Building for Scale in Higher Ed: Why It Matters and How To Do It

In the ever-changing world of higher education, institutions must build clear foundations for programming that respond to continually shifting recruitment and enrollment markets.  This second article of a five-part series on Global Tech provides institutional best practices with regard to building international learning and engagement that will support the growing numbers of students interested in virtual global experiences.

This series will appeal to those global education professionals who are especially eager to explore entrepreneurial strategies and savvy approaches to maximizing student learning and engagement in a new era.

Scalability is a word that international educators hear (sometimes) too often.  

Those in higher education institutions use the word in connection with global programs that are capable of performing well under shrinking or expanding resources and student numbers, enabling institutions to pivot with confidence.  Where scalability often becomes a challenge to education abroad professionals is in trying to maintain effective global programming while increasing the numbers of students engaged.  As these professionals have seen in the past several years, several innovative COIL programs have encountered stretched financial and human resources while trying to meet student demand, making great COIL programs very difficult to operate on a larger scale.

And scalability also presents another, more insidious challenge.  While adapting operational processes to align with student enrollment trends is a clear necessity, it’s often a struggle to predict the pain points where those processes might present barriers to student participation. That’s the hidden struggle of scalability– to identify infrastructure, resource and other systemic barriers that exist at an institution.  Still more, it is essential to understanding how such barriers limit the access and effectiveness of one’s programming.

Because of these and other challenges, discussions about scalability matter.  

How we approach operations is important to everyone involved in global programming, from the institution to staff, parents, and students specifically.  Thinking strategically about program enrollment and scalability forces an institution to build adaptable processes to support students (and staff!), no matter how many are engaged in any given program.  

Podium Education’s Global Tech Experience provides a prominent example of how to develop and operate scalable next-gen global programs that connect students to world-class companies and career-building global experiences.  This innovative strategy has effectively turned the tables on traditional approaches to international learning and engagement by bringing the world to the students, expanding and diversifying enrollment to include students from all over the world, and supporting growth without further taxing institutional systems or resources.  

But how might an institution pivot thoughtfully toward impactful programming that responds not only to internal and external demands, but also to learning experiences that propel student careers? And how might that institution build capacity given the rapidly growing student appetite for new forms of international learning and engagement?

The large and growing number of institutions considering online global learning programs suggest the emergence of best practices for how to successfully approach scalability with more impact.  Here are five critical things to consider as you build for scale: 

1. Design Programs that Benefit from Network Effects

Network Effects is a concept where a particular program or product gains value with each additional user. If we design programs that can benefit from network effects, those programs gain value and importance as they scale. Using this idea to build growth, more students means more impact!

Putting #1 Into Practice: In Global Tech, as new users are added onto the platform, other students benefit from their diverse perspective and insights. This provides a rich platform for student engagement and the development of intercultural communication.

2. Build a Frictionless Application Flow

Processes and procedures related to applying to participate in a program should be reviewed with scrutiny. Streamlining program applications into institutional process workflow eases application management burdens on staff and makes participation in programming even easier for students.

Putting #2 Into Practice: As obvious as it might sound, there’s no need for students to sign a travel risk waiver for an online program because their global engagement happens virtually.  Those institutions that still require students to print out forms, sign them, and deliver in person to a campus office could be losing as much as 20% of interested students! Time to re-strategize.

3. Consider Automating Manual Tasks

In reviewing the mechanics of the program and operations, plan for 2,000 participants instead of 20. For manual tasks that would be a bottleneck at larger enrollments, review and assess ways to automate and further streamline processes using new and emerging technology (which your institution might already have access to!).

Putting #3 Into Practice: Automations don't have to be expensive or complicated technology solutions. There are tools out there that will automate notifications and pull together data from disparate Google sheets.  Check with your IT team for ideas on tools that are easy to use and readily available.

4. Build Institutional Goodwill

The deeper the "buy-in" across campus the more likely international programming will be embedded into the academic and social expectations, and the more likely it will be to see enrollment growth. It’s important to spend time with key stakeholders like academic advisors, deans, faculty and even parents to explain the benefits of your particular program.

Putting #4 Into Practice: Consider giving away 'freebies' and scholarships to faculty/staff to join in the first set of courses to generate goodwill. Podium does this regularly in the first term for new university partners offering The Global Tech Experience.

5. Have a Marketing Plan

Key among best practices is the need to invest significant time and thought (notice I didn’t say money!) in program promotion. It is essential to design programs that are relevant to student interests - and market them to students in a relatable fashion, paying attention to design, word choices, positioning, and response. It isn’t necessary to be a marketing guru to do this. Simply aligning programs to students’ academic, social and career interests inevitably leads to enrollment growth and sustainability.  

Putting #5 Into Practice: Something seemingly as simple as an email subject line can lead to huge gains in enrollment. Podium Education recently tested three different subject lines on a program announcement email.  Of the three choices, one had a 23% open rate, the other had a 49% open rate, and the third had an 87% open rate. The third approach clearly was a winner in grabbing student interest!

In the end, scalability becomes a realistic proposition through online global learning.  The term is used quite often in higher education today for a good reason.  Imagine dramatically boosting the number of students at your institution that participate in meaningful global engagement.  Podium’s Global Tech Experience programs presents one proven way to do just that! 

Join next time for a clear look into building accessible global engagement programming to every student in Expanding Access to the World Through The Global Tech Experience, coming soon!

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