Given the extraordinary regulatory and political challenges facing career education, what improvements/innovations does the sector need to implement to remain a leader in higher education?
This is an exciting time for thought leaders in our industry. Let’s put regulatory and political challenges aside for a moment. In my opinion, the federal government may not have the resources to continue to fund postsecondary education as we know it today. Our national debt will likely force a reduction or limit access to grants and loans unless this economy roars back. As a result, our clients are acquiring training centers to bolster their 90/10 and to serve as an enrollment funnel. Others have formed business-to-business/business-to-consumer (B2B/B2C) divisions and today enjoy an $800 cost-per-start. Many are entering into articulation agreements; these serve as a revenue funnel to one party while providing a means to offset gainful employment and cohort default risk to another. We are not alone. Public education is evolving rapidly as well. Using a B2B approach at a state university in the southwest generated 1,800 Bachelor’s in nursing inquiries last year and converted a good number to starts. A state college in the south will enroll several hundred this year using a similar approach. My point is this: We must be less dependent on Washington, D.C. We must form strategic alliances. And let’s continue to be the leader in the B2B and B2C market.
Please explain the innovations you’ve brought to (or observed in) career education. What led you to recognize the need for these innovations? What has been their impact on students and higher education?
I’m a fan of Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great. Collins has often said, “Greatness is not a function of circumstances. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”
As the CEO for BrightStar Education (2004-2011), my team and I realized most annual effectiveness plans, while full of well-meaning initiatives, often fail because they focus on the past instead of the long-term health of the organization. Even a continuous improvement model will often embrace a short-term view. This is why we implemented a highly innovative approach we titled, Critical-to-Profit (CTP). Regardless of its current performance, each institution was required to reach or exceed a specific mark within three years and then defend that key metric going forward. We used a six-sigma type of approach and adopted what we felt represented the perfect mark for several critical operating metrics: everything from the ideal inquiry to start, operating margin, monthly persistence rate and the annual placement rate. Consequently, each institution began to generate operational excellence quarter over quarter while remaining fully aligned with their mission and values. Before long, goals which once seemed impossible to achieve became the baseline for further improvement. While we generated tremendous results for stakeholders, I am very proud of how each institution elevated the value proposition for students and graduates.
What quality about career colleges or their students motivates you personally?
A single enrollment will often change the social and economic future for generations that follow. Like water rippling from the toss of a small pebble into a pool of water, a graduate will often encourage an untold number of family members to pursue college. Furthermore, the enhanced economic lift will influence how well the graduate cares for his or her family and their ability to invest in the community. The student value proposition such as the one I just described has always been important to me. What motivates me, personally, is the dedication to excellence displayed by a team of faculty and staff. That single enrollment and the subsequent success story occurred because of the hard work and dedication of the admissions advisor that made one additional telephone call, the wise counsel from the financial aid professional, the instructor patiently transferring his or her knowledge, the tireless career service team, and countless others. These higher education champions place the success of the student ahead of their own recognition daily. It is because of them that the graduate will enjoy an economic lift and stability. This motivates me even to this day.