11/13/2013 11:49 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Institutions Need to Manage Change to Ensure Future Success

There once was a time when students attended a particular university to study under a particular scholar. This hearkens back to a long ago time when teachers were itinerant with their students in tow. Those times are no more. Universities -- communities of scholars -- replaced the itinerant teacher. Today there are between 4,000 to more than 7,000 such communities in the United States alone -- depending on the source one cites. In addition, there are only so many students available to study at all of these institutions, which are being challenged by public and private leaders to demonstrate students are prepared to enter the workforce.

Benedictine University is one of those institutions that has measured its success by its growth and the value-added service of its alumni living across the globe. In fact, Benedictine has been recognized by The Chronicle of Higher Education as the fastest-growing campus in the country.* Where once we were local, we are now international. However, if there is anything we have learned during this time, it is that we cannot afford to be complacent. The continued success of higher education institutions is inseparably tethered by our mandate to graduate students who not only have the academic skills, but also the moral and emotional aptitude to be leaders within their careers. Significant changes are taking place in higher education. The tectonic plates on which our institutions rest are shifting dramatically.

For example, for-profits are not disappearing; they are multiplying and threaten to devour the traditional university student population. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are chipping away at our traditional ways of offering and charging for courses. Benedictine was once one of a few institutions serving the adult learner. Today, most institutions have discovered that market.

Community colleges are becoming the first choice of many new high school graduates. The traditional lecture model is being challenged every day. Technology continues to change everything. Textbooks are disappearing. Competency-based learning appears to be our future. Tuition must decline in order for institutions to stay in the market. Government oversight will only increase.

Welcome to the brave new world of higher education. Universities can cower in the corner and think these things will not impact them, or they can embrace these challenges. Benedictine chooses the latter.

For many years, we have embraced what is known as enrollment management. Admissions is a part of enrollment, but enrollment management functions before the admission process begins and well after graduation. It is not the purview of a single office, but of the entire university community. To meet the challenges ahead, we all have to get busy in new and exciting ways.

Retention is key to enrollment management. But recruiting and retention are only as good as the product offered. Like Benedictine, other universities have great academic programs that are challenged by equally great programs elsewhere. Universities must push the envelope in developing even more new programs that will garner today's student.

At a recent meeting of chairs and deans, I suggested many new programs. I asked our faculty to survey the state of learning in their discipline and actively seek to move us to the forefront of what is happening. We will continue to look at alternative delivery methods, new programs to develop, more credit given for life experience, new populations of students, cooperative education, etc.

In addition to retention and developing state-of-the-art academic programs, universities must up the ante in the recruiting game through better outreach to potential student populations. We need to tell our story in new and exciting ways. We need to raise our game across the institution and among our supporters.

Each member of an education institution must ask, "What can I do to aid this effort? What can I do to spread the word to potential students on why this university has so much to offer and how life-changing their time here can be?"

*Between 2000-2010 among private nonprofit research universities.