It’s Time for Numbers . . . and Creative Thinking

Happy New Year! For those of us in education, our new year starts in the fall, a season that is always exciting for me. The summer quiet of campus is replaced with the dynamic community we love. The air is abuzz with reunions of teachers, families and friends; new and returning student orientation; opening chapel/convocation, and the state-of-the-school address.

This is also a time of year for this question: “How are the numbers?” Those in enrollment and administration regularly answer to this question. Projections turn to actual in terms of total enrollment, academic profile, diversity stats, discount rate, and net tuition revenue. These reports help us judge the effectiveness of our strategic initiatives. Some years produce better numbers than others.

As I talk to leaders in K-12 Christian schools and Christian colleges around the country and even internationally, it is evident that pressure regarding enrollment is intense. Whereas some institutions face declining enrollment and the need to cut employees, others struggle with too high of a discount rate or the inability to raise salaries.

These complex challenges are described in Sara Eekhoff Zylstra’s recent article, “Tuition is Rising and Enrollment is Holding. So Why Are Christian Colleges Struggling?” Long-term sustainability is a real challenge in Christian higher education.

Zylstra quotes David Dockery, president of Trinity International University President: “The rise of costs, the challenge of financial aid, changing tax laws, and unpredictability of funding streams point towards questions regarding long-term viability.” Other pressures Zylstra identifies, such as demographic trends, competition, and economic uncertainty, only exacerbate the challenge.

Many of the issues that colleges face are similar to ones in the K-12 world. Now seems like a great time to be intentional in considering ways for Christian education to work together as a whole–to see how both K-12 education and higher education can be more sustainable over the long term. The mission statements of these two segments may be slightly different, but they really do have so much in common.

Now is the time to think creatively. Expanding our conversations to include both levels may move Christian education forward.

  • What are the unique ways Christian schools and colleges/universities can work together to enhance each other?
  • Can these schools and universities provide better services and benefits by working together than going alone?
  • How can resources be shared to maximize each dollar that is spent?

Over this past two weeks, my partner at Charter Oak Research and I have had the opportunity to work with innovative leaders who are thinking creatively about how to fulfill their mission today and into the future. They are strategic in their thinking, using research to better understand the needs of the community. Seeking to understand the time in which they lead, they are proactively developing new offerings as well as differentiating themselves from others in the market. They are engaging with others in Christian higher education to investigate ways to partner. It is so important for leaders to look forward and be proactive to fulfill the mission of their schools.

Our work with CACE, which exists for the sustainability, improvement, innovation, advocacy, and promotion of Christian education at all levels of learning, is seeking to serve schools and leaders to prepare for the future through services and events that further these conversations.

As this new year starts, do crunch the numbers. But also be thankful for those who are a part of your institution, for the opportunity to serve them, and for the long-term impact you can have in the lives of students, parents, faculty and staff. I hope you will also find time to think creatively about how to move Christian education forward. Happy New Year!

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