May 26, 2020

Why Resiliency is the New Conversation in Our Industry


I live in the desert of Southern California. For flora and fauna to thrive here, they must be resilient to the harsh conditions found in this part of the country. That means brutally hot temperatures (it hit 100 degrees by 10:30 AM today), bright sun, and very little moisture. It is only a special type or animal or vegetation that survives here. And, survival required centuries of adaptation to harsh conditions.

It is fair to say that the term “resiliency” is trending in the academic sector. It is not a new idea or concept. But, it is the most recent term that we have affixed to our industry since “sustainable”, “accessible”, “community”, and “diversity” took a foothold in the past decade or so. Many great thinkers and organizations have been using this term during the pandemic, including my good friends at The Enrollment Management Association and Greg Bamford at Charles Wright Academy and Leadership + Design, as well as many others. Why all the sudden interest in this term?

They are all right. As each of these thinkers know, “resiliency”, as a term, gets at the core of the gnawing business flaws of the private education industry. Most economists would agree that 1) limiting your audience base through selective admissions, 2) pricing your product at the top of the marketplace, and 3) layering your production cost through very high touch, small class size approach is a three-prong recipe for disaster. It has not worked well for other premium products in the new economy, such as the Swiss watch or German automobile industry. In these industry sectors, at least they don’t attempt to narrow their market through some selective lens. Their price does that automatically.

I also find it interesting to watch that what private schools say versus what they do. Our industry sends out mixed messages to the public. We are a bit schizophrenic. Oddly, private schools promote their desire to be sustainable and accessible AND also desire to limit their enrollment through some selectivity, elite pricing, and heavy delivery expenses. The only organizations that can continue that sort of economic model are highly endowed, non-tuition driven schools and colleges. It is far from resilient for the vast majority of educational institutions.

I would imagine that the concept of resiliency will continue to be among the most discussed topic in the future. Using this concept as an umbrella, we can discuss and design our models anew. We can rethink the big levers in education, such as 1) assessment and credentialing, 2) time and schedule, and 3) global learning platforms. The good news is that the drive toward resiliency will force schools and colleges to reconcile with the external marketplace, something that they have not been focusing upon in the past. Why every accreditation process starts with a “self study” remains beyond my understanding. The problems with our business model are not found in the inside of the organization; they are deeply flawed understandings of our marketplace and consumers.

I hope resiliency remains the hot topic. For a long time. Please write about it, think about it, and collaborate about it. I am hoping that this pandemic produces the needed change in our industry that will serve students better – with a new business model – for the future. There has been a lot of pain thrust on the world. Let’s hope that some good comes from it.

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