Future of Learning Top Reads for week of Sept 25 2017


If you want to sketch the contours of the future of learning, these 3 articles can help you sense the shape of where learning will (or should) go next:

***

"Lakeside opening second cheaper school in shadow of space needle," by Paige Cornwell / @pgcornwell, in The Seattle Times

"Private schools typically try to be accessible to a wider range of students through financial aid and fundraising. But looking for other ways to keep costs low is also part of a new trend, especially in light of competition from charter schools and rising costs for buildings and teacher salaries [...].

Why does this matter to the future of learning? Lakeside School in Seattle, one of the country's elite private schools, is sponsoring The Downtown School. This microschool experiment will be priced at $17,500, approximately half of what Lakeside costs, and within striking distance of the typical Seattle private school. The model doubles down on Lakeside's core competency--rigorous academics and student formation--and avoids the costly infrastructure of additional programs, which they are counting on families to acquire from local rec leagues, travel teams, arts organizations, et al. The outcome is a far more affordable and sustainable school tuition for middle class families. In the future, schools that thrive will experiment with alternatives to their current "bundled" business model, in which they try to be all things to all families.

***

"The tuition reset strategy," by Rick Seltzer / @rseltzer, in Inside Higher Ed

"Many attack resets as a strategy prone to overpromising and underdelivering. Among the critiques: they’re gimmicks. They’re marketing ploys that won’t work if more than a handful of colleges and universities try them. They work for a year or two, but then colleges and universities see applications and enrollments tail off. Colleges are putting them in place as temporary measures before they go back to jacking up tuition and discount rates at unsustainable rates."

Why does this matter to the future of learning? Tuition resetting, a fancy name for a tuition "price cut," is primarily a method for changing the signal a school sends to the market. In this case, these colleges want to appear affordable, so rather than continue to increase their sticker prices and offer more financial aid, they are reducing the sticker price (with concomitant reductions to financial aid). This amounts to reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic, because the underlying business model is broken: structural costs cannot rise in perpetuity, especially when schools rarely, if ever, eliminate programs or roles. Don't believe me? Take a look at this chart of the past 20 years:

 Data published by United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), https://beta.bls.gov/dataQuery/search, retrieved2017-07-11

Data published by United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), https://beta.bls.gov/dataQuery/search, retrieved2017-07-11

Why does this matter to the future of learning? There is a reckoning coming not only for colleges, but also for expensive private K12 schools. (The tuitions of the colleges cited in this article are similar to the tuitions charged by many independent schools.) It is worth noting that this presents a tremendous opportunity for public schools and charter schools to siphon families from expensive private schools that don't present a long-term return on investment. Just as the Lakeside example above demonstrates, private schools that hope to survive this reckoning will spend the next 3-5 years prototyping their way toward a new business model. To compete with publics and charters, the most successful private schools will double (or triple) down on their mission.

***

"Private schools first, public schools last in K-12 ratings," by Lydia Saad, in Gallup News

Since August 2012, "the percentage of U.S. adults who consider public school education as excellent or good increased by seven percentage points, while positive perceptions of private school education fell by the same amount."

Why does this matter to the future of learning? By now you will have sensed a theme for this week's Future of Learning Top Reads: the private school business model is under threat. The bad news is that in the last five years positive perceptions of private schools have declined, while perceptions of direct competitors--that cost nothing!--have increased by the same amount. The good news is that there is still a considerable gap between perceptions of private schools and publics / charters, which means that private schools have time to reimagine their business model. In the imminent future, schools that thrive will double (or triple) down on their core value proposition: mission and vision, animated through a distinctive culture. At the same time, they will engage their communities in a process of "selectively forgetting" programs and practices that threaten to drown the school.

***

Thank you for reading! Want to receive original Basecamp blog posts every Tuesday and Thursday and "Top Reads" every Saturday? Subscribe here.