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Trends and Challenges Facing Continuing Education

Using software to manage data more effectively and improve the student experience
University Business, September 2013

Continuing education provides an opportunity for institutions to serve a broader range of students; but meeting these students’ needs and expectations can be a challenge. In this web seminar originally broadcast on Jul 23, 2013, a leader from Emory Continuing Education shared tips for successful practices specifically designed for CE programs, how to leverage software to determine which courses are most profitable, and how the rise of MOOCs will potentially impact continuing education. Other topics included current trends and challenges for continuing education programs, new tools available that can help improve current programs, and strategies for recruitment that can boost enrollment.

Katharine Foster
Director of Business and Finance
Emory Continuing Education
Emory University

Emory Continuing Education (ECE) has overcome many challenges that have helped us become a more efficient and profitable arm of Emory University. We found that systems and technology play a vital role in efficiency. How you address student recruitment is key for cultivating current and future business. First we’ll start with opportunities and strategies for continuing education. The first is harnessing critical data. Many variables go into a student’s decision to enroll in a particular class, so when performing a market analysis, you have to take all of these variables into account when creating and scheduling a program or course.

One of these variables is price. You don’t want to price yourself out of the competitive market, but you have to ensure that all of your associated costs are covered and at least break even; more importantly, make a profit. Timing and scheduling is another. While some students are professionals attending classes on company time, others are professionals who are struggling to get away from work to take the classes they’re interested in. Timing and scheduling will be very different for these individuals. You also want to make sure your instructors are always staying up-to-date on the subject-matter trends and that they’re engaging. Students must also understand the learning objectives for a course. Location is another variable. Based on student feedback, we’ve been scouting out a new location for our facility.

We’re very excited about this new opportunity to provide our students with the new professional space, not only because it better meets their needs, but it also helps us meet our staffing needs, as well. Data is critical for seeing where we expend our resources. You can have 100 people in a course paying $200 each, or 10 people in another certificate program paying $6,000 each. The raw number of students isn’t the determining characteristic of profitability. We all know our indirect costs like space and staff are vital pieces of the puzzle. With demand fluctuation, we find that classes that are popular now may not be popular a year from now. This is a problem for a lot of schools out there due to changes in what students or employers want. We’re always having to stay on top of what that demand is going to be. Pricing is difficult to strategize especially for new programs because, again, you don’t want to price yourself out of the market, but you do want to price within your brand and the quality of your program. Prepackaged courses can be offered more inexpensively than ones you’ve developed on your own, but if you choose that option, you risk losing the quality of your brand. A way to be successful with continuing education programs is to enhance the student experience.

We try to do this on a daily basis, because if students don’t have a great experience, they may not come back. One of the ways to do this is to address inquiries quickly and accurately. If students are reaching out to you with a question, you should get back to them within a 24-hour time frame, so they don’t lose interest. Another area we found to enhance the student experience involved our academic advisers. They’re using Jenzabar’s Higher Reach CRM to put new leads into the system. They can set up triggers for follow-ups and student status changes. It has helped them stay on top of who they’ve talked to and the plans for individual students. Prior to Higher Reach, ECE had a student registration system that was very old and had poor reporting capabilities. After a very thorough search for a new system, we partnered with Jenzabar on their Higher Reach product, as we felt it met our needs the best. It has allowed us to access key data for decision making. For instance, we now have accurate financial reporting.

We have the ability to run a profit/loss analyzer for a particular course, so at any given time we can run the numbers by a click of a button. We also have a financial feed from Higher Reach and we no longer have to do journal entries at the end of each month to move money where it needs to go. We now have the ability to reconcile revenue and refunds back to the individual student, which was key for us. We also created a sequel database to give the staff the ability to slice data in a variety of ways for making go/no-go decisions, and to run classes based on the net profit, including indirect costs. We also wanted to look at many courses at one time, and the profit/loss analyzer allowed us to look at courses based on start date or enrollment. That has been very helpful for us in making our decisions. Transactional security was another reason we selected Jenzabar. We now have the ability to collect all necessary student and course information in one place. Overall, our administrators are no longer doing data entry all day. With Higher Reach, making that process more efficient, they can interact more with our instructors and instead concentrate on the logistics. We feel we have a much better handle on our operational efficiencies and have less chance of creating data inaccuracies.

Josh Pennino
Sales Manager, West Region

Transactional security and integrity is paramount to our solutions and our clients who migrated from other systems, and who were facing challenges such as lawsuits. We want to make sure that our clients are 100 percent protected so they don’t have to go down that road. There are four main components to a Jenzabar partnership: streamlining disparate systems and processes, providing a seamless integration, cutting associated costs, and examining growth and revenue. This helps our continuing education schools that are trying to figure out how to improve student retention and have more repeat customers.

Mark Gradolf
Continuing Education Product Manager

Generally speaking, we have made some great advances over the years to provide tools that help schools harness and manage data. There are many sophisticated applications now that help administrators and staff make informed data decisions, made through reporting and metric dashboards, that are easier to implement now than ever before. There are some sophisticated ways to collect this data too. For example, we can passively capture web shopping tendencies and then make that data a part of student participant profiles. At Jenzabar, we’re working to individualize the experience of our continuing education shoppers based on those profiles. Schools can take advantage of this by putting the programs and events up that fit a student’s interests on their profile. We’re also pushing out dynamic data collection instruments that are triggered by conditions in the database that were collect previously. We’re providing our clients with a number of ways to harvest information, but more so, we’re providing ways to trigger actions based upon that information to a school’s advantage.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: