Real-World Case

Here is a real-world situation.

You’ve been hired by an industry association representing the 3,000 colleges located in the United States. Due to COVID-19, nearly all universities in the United States will be conducting classes via video conference at the start of the new academic school year, which begins in August 2020.

A few months ago, the association sent out a survey to the college students attending their member universities. The survey asked a simple question:

Given the remote learning situation, do you plan to re-enroll and attend school in the next academic year?

25% responded "No."

What should the association’s member universities do regarding this finding? How would you structure this problem? What are the possible implications of this finding?

Post your answers in a comment below.

25 comments… add one
  • ucbucbucb Dec 10, 2020, 12:00 pm

    25% no as an answer just seems to be cut short… let me add up all the possibilities
    1. no… resume on campus immediately
    2. no… i opt to study on campus occasionally e.g. once a month
    3. no… i prefer a more regular on campus schedule e.g. 2-3 times a week
    4. no… im ok with full time remote yet the course quality, design, interactive content/activities should be improved

    so based on above we then work out the root cause and resolution accordingly

  • Iris Aug 18, 2020, 10:31 pm

    To summarise, the issue is that only 25% of students choose to enroll with these 3000 U.S. colleages this academic year. Our objective is to find a solution to improve the enrollment rate before the enrollment deadline or start of this academic year.

    I would like to find out what factor(s) contributed to the decline in enrollment rate the most and prioritise that when recommending a solution.

    Firstly, I would like to explore student satisfaction. – – – How is that different from last year?
    – Which segment has caused the decline e.g. social activities, learning experience in the classroom?

    Accordingly, we can figure out how we can make the virtual experience to fulfill the gap that students have been concerned with.

    The second bucket that I want to explore is financial consideration:
    – How many students’ family have been impacted directly by the Covid-19?
    – Have they been able to receive any financial assistance?
    – Have there been any other concerns on the school fee perspective?

    Thirdly, I want to explore the career prospect.
    – Have Covid-19 impact the no. of employers want to recruit from this college?
    – Have the employers prepared to do virtual recruiting this year?
    – Have people been trained for virtual recruiting?
    – Any opportunities that will be available virtually but not in person vs the previous year?

    Forthly, I want to explore infrastructure.
    – How many students have adequate set up at home to do virtual lessons?
    – Have any students express any specific concerns? Can colleagues provide any support that fulfill the social distancing requirement (e.g. study room, borrowed laptop services etc.)

    Finally, I want to access the strategic options of the industry
    – How big is this threat if only 25% of students enroll this year?
    – Will universities be financially viable ?
    – Will this be not profitable to any colleges?
    – Any industry support that the association can provide?

  • Xiaokong(Emma) Yu Jul 17, 2020, 6:22 pm

    I would like to examine this problem from four different aspects:
    • Who are these 25% students that responded “No”? Why they voted “No”?
    o Types of colleges? Majors? Which school year are they in?
    o Nationality and where are they staying now?
    o access to computer and internet?
    o Rubric change?
    • Go with pure online teaching?
    o Financial factors: budget limit and financial goal?
    o Non-financial factors: student retention rate, cut in faculty, enhancing the IT department/hiring more IT staff for online teaching support, school reputation, etc.
    • Alternatives to online teaching?
    o Offer a gap year to students who voted “No”
    o Offer hybrid teaching (online and offline mixed)
    o Offer full in-person teaching for students in less severe covid-19 areas through exchange program at collaborative universities (could be international universities).
    • Potential changes as time goes
    o If covid-19 situation gets contained, start offer in-person meetings with health and safety precautions.
    o When vaccine is available in early 2021, consider offer in-person meetings after students get the vaccine.
    o Seek for financial and non-financial help from alumni, government and private sectors.

    First, we want to study “who are among the 25% that responded No?”, that is, the demographical breakdown and details of these students. What types of colleges (e.g., Liberal Arts, Polytechnic, Public vs. Private, Community colleges) are they from? What majors are these students in (Engineering, Math, Medical & Life Sciences, Liberal Arts, Business, etc.)? which year will it be for these students for the coming school year (Sophomore, Junior, or Senior)? What is the nationality of these students? Where are they currently staying (in the US or outside of the US)? Do these students have difficulties accessing computers/laptops and internet which are essential to the online teaching? Are they worried about any rubric change or grading system change and the effects of these changes to their overall academic performance from the online teaching? All the above factors could affect students’ preferences between online teaching and in-person meetings. If we can find the key characteristics of the 25% students who responded “No”, it will help us better define the problem. For example, these 25% students could be made of those who are currently enrolled in Engineering majors in public universities, outside of US, the in-coming senior, inaccessible to internet or computers; whereas students who are in Liberal Arts colleges or in Business majors prefer online teaching because they do not need to worry about any hands-on projects.
    Second, once we have a better idea on “who are these 25% students?” and “why they chose “No”?”, we now can evaluate whether it is good to conduct classes via on-line teaching or other potential alternatives (see possible options in the framework above) from both Financial and Non-Financial factors. Financial factors include: budget limit and financial goal and their effects to the finance of the college in the next 5 to 10 years; if there is a budget short, ask for support from the governments, alumni and other private businesses. Non-Financial factors include: how the pure online teaching will affect the students’ performance, retention rate and enrollment in the next few year? What changes need to be made to the faculty and the IT support department? e.g., cut the number of the faculty or reduce their salary? Hiring more IT staff and paying more to the existing IT staff? How the online-teaching will affect the reputation of the universities, positive, neutral, or negative?
    Third, we can apply the financial and non-financial factors to the various alternative options in the framework. Besides that, we need to address the health and protection issues for all these alternative options to limit the spread of covid-19 due to our students. We also need to develop new collaborative relationships with international universities to offer students the exchange program option.
    Lastly, the covid-19 situation could change rapidly as time goes, so we need to be prepared to potential changes. For example, if covid-19 cases get reduced and the virus is largely contained in the next 3-4 months or a vaccine is available early 2021, we can think of offering in-person meetings for the 2nd half of the semester. Universities should also seek for financial and non-financial support from governments and private sectors as well as individuals to make sure that college education is available to students because college education is critical to the economic and societal development.

  • Ja Jul 12, 2020, 5:53 am

    This is how I would approach it.

    My hypothesis is that universities want to maintain financially viable until the outbreak is resolved. To approach this problem, I would like to break down my analysis into three main components.

    1. Short-term Impact Assessment
    1.1 Financial
    – Impact on tuition fee, subsidies and grants
    – Changes in variable cost (e.g. utility, materials needed for classes,
    – Do colleges need to explore financing options to keep up with fixed costs (e.g. buildings and staffs)
    1.2 Non-financial
    – Classes, modules, department impacted
    – Number of staffs and buildings that need to be operational
    – Number of students requested for deferrals to next year

    2. Options to Improve
    2.1 Immediate
    – Government schemes available to maintain university staffs (e.g. furlough scheme)
    – Renegotiate rent and request for holiday payment and shut down buildings / area temporarily that will not be needed
    – Consolidate classes / offerings to perspective students starting next academic year
    2.2 Mid to long term
    – Explore new segments (e.g. apprentices and adults)
    – Explore new modules and remote learning options that universities can offer that are in line with market demand (e.g. DIY at home and programming)

    3. Execution
    3.1 Assess universities capability & capacity
    – Online readiness
    – Ability to develop online friendly content in limited timescale (do we need to outsource?)
    – Marketing capability to reach targeted students effectively
    3.2 Assess benefits of improvement options identified to…
    – Prioritise actions to implement
    – Conduct further market research to confirm that there is demand
    – Pilot improvement to prove the concept
    3.3 Identify risks and ways to mitigate them
    – Availability of staffs to support new learning methods
    – Non-performing colleges (pre-covid) may need extra assistant

  • Samuel Poddar Jul 12, 2020, 3:55 am

    Thank you for this relevant case. Please find my analysis below

    I would like to first structure the problem to understand what is causal effect it can have, then I would like to transition into possible implications the finding could have and lastly list a few things the associations member universities in USA could look into with regards to the survey results.

    Structure the Problem

    In order to proceed further there are a few assumptions I would like to make that would help us with our analyses. Based on the calculation blow it seems that this is a profit decline problem.Rvenues have gone down from $975bn to $731bn , thereby resulting in profits to go down by 48.12% (~$244bn).

    1. Average number of students (post graduate + undergraduate) attending a university (2019 -2020) = 13,000 students

    2. Total number of students (UG + PG) attending 3000 universities across USA = (3000*13,000) = 39,000,000 (~39 million students)

    3. Average cost of maintaining a university for a student = $12,000

    4. Total cost of maintaining all universities for all students = (12,000*13,000*3000) = $468,000000000 (~468 billion dollars)

    5. Average Tuition fees for a course (UG +PG) = $25,000
    Based on the following assumptions above: below the findings are stated with regards to the 25% of the students not wanting to re-enroll.

    1. Revenue for the year 2019-2020 = 25,000*39,000000 = $975,000000000 (~975 billion dollars)

    2. From a total of 39 million students, the number of students not wanting to enroll for august 2020 batch as per the survey = (0.25* 39,000,000) = 9,750,000 students (~9.75 million students will opt out)
    3. New number of students remaining for batch August 2020 onwards = 29,250,000 students (~ 29 million)
    4. Assuming the cost of tuition fees has not gone down, the new revenue with regards to the total students attending in August 2020 =
    (29,250,000 * 25,000) = $731,250,000000 (~731 billion dollars). So revenue has gone down from ~$975 billion to ~ $731 billion.

    5. Profit for 2019-2020 = (revenue – cost) = ($975bn – $468bn) = $507 billion
    6. Estimated Profit for the next year with 25% of students dropping out = (revenue – cost) = ( $731bn – $468bn )= $263 billion
    7. Comparing 5 & 6, we get the profit decline in the next year of = 48.12%. This is considering 25 % of the existing students would not re-enroll.
    Possible implications the finding could have
    1.The profit is estimated to decline by 48.12% for the next batch year (Aug 2020) if 25% of respondents who said “No” do not re-enroll. This could indirectly more students to opt out mid way which would spiral down the revenues and profits.

    2. Depending on the customer segment that is disinterested to re-enroll (in our case the assumption is the international students), the universities as a whole will possibly have to target more local students to fill in the gap.
    Additionally, they might have to lower the cost of tuition fees significantly to keep the 25% re-enrolled.

    List a few things the associations member universities in USA could look into with regards to the survey results.

    1. The associations member universities in USA must attempt looking to find out why 25% of the respondents in the survey don’t prefer video conferencing classes. There could be a whole list of issues starting from certain courses are designed for group sharing versus individual accountability for course completion. It might also be that certain students from a specific cohort ( for instance MBA) choose to opt out the most as majority of their course is based on experiential learning (sharing management and leadership experiences). Shifting the whole course online will not allow the face to face engagements which are imperative for networking. Trying to Zoom chat individually might not seem to cater to mitigating that gap.
    2. They should also try to reword their survey to understand and justify that understand the number 25%. They should try to find out from students what alternatives would they prefer over video conferencing given the Covid scenario.
    3. It could also be that majority of the disinterested 25% respondents could be international students studying in USA. International students pay a huge amount for international education which not only involves tuition fees but also living expenses and health insurance etc. Additionally, what is of most value to them in my opinion is that they would not mind paying extra for a top college in USA where they could get global exposure. Global exposure is one of the crucial things for anyone in today’s times and discounting that might disinterest more students in the future.

    4. Having said that point 3 segway’s into considering the cost of a program considerably for such students. To make them understand about how Covid affects us but we still need to move comes with a price for all of us. The price that the universities need to pay for this is to lower tuition fees so that they don’t lose students which will affect their profit margin greatly. Additionally if the numbers stay in tact the money coming in could easily be used to grant some scholarships to keep students engaged and also scale up online infrastructure.

  • Siddhant Jul 11, 2020, 7:25 am

    I would like to break this problem into two parts
    One looking at all the Students and then Universities

    1. Have the students who have answered no spread out or are the majority from a similar college or area.
    2. Are any of these students in their final year?
    3. The reasons could be
    Q lack of connectivity or expensive network charges
    This can solved through the Government asking the Telecom companies to form student network plans that are available at cheaper rates.
    Q Then there could be a problem, that laptops arent available
    This can be solved by the Asscociation temporarily renting laptops till the semester resumes but the students should be held accountable for any damages
    Q The students may feel that high prices are justifiable?
    This can be solved by colleges only charging tution fees and any extra fees should be cancelled as students arent using any on campus facilities
    Q Students have heavy loan burdens and are worried for future job prospects and not being able to pay the loan?
    The universities can contact their alumnis for help or lower the fees for these students secretly.
    Q Are these students transferring to different universities?
    Nothing much can be done in this case rather than hearing out why the student is do so
    QThe students looking at the bleak economy have thought it would be better to start their own venture rather than look for jobs?
    Make them understand that this is a suddne drop in supply of jobs and everything will return back to norrmal as soon as evrything is under control
    4. Another survey should be sent for finding their reasons and what can the universities do to help them?

    1. I would try to understand how much revenue would be lost by drop of those students?
    1st yeat students would make the most loss as they will be skipping most payments rather than students in their third years.
    Is this loss bearable by the Universities?
    2. Will the reputation of these colleges fall and their college ranking may fall?
    I don’t think this would be that big of an issue considering the current situation
    3. Will the fall in revenue for the college affect them in operating or is it something that they cant operate without?
    If they will still be able to function after the loss, then they should try as much as possible to help those 25% students but if nothing is possible then they should just let them go
    If they cant operate without them, then they can either take a loan or gather funds. Raising the fees is not an issue

  • Animesh Jul 11, 2020, 5:23 am

    Firstly I would like to clear the objective of the problem: So we are trying to list out the possible reasons for the students who answered a NO in the survey and then maybe devise or think of some solutions to solve this problem.
    After clearing the objective of the case, we can analyze the data from the survey. What other useful insights can be obtained? For instance, we can try to look for:- The students are into which year of their college degree. We can simply ignore the final year students through this analysis as the survey becomes irrelevant for them.
    We can try to look into the geographical segmentation of the students. How many of these students are local or foreigners and from which country? This might be helpful in concluding whether the students who have an alternative of joining a course in their respective country (non-US residents) are leaving or is it just any other reason.
    We can also segregate the students on the basis of their disciplines i.e. what courses are they enrolled in? The majority of students might be from courses that involve creative practices (ex. dance, music, theatre, etc.) which require more personal interactive sessions. Or most of the students are some Ph.D. or research scholars who require lab work to continue their studies. Here the key point of the problem is that students are unwilling to re-enroll due to the absence of more physical interaction and work.
    We can also look into the academic guidelines of the institute now, are online courses receiving normal scholarships/credits or is there some changes involved that might be a reason for these problems. Several other short analysis like do the students use other regional languages other than English which might be making them uncomfortable for online sessions or are the students physically challenged and therefore it won’t be an easy use of gadgets for them.
    Considering all these aspects will be helpful to us in listing out a detailed analysis and the key drivers of the issue.
    Now we can prioritize the issues by using the 80-20 rule and look towards the more important problem to solve.
    The issues can be further divided into small sub-issues and we can identify where the problem actually lies, whether it’s the admission, fee problem, online mode of studying, educational resources, etc. The solution can then be devised like developing a more interactive session with GDs, group gaming sessions, group weekend exercises for students, and some personal sessions with the instructors, etc. One more solution could be providing translators and facilitators or using some key features in the online video platform to solve the problem of language and making the online classes more accessible. Some special incentives like a free course on personality development, a course on industry business models to make the course curriculum more enamored. The academic curriculum should be modified in such a manner that the students don’t feel the missing space of personal interactions and lab work. The issues tree created for the problem structure can be used to resolve issues by thinking of relevant solutions.
    We can also think of an approach that would compel the students to re-enroll for the next year such as a compulsory course to obtain the transfer certificate from the university etc. The Industry association should try to balance their market reputation in applying such rules which will bind the students to enroll for the next year to some extent.

  • Nikitha Jul 11, 2020, 4:27 am

    What should the association’s member universities do regarding this finding?
    Understand the objectives of the university. It could be:
    a) Profit oriented
    b) Social impact objectives (ie.) impart education, knowledge and required skill-sets among the younger generation

    How would you structure this problem?
    Case 1: Profit oriented objectives
    Member universities should:
    1. Breakdown the available survey data into (at a university level):
    – Fields of study
    – Courses
    – Final year students or others
    – Resident or international students
    2. Identify the most profitable courses which would have the maximum impact on profits on account of drop outs as presented by the survey
    3. Within the selected critical courses:
    – Compare the historical drop out% of all students with the actuals presented as per survey
    – Break this down into final year students and other students
    – Compare with historical conversion rates for final year students enrolling into higher studies
    4. Identify the mix of resident and international students who have opted out
    5. Conduct additional surveys for specific target audience after detailed analysis across various parameters and identify reasons

    Case 2: Social impact objective
    Member universities should:
    1. Identify the key courses / fields of study that are gaining popularity and have significant employment prospects
    2. Identify mix of opt outs in the above identified courses / fields
    3. Further, break this down into drop outs of final year students and other students. Also identify the mix of resident and international students
    4. Conduct additional surveys for specific target audience after detailed analysis across various parameters and identify reasons

    ‘Reasons for drop out could be:
    Reason 1: Financial constraints due to loss of jobs in the US market
    Reason 2: Unwilling to opt for online classes because costs don’t justify the benefits
    Reason 3: Unwilling to opt for online classes for want of in-person classroom experience
    Reason 4: Decline in opportunities around the field of study resulting from Covid-19
    Reason 5: The student would’ve dropped out either way (normal drop out every year)
    [The above list is indicative of the various reasons for students opting out in the given scenario and is not an exhaustive list. Additional reasons could be identified from the above analysis across various parameters]

    Possible action by the member universities for the reasons listed above:
    Solution 1: Alter the pricing strategy to pass on the cost savings achieved from online classes to the students;
    Solution 2: Include course add-ons; innovate the delivery format of lectures; try and provide the classroom experience as much as possible;
    Solution 3: Apart from point (b) above, include additional course offerings which were previously not included as part of the in-person program, thereby providing incentive for students to re-enroll
    Solution 4: Amend the course structure to ensure that the latest technological developments are factored in; Tie up with companies in the field for employment opportunities
    Solution 5: Limited action from university (inevitable drop outs)
    [in solution no. 1, 2 and 3 above, member universities have to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis to ensure that they remain profitable if the students who have opted out continue to attend college]

    Additionally, in case of universities with social impact objectives:
    Solution 6: Promote courses that are in high demand such as data analytics, machine learning, artificail intelligence etc. thereby developing the required skill-sets and providing employment opportunities
    Solution 7: Provide sufficient financial aid for worthy candidates and for courses with high prospects, encouraging the eligible students to opt for these courses

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