Discourse / Editorials / October 2, 2013

Thoughts from the Embers: Accelerating the pace of change

Failure is a part of Knox College’s history.Embers

The Old Main bell from Lombard College sits between Seymour Hall and Alumni Hall. It’s a constant reminder of Galesburg’s other liberal arts college, one that didn’t survive the Great Depression.

Knox College is neck-deep in the cut-throat environment of college admissions. We’re swimming through an ever-competitive market for prospective students, all the while trying to survive national economic forces that are putting downward pressure on college enrollment.

The coming years will prove pivotal for the future of the college. Last week’s top story in TKS detailed the enrollment shortfall mainly due to the absence of expected transfer students. Though we didn’t lose any ground, we failed to advance a plan to increase enrollment, thus improving our financial sustainability. We believe that absent more aggressive admissions and marketing efforts, the future of the college looks markedly bleak.

The July 25 article in the New York Times “College Enrollment Falls as Economy Recovers” explains a national decline in enrollment as part of a natural ebb and flow tied to economic forces. By its estimation, the 2 percent enrollment decrease for the 2012-2013 academic year is the starting point for a “contraction that will last for several years.”

There is no doubt that major overhauls of college admissions and marketing are required in coming years to make it through a national enrollment squeeze. The recent marketing study and communications consolidation are a good start, but we must consider how things have always been done — and whether that needs change.

But with an aggressively competitive national market for students, we don’t have the luxury of time. The offices that handle admissions and marketing should take time for introspection and take on projects that can be done with the resources already available on campus.

We believe the first priority should be an overhaul of the website. Though it may seem superficial, a fresh website will better engage prospective students and help them see why they belong at Knox College.

There have been campus-wide discussions about an overhaul of the website, which is largely outdated, visually uninteresting and difficult to navigate. It’s time to use the human capital available on campus to make this change a reality. Rather, we don’t need to wait for consultants when we already have capable designers and programmers (who ostensibly have ideas about how to improve the site).

This is not a catch-all fix for the college’s financial woes. But as we emerge from the so-called Great Recession, it’s time to accelerate the pace of change at Knox before we go the way of Lombard College.

TKS Editorial Board

Tags:  economy enrollment financial growing Knox College Lombard College marketing New York Times recession study The Knox Student website

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  • ameier

    It’s a bit doomsday-ish to suggest that Knox will go the way of Lombard. The college is far from wealthy, and we all know facilities/faculty salaries/etc. could use some improvement, but it doesn’t seem like we’re hanging off the edge of the financial precipice. We’re certainly not as close as we were when Roger became president.

    The website was completely overhauled when I was a freshman (so in 2009). It’s one thing to change the styling of a site; it’s another to change what content is available. Especially over the past year-ish, the effort to add more info on the various centers on campus, more student profiles, and more up-to-date information in general has been tremendous and shouldn’t be ignored. You might think the site is ugly or disorganized; I’d be inclined to agree in many respects.

    If the issue is admissions marketing, Knox would do better to a) do more targeted outreach, be that via social media or in person, and b) continue what it’s already doing to improve facilities and such so the college makes a good impression on visitors. This isn’t to say that “fixing” the website isn’t important, but it can’t be done overnight, especially not when ITS/Comms has so much else to do. Plus, Comms is seriously understaffed for what it’s trying to accomplish. If Knox wants to redesign its website and not have it take five years (it’s taken more than two just to update “what students say” on the faculty pages), it needs to have people who can fully dedicate themselves to that project, which isn’t feasible with current staffing. Having undergone its own website overhaul last year–and still implementing not-minor tweaks)–TKS should know all of this better than most.

  • max

    Speaking of websites, this editorial references another TKS article about “enrollment shortfall,” which I can’t find because the search function here is so lacking.

    I agree with everything Anna said (there is a first for everything). I want to add that Knox’s website isn’t the best, but it is on par with peer institutions’ websites, especially those in the ACM. So the ROI of rewriting the website is going to be much worse than that of the strategies Anna mentioned.

    This business about “the human capital available on campus” that the editorial mentions is naive. The staff is working at capacity, and the students are fly-by-night. I mean no student would ever make a website, and then leave, without anyone to maintain it, right? lol

  • http://www.theknoxstudent.com/news/author/charlie/ Charlie Megenity

    Max,
    The enrollment story is now linked above.
    -Charlie

  • max

    FmrTKSEditor,

    I just said ACM, because we all know exactly what that means, and I thought I could get out of hunting for links. But here we go:

    http://www.nyu.edu/
    http://www.harvard.edu/
    https://www.amherst.edu/
    http://www.northwestern.edu/
    http://www.wesleyan.edu/
    http://www.pomona.edu/
    http://www.hmc.edu/
    http://www.umich.edu/

    I see that sampling of brand-name competitors, it looks to me like Knox’s website is comfortably in the middle of the pack. If you agree with that, then overhauling the website isn’t worth it right now. But if you think Knox is hideous in comparison to these others, then by all means, push for a rewrite.

    Also, I have seen no indication that a major shake-up is in the works. Keep me posted.

    • FmrTKSEditor

      Why must we settle for middle of the road? Middle of the road isn’t going to get us to a point where we are financially strong and being able to produce an educational experience that lives up to Knox’s hopes.

      I don’t think website redesign is priority 1, forget everything else, but I think its part of a multi point need list that needs to be tackled together, so our website doesn’t lag other parts of our marketing.

      • max

        FmrTksEditor’s first claim, which is that only “top” institutions can sustain and thrive is indefensible. However, it seems that his or her main point is that the website is an important, but not primary, component in an aggressive admissions campaign. To this point, I mostly agree. For me, the priority of rewriting the website ranks as somewhat-low (e.g. 4th out of 5).

        It just so happens that Knox’s website was completely overhauled a few years ago (see the old version below). I would certainly be in favor of doing it again (and the administration probably would be too) if there is evidence to suggest that a. the ROI for last time was significant, and b. that doing so again at this point in time will be similarly productive.

        http://web.archive.org/web/20090321165616/http://www.knox.edu/admission.xml

        • FmrTKSEditor

          Max,
          Certainly top isn’t something we can achieve reasonably, efficiently, but middle of the road doesn’t get us to a point that we need to be at to sustain.

          I guess I am idealistic at times in my hopes for the college, but none the less it comes down to there needs to be a change in the way things are done to be able to create an image of Knox that is exciting.



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