is a complex one with many factors contributing to the financially unstable future of independent schools. I find history always provides an excellent context for understanding our current situation. So, it is useful to start with an historic perspective and pose a simple question:
"Why has the high price - low volume, selective admissions business model of independent schools prevailed for so long without any major overhaul?
Our experience with a national base of these schools as clients is that the industry has believed it can successfully address and stimulate softening demand through short-term, tactical solutions. Some of these solutions over the past decade or two, and some of their ramifications, have included:
1) Increasing leveraged and targeted financial aid and filling seats through a net tuition revenue approach (leading to reduced revenue per student and greater diversity)
2) Altering admission standards to widen the universe of potential students (leading to retention and persistence challenges)
3) Reducing programmatic expenses that support the learning and professional development experience (leading to a lessening of the core academic experience)
4) Building an assumption of growth into non-core programs, such as auxiliary revenue (leading to occasional mission creep and challenges of organizational focus)
This is simply a sample of some of the most obvious. There are other ways in which the industry has attempted to address a softening of demand through various short-term solutions. However, we still find the industry overall in a weakened state seeking direction.
History can tell us a lot about where we have been and how we got here, but it may not reveal the ultimate next steps for our industry. The reality is that these short-term, tactical efforts historically have done little more than maintained our current situation and kept the industry treading water. They have not provided any transformation to the industry.
Our next series of posts will look beyond the historic business model and overlay some future trends, perhaps providing some potential new direction for the future. We will discuss some innovations in other industry sectors that may prove useful in considering as potential tools at our disposal.