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

Article excerpt


The "traditional" 18 - 22 year old, residential college student makes up only 16% of the students enrolled in public and private two- and four-year institutions. More than half of today's students are older and are taking classes part-time. Over a million attend for-profit institutions and millions more participate in postsecondary education experiences offered by corporate universities. Most work full or part-time, have little interest in out-of-class activities, and are very savvy about computer-based technologies. These are the "newer students" of higher education and represent the largest market segment of those who will attend college in the foreseeable future. It would seem the drastic shift in market characteristics would be accompanied by strategic shifts in university planning. This paper considers how changes in college student body characteristics over the years have (or should have) prompted college leaders to alter their thinking about many aspects of campus offerings, facilities, operations, services, and pricing. We examined strategic plans of many universities and conclude that although many recognize the changing characteristics of the potential student population, many are pursuing strategies that may be strategically leading to their own downfalls.


"If colleges and universities are to survive in the troubled years ahead, a strong emphasis on planning is essential (Kotier & Murphy, 1 98 1)." 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.


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, ordo attend school full time (Pascar ella & Terenzini, 1998);

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

* Frequently seek a "residential learning experience" (Pascar ella & 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. …


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