We Have a Problem Called Funding

As I eluded to a short ten days ago, we have three critical problems in education today. They include funding sources, increased competition with other nations, and an outdated approach to teaching. Let's pull apart the challenge of funding today.

Just a quick scan of media in education over the past two or three years would demonstrate that we are in a funding crisis in education. From public, state universities - which have become increasingly tuition dependent - to private colleges and independent schools, we are seeing the challenge of diminishing sources of income for operations, let alone professional development or innovation. After the global economic crisis, most schools and colleges found themselves seeking new revenue sources and potential audiences. Where does that search lead them? Or, better yet, in the quest for new or improved funding sources, what potential solutions are we seeing in the landscape of schools and colleges? here are a few that we are observing in our work across the country.

1) Online Learning as a Retention Tool - We are seeking a renewed interest in online learning as not only a tool for increasing new enrollment, but a viable tool for retention. When college students cannot access the classes they need in four or five years to graduate, their persistence drops. Online education provides an avenue not only for revenue, but access to high demand classes in order to graduate. Just last week the University of Hawaii system launched a major campaign called "15 to Finish", calling current students to maintain at least 15 credit hours per semester to finish the school in four years. Online learning is a component of the advising process.

2) Online Learning as a Market Tool - Independent schools are getting in the mix as finally seeing online learning as a viable tool for opening up new markets for students, as well as adding a lower cost entry into their product line. Some are ahead of the curve, such as the Online School for Girls by the National Coalition for Girls Schools, working as an association cohort to bring online learning to the masses.

3) Optimization is Reaching the Tipping Point - After cutting budgets in travel, professional development, and salary increases, most schools have maxed out their ability to optimize the expense side of the ledger. The next step is cutting core programs and services if they don't see new sources of funding.

4) Increase Use of Fixed Assets - Rather than seeing their campus sit idly through evening, weekend, or summer hours, we are seeing an increase in how to use fixed assets more efficiently. Currently we are working on two research projects than include a refocused effort on summer programs as both revenue and recruitment tools.

If this sounds like a lot of bad news, it is, but there may be a silver lining. Most great advances and innovations in industry result from an urgent need to improve performance or respond to changing external circumstances. In this new era of finance, I think we all need to be mindful that the funding solutions that emerge from this might be important game changers for education in the future. We are indeed at a pivot or inflection point in the world of education. The future will be determined by how we respond to it.