Strategically Planning Campuses for the "Newer Students" in Higher Education

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

"If colleges and universities are to survive in the troubled years ahead, a strong emphasis on planning is essential (Kotler & Murphy, 1981)." Those words are as true today as they were almost 30 years ago when they were first written. Steadily changing student populations, rapidly deteriorating economic conditions, and continuously improving technologies will impact the "whom" and the "how" universities offer education.

This paper considers how changes in college student body characteristics should prompt college leaders to alter their strategic thinking about many aspects of campus offerings, facilities, operations, services, and pricing. The attributes and behaviors of colleges and universities that made them successful in the past may or may not be the same attributes and behaviors that will enable them to be successful in the future. In order to be competitive, survive, and flourish some institutions will need to strategically plan on becoming very different places than they are currently. Three themes drive this conclusion: (1) population demographics, (2) the increased importance and changing characteristics of non-traditional students on college campuses, and (3) the economics of higher education. The implications from advances in computer and telecommunications technology will be considered throughout this discussion.

THEME ONE: DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGES MEAN STUDENT BODY CHANGES

Before considering the implications of demographic changes on strategic planning, it is useful to review characteristics of "traditional students" that were served for so long, in such large numbers, and who remain the focus of many universities' strategic planning processes and work product.

A consensus in higher education literature suggests traditional students:

* Are mostly in the 18-22 age bracket and recent high school graduates (Strage, 2008);

* Are, for the most part, people of the majority culture--white, non-Hispanic (Strage, 2008);

* Plan to, or do attend school full time (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1998);

* Plan to, or do take instruction on a 'main' campus instead of at extension centers (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1998);

* Frequently seek a "residential learning experience" (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1998);

* Look for a "warm and fuzzy" campus environment where they can expect extensive contact with "Mr. Chips"-like faculty members and advisors and with fellow students (Strage, 2008);

* Are interested co- and extra-curricular activities such as watching or participating in intercollegiate athletics, bands, music and drama outlets, etc. (Lake & Pushchak, 2006);

* Want significant campus-based social and entertainment options (like fraternities and sororities, clubs, academic societies, etc.) (Strage, 2008);

* Are quite concerned about the "reputation" and/or "prestige " of the college or university (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1998);

* Can afford through personal resources, parent's resources, or through an ability to borrow, high tuition and fees as may be charged (Lake & Pushchak, 2006);

* May place high value on preparation for careers or vocations; but may also place high value on the arts and sciences, on the humanities, on liberal education; and may profess to have a "love of learning;"

* May be very aware of and interested in the college's record of placing graduates in good jobs and/or in high quality graduate programs in areas like law, medicine, science, etc (Lake & Puschak, 2006).

Decline of "Traditional Student" Enrollment

Reasonable scholars may disagree about the degree to which "traditional" students have or do not have all of these characteristics, but one fact is undeniable: traditional students are no longer the majority on college campuses and their numbers will continue to decline. Today, traditional students comprise only 16% of college students (U. …