The University of North Alabama had been part of the steady decline nationally in students enrolling in MBA programs. In order to turn the tide at the UNA College of Business, a team utilized Value Stream Mapping.

By focusing on adding value to the student recruiting process, UNA College of Business was able to dramatically increase enrollment in its MBA program, well ahead of the national average.

The University of North Alabama Had a Problem

According to an article published by The Washington Post, enrollment in MBA programs nationwide has been in steady decline year after year. Smaller business schools have been hit hardest, but even world-known educational institutions such as Harvard have seen a decline in enrollment in Master of Business Administration programs by more than 15%. The reasons for this decline have been multifold. Reasons for the decline have been attributed to such factors as cost and the fear of exiting a very competitive job market to continue schooling.

In order to slow the decline, educational institutions have had to get creative. It is now commonplace to see advertisements for MBA programs on billboards dotting the highways throughout many states. Other tactics have involved scaling back enrollment requirements, accelerating programs to maximize efficiency while minimizing overall time commitment, and utilizing outside companies to assist in both recruiting and enrollment. Many educational institutions are significantly cutting the costs associated with such programs as well.

The University of North Alabama has not been immune to this decline. This was a serious concern for the university, as MBA programs are a major source of revenue for every business college.

In July 2013, the college brought on a new dean. One of the first orders of business for this new dean was to address the MBA enrollment issue. First, the dean replaced the organization that was handling the university’s external marketing with a new partner. This new partner had a wealth of experience in adult learning programs as well as new-world marketing strategies, pay-per-click being an example. This new partner helped in establishing a new team to deal with the issue as well as encouraging recruiting efforts to be brought in-house.

When this partner met with the newly formed team to go over the process map, they were shocked to find that there wasn’t one.

The Team Decided To Make a Value Stream Map

Once the team was able to gather adequate data, a process map of the current state was created. This revealed that the university had been working in such a way that it had created a hockey stick pattern in the enrollment process. Nearly all of the registrations for each semester were happening during the final week of enrollment, as close to the last minute as could be. Naturally, this way of doing things created a lot of chaos at the beginning of every semester as students scrambled to get their enrollment complete ahead of the cutoff. This also likely led to many incomplete enrollments, as prospective students could not manage to squeeze all of the registration steps in during this hectic time period. The team recognized that devising a much more customer-oriented system could be extremely beneficial in boosting enrollment numbers for the university’s MBA program.

The team, including the dean and the new partner, decided to have a Value Stream Map event in March of 2014. This was the first time most of the team had ever heard of Lean and Six Sigma concepts. It was also the very first time that such an event was ever held on campus. The team could feel something new in the air; something fresh and exciting.

The point of having the team work with a Value Stream Map was to maximize efficiency through a reduction in waste occurring throughout the operations process. They needed to change how they were looking at enrollment in the MBA program by transforming the culture into one that focused on value for the customer.

The team went into Value Stream Mapping with the following goals:

• Make it so that every one of their actions adds value for their students.
• Remove any repetitive steps.
• Eliminate unseen barriers.
• Make transitions as smooth and seamless as possible.
• Organize around a process that creates the sharing of information across the departments instead of creating silos.
• Assess if enrollment can be increased through improved customer satisfaction and the adoption of Lean and Six Sigma methodologies.
• Achieve buy-in among staff for the adoption of the methodology for this project as well as future projects, should it succeed.

The creation of the first Value Stream Map was found to be somewhat challenging, as the partner’s background was based in manufacturing. The training had more of a slant towards widgets as opposed to recruiting students. The methodology was found to be adaptable to this project, however, and soon enough, the team was soaking up a wealth of new tools. Some of the concepts that were taught were cross-training, only one way, pull vs. push, the 5 whys, 8 forms of waste, and current/future state.

The first event finished with the team creating an initial Value Stream Map along with a list of actions. A map of the current state of the process identified five stages of enrollment. These were broken down into the following stages:

• Prospecting
• Nurturing
• Application
• Admission
• Registration

They recognized that a pull system could provide a boost in productivity and increase enrollments while minimizing mistakes. Changes were introduced that encouraged prospective students to enroll earlier. The team continued its work with weekly enrollment funnel meetings, monthly digital marketing reviews, monthly VSM updates to the action plan, and a semester review meeting.

Over time, a major transformation took place. Leads were being created primarily through a pay-per-click program. Cross-training was established in order to alleviate stress among the team and improve student satisfaction by eliminating the wait for a person-dependent response. Pipeline analysis began to allow for better forecasting and planning. Transparency in the enrollment process began to provide future opportunities for continuous improvement.

One example of how the team was able to add value for prospective students was to look at the data around BBA vs. non-BBA-degree students. The team found that a much higher percentage of students were registered with a BBA as opposed to not having one. By working through the 5 Whys, the team discovered that this was primarily due to non-BBA-degree students needing to pass an average of six prerequisite courses in order to be accepted into the program. Even after completing the prerequisites, only 1 in 4 students went on to pursue an MBA at the university. It was found that a lack of follow-up by the staff could be a contributing factor to this phenomenon. Eventually, on top of increasing its engagement, the university began doing away with the prerequisites and began offering a Foundations of Business course. This course eliminated the need for prerequisites, effectively starting all students on the same course. The university also offered the course for credit, opening it up to qualification for employer reimbursement and any applicable loans.

The Outcome Was Undeniable

The team was able to meet the goals of the project, increasing enrollment in the MSA program by 70% while achieving a 97% recruitment satisfaction rate among enrollees.

The team was able to further its project success by having an RIE, or Rapid Improvement Event, that put fresh eyes on the process, identified additional improvement action items, and implemented control measures on the improvements that had already been made.

3 Best Practices When Implementing Lean Six Sigma Tools in Your Organization

During the MBA enrollment project, the team learned a number of lessons:

1. Emphasize the future state

In the initial stages, there was the temptation to place blame on how the current state got to where it was. This would only wind up demotivating staff. A much more effective motivator turned out to be putting the focus on the future state, looking towards where the organization wanted to get to. While it is important to find things like the root causes of an issue, it wastes a lot of time going back and forth about who in an organization is at fault. Instead, work together to identify the root causes, analyze the data, make the necessary improvements, and put measures in place to control the improvements. Pointing fingers only serves to stall progress.

2. Don’t assume what the data is going to show you

The team found that it could not accurately predict what managing the current process would reveal, since the process had never been managed using a single system. The revelations led to solutions that proved to have a significant and positive impact on MBA enrollment. In your organization, don’t make assumptions about what is causing the issues you are having or how to improve them. Take the time to amass and analyze all of the relevant data in order to have a thorough representation of the process, bottlenecks, areas to improve, root causes, and an understanding of the improvements to make.

3. Embrace Lean and Six Sigma’s Versatility

Six Sigma is often linked with manufacturing, while Lean is regularly associated with production. It would be a mistake to relegate these methods to these boxes. While the teachings of the partner initially seemed more geared toward widgets than student enrollment, the team was able to recognize just how malleable and versatile these tools are. Whatever the issue may be in whatever type of organization you are in, it is worth looking at Lean and Six Sigma tools to see how they can be applied to the unique problems you might be facing.

Lean and Six Sigma in Any Industry

How the university was able to utilize Lean and Six Sigma tools to dramatically increase MBA enrollments is a great example of how versatile these methods are. If your company has an issue and is looking to improve, take a look at the benefits that embracing Lean and Six Sigma tools can provide.

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