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Universities eye new paths to revenue

Cyrus Commissariat never figured his final year of college would be a made-for-streaming-worthy event. But there the Arizona State University senior was when his decision to pursue triple majors and triple minors became one of several Sun Devil students profiled in a new series called “The College Tour.” Yet another pandemic-motivated attempt by higher education institutions to find creative solutions to combat declining enrollment numbers, the series gives prospective students and their families a peek into college life from the comfort of their living rooms.

Partnering with Hollywood producers and hosted by Emmy-nominated TV personality and producer Alex Boylan, ASU was one of the first schools to be featured on the series, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Roku, AppleTV and YouTube. Throughout the ASU episode, 18 Sun Devil students from all around the world share their personal academic journeys, while viewers get a sweeping visual tour of its campuses.

“We knew that visiting college campuses remains a challenge for many prospective students and families, so we were looking for an innovative approach to tell our story,” says Kent Hopkins, vice president for academic enterprise enrollment at ASU. “We focused the hour-long episode on student choices and personalized learning experiences available on ASU’s four distinct campuses as well as through ASU Online.”

The episode, which showcases the varying degrees and customized education tracks at each of ASU campuses, provides a snapshot into how students can design their own learning experiences. At the center was Commissariat, who used ASU’s diverse options of degrees and minors to pursue a triple major in political science, history and French, and minors in sustainability, public service and public policy.

Hopkins says the last 18 months have been a time of unprecedented challenges and resilience, as students, faculty and staff continue to find innovative ways to stay connected and engaged, including adapting to a new learning modality of remote, live-hosted courses.

In addition, ASU transitioned its in-person new student orientation into an online module experience, which helps students complete enrollment steps from home, at their convenience. Welcome experiences now include SophoMORE events, which help second-year students get engaged and involved on campus. Even its vaunted First-Year Success Center has grown into the Student Success Center, where students at all grade levels can achieve academic success with peer coaching.

In its continuing efforts to expand its reach to prospective students, Arizona State University continues to measure itself on whom it includes, not excludes, and how these students succeed. For example, this fall, ASU welcomed 14,350 first-year students, a record number and a 13% increase over fall 2020. It is important to note that the university also has nearly 10,000 veterans and military-affiliated students, more than 55,000 online students and more than 29,800 students actively in its MyPath2ASU™ pathway program, which accepts transfers to ASU from community colleges around the country.

“Our quick adaptations have led to a surge in enrollment for the fall 2021 semester,” Hopkins says. “This year, a record number of students are attending in person and online in the fall—more than 132,000 students, a 6% increase over fall 2020.”

“Our quick adaptations have led to a surge in enrollment for the fall 2021 semester. This year, a record number of students are attending in person and online in the fall—more than 132,000 students, a 6% increase over fall 2020.”
— Kent Hopkins, VP for Academic Enterprise Enrollment, Arizona State University

But perhaps what makes ASU truly different is its commitment that everyone should be afforded an opportunity to learn at any point in their life. To bolster this, it created the Learning Enterprise, one of the three core functions of the ASU Enterprise. The initiative offers an experience-rich learning environment where students of all ages are supported in their academic or professional goals. It starts early with ASU Prep and ASU Prep Digital, a K-12 school educating students on campus and online. The ASU Prep public charter school serves more than 3,100 students on several campuses in the greater Phoenix area, while ASU Prep Digital enables students anywhere in the world to take a single online course or enroll in a full-time, diploma-granting program. Both prepare students to be successful in college.

Hopkins says ASU also offers certificates and digital badges for learners looking to master a particular skill or series of courses to help them excel in their career fields or switch their area of expertise. “We opened a retirement community next to the Tempe campus where residents can audit ASU classes, access the libraries and act as mentors to our students. In short, ASU is focused on creating universal learners interested in gaining knowledge throughout their entire lives.”

Reaching out around the world…

Nicola Barrett, chief corporate learning officer at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, says that the goal of its new global classrooms is not to use digital learning to replace all of its traditional classrooms, but to reach a different audience and provide a top-notch educational experience. The distinction is one she hopes students around the world can embrace.

Emory University’s new generation global classrooms are designed to deliver a truly immersive, dynamic experience via three fully renovated spaces and an innovative technology that connects students with each other in innovative and groundbreaking ways. Made possible by a transformational gift from The Goizueta Foundation, The Roberto C. Goizueta Global Classrooms create online and hybrid learning opportunities without sacrificing one-to-one connection.

“The ability to not only adapt, but to innovate is critical,” Barrett says. “It’s less about finding new revenue streams and more about how to meet the needs of a changing market of learners. Our namesake challenged the school to ‘teach business, not the way it is, but the way it will be.’ With the advances in technology and the changes in societal expectations, it is imperative that organizations adapt. That means the people leading and executing the strategies have to continuously learn and adopt new approaches.”

To make the classrooms a reality, Goizueta partnered with third-party vendor X2O Media, which offers a digital learning platform that drives each of the three global classrooms. With multiple camera angles and state-of-the-art audio, faculty and students are able to see and hear each other through a wall of 20 to 40 high-definition monitors positioned with each student’s video feed assigned to a monitor, all in a familiar format. “Partnering with education-focused technology companies allows us to increase our reach and bring new learning approaches to life, for example technology enabled simulations, virtual reality, and high end asynchronous content,” Barrett says.

“We try to leverage market research of various kinds to better understand the ‘why’, ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ for learning initiatives, be they traditional or non-traditional approaches.”
— Nicola Barrett, Chief Corporate Learning Officer, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School

Similar to other universities, Goizueta’s efforts were inspired by the pandemic, which accelerated its efforts and underscored the need to be innovative and agile. Barrett says it offered an enforced “proof of concept” for people and organizations who were skeptical about leveraging technology for learning. In addition to upgrades to its physical space, Goizueta Business School continues to further innovate by incorporating hologram-like technology that enables professors to bring in guest speakers from all over the world. These “pop-up” classrooms will allow virtual visits to cities like Shanghai and Rome, where faculty can deliver “in-person” instruction without the carbon footprint and expense of travel.

“We are very much guided by the organizations we work with and the needs of executives, managers and professionals,” Barrett says. “We try to leverage market research of various kinds to better understand the ‘why’, ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ for learning initiatives, be they traditional or non-traditional approaches.”

In a time of continual evolution, finding the change that can drive enrollment initiatives—and revenue—will continue to give higher education marketers new and exciting ways to tell their stories.