Selling ketchup and other ways colleges can raise money
- At a time when students, families and lawmakers are demanding college affordability, higher education institutions can no longer rely on tuition hikes or dining service and housing fees to cure their financial ills, says Brian C. Mitchell, past president of Bucknell University and Washington College in a piece for the Hechinger Report. Although some schools have found success by cutting costs and enrolling more students, he says bolder moves must be made, first by strengthening weak and ineffective college governance, with faculty playing a significant role in creating a new and innovative educational model.
- He says college leaders must consider whether, and how, their school’s mission is relevant to 21st century students; honing in on the strengths that make their institution stand out from others and where the college wishes to be in out years. Based on those determinations, administrators should work aggressively to improve retention and graduation strategies, using student life bonuses — including athletics — as an enrollment tool to increase student fit and level of satisfaction. They also must think intentionally about ways to bring older students to campus to expand the traditional 18-22 year old applicant pool when it makes sense.
- Colleges also need to take a broader look at ways they use tuition revenue, re-imagine revenue possibilities for under-used real estate assets, re-configure capitol campaigns to meet shorter-term goals and look for community or institutional partners to produce new revenue streams. Overall, supporters should remember that colleges and universities are both academic enterprises and regional economic engines, Mitchell says, and so institutions should seek strong public/private partnerships that benefit both the schools and their communities.
The “perfect storm” of fewer high school graduates to pull students from, a public backlash against tuition costs, and cuts to federal and state funding means colleges can no longer hope to rely on traditional models to stay financially afloat. Melik Peter Khoury, president of the tiny Unity College in Maine, called the game of incrementally increasing tuition a "fool's errand." Unity, for example, caters weddings and funerals through its dining services, sells hot sauces and ketchup through its farm, and rents greenhouse space to the Chestnut Foundation to grow blight-resistant saplings.
School leaders shouldn't leave any idea off the table, whether selling products produced on campus, loaning staff or faculty to businesses looking for alternative training options, or using faculty knowledge to launch salable services, especially in technology. Reaching out to area business leaders to co-create education programs needed to train community workers could also help with retention and graduation rates as students recognize they will land jobs upon graduation. Larger colleges could consider hiring specialists tasked with finding new revenue streams.
Simply put, higher ed institutions no longer can afford to consider themselves academic islands buffered from today's economic reality. Whether through finding new ways to attract today's students and help them reach graduation, shedding programming or services that no longer make sense, or finding unorthodox ways to raise revenue through business ventures, colleges must accept the status quo no longer works. If they don't, corporate giants, such as Google and Apple's Steve Wozniak, have shown they are ready to step in to create their own "universities," taking another bite from the higher education revenue pot.