If We Build It Ourselves, Will They Come?

Concurrent Session 4

Brief Abstract

Doane University made the decision to invest significantly to create an internal structure that will bolster distance learning offerings. The coordination of activities across programs and colleges ensures Doane reaches strategic objectives and enrollment goals. This included adding investment in marketing, enrollment, retention, student support, curriculum development and faculty. 


Jessica has been in higher education operations and program development since 2004. At Compass Knowledge Group (now part of Pearson Education), she launched programs in healthcare, business, and education and grew these program suites to thousands of steady-state enrollments. As managing director, Jessica led program operations – research, strategy, marketing, recruitment, retention and instructional design – for a portfolio of public and private university partners. Jessica draws on her operational expertise to help non-profit colleges and universities build internal operations expertise and launch successful online degree programs.
Drew helps institutions of higher education to grow sustainably and in line with their missions. He has worked with universities and higher ed service providers on four continents to plan and launch new programs, evaluate potential vendors and partners, and determine whether to outsource or build capabilities in-house. Drew was a key member of the management team at Compass Knowledge Group (now part of Pearson Education), which pioneered the online program management services industry. Through a variety of operational and finance roles, he has developed methods and models for selecting, structuring, and growing degree and certificate programs while minimizing financial and academic risks. In addition to advising universities, Drew volunteers as an adult literacy tutor and is a member of Doane University's Board of Trustees and chair of the technology and innovation committee. The son of professors, Drew believes that college campuses, whether physical or virtual, are hallowed places.

Extended Abstract

In 2015, Doane University recognized the need to make changes in the way they served their students and managed institutional operations. Doane, a private liberal arts institution with four campuses in Nebraska, was caught in a nation-wide trend of decline in on-campus enrollments provoked by economic developments and a changing market for adult and online education. While offering individual courses online, Doane did not operate any fully online or hybrid degree or certificate programs.

While committed to a residential campus, Doane recognizes the need to serve students who do not have the opportunity to learn or participate in a traditional campus environment. Faced with the need to evolve, Doane came to a crossroad in which we had to decide whether to partner with a third-party organization to outsource marketing, enrollment, retention, and curriculum development or build those functions in-house. After an in-depth analysis consisting of reviewing then-current internal capabilities and speaking with a third-party company, which required a long-term contract and tuition share, Doane leadership determined that the best course of action was to build internal operational capabilities that are scalable for long-term growth and expansion. As Doane pursues developing online learning opportunities for these students, the University is committed to ensuring online programs have high standards of quality and meet required learning outcomes.

This panel discussion will include the President of Doane University who initiated and led the development of the strategy, the Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs of Adult and Online Operations, the independent consultant hired to help develop and execute the plan and teach stakeholders how to operate the various functions required to be successful and moderating the panel will be a member of the Doane Board of Trustees and expert in the online education industry. The panel will discuss the efforts and obstacles through the development and execution of the strategic plan and provide practical tips for achieving milestones, including:

1.   Development of a strategic plan focused on growth, including financial proformas with a five-year financial outlook.

2.   Managing cultural implications of inserting a new online unit within a traditionally ground-based institution.

3.   Creating a robust and unified marketing and enrollment structure with measurable key performance indicators to create a predictable enrollment model. 

4.   Rejuvenating existing degree offerings, through providing enhanced academic support to improve student learning and retention and through creating a robust assessment system to guarantee continuous program improvement and new program development.

5.   Conducting marketplace assessments to determine the educational needs of the adult and online market and launch new programs to meet those needs.

6.   Establishing an effective structure for delivering fully and hybrid online degrees and certificate programs.

After nearly 18-months in operation, Doane is well on its way to reversing declines in adult enrollment, attract new populations of students to programs, and provide the University with significant revenues to invest in program development across all schools and campuses. In addition:

•       Doane has developed sustainable, high-quality online programs and courses. Doane has established appropriate standards that ensure quality and meet regional, national and specialized accreditation requirements.

•       Doane has created an innovative online operations model with competitive and niche programs that broaden the Doane footprint and enhance visibility and reputation regionally, nationally, and internationally.

•       Doane has increased its capability to better serve all students. Best practices implemented in the areas of marketing, recruitment, retention and course development result in increased enrollments, retention and graduation rates for all students.

•       Doane’s online programs have provided opportunities for students who might not otherwise be able to pursue higher education. The online programs have grown enrollment in the areas of non-traditional and graduate students, which meet the strategic vision of the College.

•       Doane has increased revenue resulting from a larger student population to enhance Doane’s academic and university infrastructure. This includes providing critical support services and resources, rewarding faculty and programs, increasing library resources, and supporting service and scholarship.

Session attendees will leave with a better understanding of the level of effort required to successfully create an internal distance learning unit and seamlessly integrate it within an institution.