How to Assess Your Current Partnership: A Quick-Start Guide

Last updated on: March 3, 2023

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A recent National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report found that enrollment fell for the fifth semester in a row, a combined decline of about 7.5% across all higher education sectors since 2019. But enrollment headwinds aren’t the only challenge your university may face today. Technology has evolved, the market is changing, and you’ve likely shifted your university’s goals to adapt.

In today’s competitive higher education marketplace, your partner must be able to address your specific challenges and meet your current and potential students where they are. As a result, your university may need more support than ever from your partnership.

Here are three questions to ask yourself when considering whether it’s time to stick with your current partner or make a change, including a short list of eleven essential qualities to have in a partnership:

#1 – Is my partnership agreement structured in my favor?

When you signed your agreement, chances are the market favored longer-term partnerships, lower revenue share to universities, and one-size-fits-all selections of services. But that’s changed. Here are some items to look for now:

Flexible, university-centric agreements

Today, you first need a partner who outlines regular agreement reviews up front, ensuring the relationship continues to be mutually beneficial. That’s why working with a partner that proposes a university-centric agreement is crucial. No matter your situation, your contract’s terms should accommodate inevitable changes by allowing you to reevaluate your partnership regularly.

Another critical piece to the agreement puzzle? Performance outs. These ensure you can exit the collaboration if your partner isn’t performing to contractual expectations.

Modernized collaboration models

Second, you need a provider that offers modernized partnership models. How so? With appropriately bundled or à la carte services adapted to your specific needs.

Revenue share agreements, which appropriately bundle support services, have long been a popular choice. However, the quality of services and capabilities may vary significantly between providers. So, selecting a partner that offers state-of-the-art, scalable capabilities and technology is critical. In addition, they should provide a comprehensive selection of end-to-end services they will fit to your actual needs and objectives, including:

  • Market research and program planning
  • Brand management and marketing
  • Recruitment and enrollment
  • Retention services
  • Instructional design
  • Faculty support and development

Another increasingly popular option is a fee-for-service partnership. This à la carte approach may last as little as a few months or as long as two years. This offers colleges and universities high flexibility to correct course when their goals change.

But universities that need the utmost flexibility increasingly consider hybrid agreements, which combine revenue share and fee-for-service models. For instance, this type of agreement may involve five to seven years of collaboration in a university’s primary, bundled service areas with a few months to a year of support on additional projects.

Ability to help you go “in-house”

Leading-edge providers also increasingly help universities develop their internal capacities and capabilities. This might involve the partner initially providing essential services while the university develops the structures to transition these services in-house. Or, the relationship might be purely consultative from contract start to finish. In this case, the university already has the capabilities and capacities internally and receives coaching and best practices from the experienced support service provider.

#2 – Is my partner keeping up with students’ current needs?

If you haven’t been shown how to update your programs to stay competitive, you might experience exacerbated enrollment declines. That’s why it’s more important than ever that university support partners stay up-to-date with learners’ preferences in the following ways:

Market research expertise

Successful collaborators know how to ask learners what’s most important to them. That’s why a partner with deep market research experience is crucial. Consider whether your partner has the capabilities and expertise to survey online learners about their needs, experiences, and preferences.

What specific student preferences should a partner always consider? There are many to assess, but here are a few key areas they should examine:

  • Workforce-aligned programs: Why are online learners getting their degrees? Simple. They have career-specific goals, and their chosen programs should help achieve them. So, ask your current partner whether your degrees align with local and national workforce needs.
  • Value-driven approaches: Affordability is vital to students, so working with an experienced market research team to support your independent cost decisions is important. For example, if you have an online MBA program, consider how yours is priced compared to the national average.
  • Speedy completion: Sixty-nine percent of learners prefer a quicker time to completion, desiring back-to-back or concurrent courses over spaced-out programs. Ensure your current partner is equipped with best practices to help learners graduate quickly.

#3 – Has my current partnership evolved with technology?

Advancements in technology have streamlined the digital user experience in all aspects of life. And the situation is no different for learners or higher ed administrators. Unfortunately, partners today who aren’t simplifying the student experience are likely letting learners slip through the cracks if they aren’t considering the following:

Self-service student journey

Constantly innovating technology in education is critical, so it’s equally important to collaborate with a partner capable of streamlining the digital student journey. For example, technology can transform how prospective students research, evaluate, and enroll in their chosen universities. Many modern-day prospective learners prefer a more self-service, student-led model made possible by digital features, tools, content, and functionalities. The result? Deeply reduced friction and less time spent from research to consideration to application.

24/7 information for learners

For instance, find out whether your partner is making the best use of AI and omnichannel communications with students.

Real-time performance analytics

Your learners aren’t the only ones who need information on demand. You do too. Your graduation and retention metrics should be readily available, so performance dashboards are invaluable. With this tool, your partner should hold themselves accountable and let you easily track your status against your goals.

So, how can we help you?

For 215 years, we at Wiley have continuously improved how we serve knowledge seekers through an intentional, forward-thinking mindset. Contact us today if you’re interested in learning how we can build a modernized partnership to suit learners’ needs and your objectives.

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