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Future of Higher Education

How Integrated Planning Enables Personalized Learning for Higher Ed

Photo: Courtesy of Alex Motoc

Integrated planning is the key for colleges and universities looking to boost enrollment, says explained Nicholas Santilli, senior director of learning strategy at the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP).

Nicholas Santilli

Senior Director of Learning Strategy, Society for College and University Planning

“So for us, integrated planning is a sustainable approach to planning that builds relationships, aligns the organization, and emphasizes preparedness for change,” explained Santilli. “It is fundamentally about relationships that you have on your campus and off with your stakeholders. 

“It also helps align the institution. I like to use the phrase aligned up, down, and sideways. So it’s not just a top-down alignment, it is top-down, bottom-up, and across the institution so that it helps you break out of a siloed approach to planning at the institutional level, and then all other levels across the institution.” 

By alignment, Santilli is referring to how institutions should take a holistic approach to planning so every element is in line with the institution’s core mission. 

“When you think about enrollment, it’s not just bringing heads in the door, and that kind of approach to admissions is really in the rear view mirror these days,” Santilli said. “In terms of enrollment and even strategic enrollment planning, it needs to be intimately connected with the kind of experience you hope to provide students.” 

Santilli named IT, HR, facilities, and finance as the “four foundational components that will be your operational foundation.”

Moving in unison

When you’re talking about using an integrated planning model to encourage enrollment, Santilli said, you’re ensuring the enrollment services departments have robust, cross-functional connections with all other areas of campus so that everyone is “driving in the same direction.”

When implementing an integrated planning model to enrollment strategies, an institution must first determine its core mission and focus, whether that’s STEM, business, the arts, or any other discipline. Next, it must be sure to communicate this mission to prospective students, and implement any and all necessary infrastructure to make it available to all. 

Santilli points to adult students over the age of 25 and transfer students who may need more personalized and structured guidance. 

“When you talk to individuals at that age, many of them have credit, but no degree,” Santilli said. “So they will want to know ‘How much of my credit is going to transfer?’ ‘How much is this going to cost me?’ And ‘How long will it take me to finish my degree?’

“When I was working at this institution where we were doing a lot of online learning, and it was a lot of adults with credit and no degree, not right out of high school, students who wanted the online experience, those were the three things we had to answer.”

Navigating transfers

Every college and university has different requirements for transferring credits, and navigating these can be confusing. 

“This is where advising becomes key,” Santilli noted. “With the enrollment of individuals who are transferring or people returning to school, you really have to have very solid transfer counselors to be able to help that student understand.” 

This principle also applies to career counselors. 

“Full-time college students right from high school are seeking a different kind of experience than the adult student or the student over 25,” Santilli said. “They need good career counseling, but the career counseling needs to be scaled to individuals 25 and over. Career counseling isn’t one-size-fits-all.” 

In fact, as Santilli explained, no part of the college experience is truly universal. Students come from a variety of diverse backgrounds and stages of life, and all need a program best suited to their particular circumstance, which will allow them to thrive and get the education they’re seeking.

Accommodating all students

Some students may also be parents, for instance, or live with a partner or other family. Santilli noted some ways institutions can or already do accommodate special circumstances. 

“It may be that institutions need to think about access to childcare, or what times they are offering classes,” he said. Any parent can attest that a flexible schedule is not just helpful, but a necessity. “And a lot of online programs also have various schedules. Some will offer online courses on anywhere from a four-, five-, or six-week schedule where you only take two classes or maybe three, but it’s intense and it’s over a shorter period of time.”

Other special groups mentioned by Santilli include students with disabilities who may need particular ADA accommodations, and military veterans who may find much-needed support in an on-campus veterans group.

“What I think we really need to think about in higher ed is ‘life-course learning,’ and thinking about your stage of development in your ‘life course,’” Santilli said. “When family happens for you, when career happens, and you examine what you need to continue to sustain your career. When you begin to think about continuing to develop as an adult, what kind of learning do you need at a particular moment in your ‘life course’ or your life cycle?”

And this, Santilli said, is what personalization of education is really all about. 

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