Gray Associates: Optimizing College Program Portfolios

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Steve Probst, Senior Partner
Higher education faces significant headwinds, including a declining number of new high school graduates in many areas, increasing pressure on tuition, rising costs, and uncertain or greatly-reduced state funding. As a result, many institutions are reevaluating their academic programs to increase enrollment, reduce cost, and sustain their mission.

Massachusetts-based Gray Associates provides curated data, systems, and processes to help colleges and universities understand their markets and decide which programs to start, stop, sustain, or grow. "With the right market data and systems, schools can determine which programs can grow while reducing costs by cutting outdated programs," says Bob Atkins, founder and CEO of Gray.

Gray's core offering is its Program Evaluation System (PES), which tracks over 1,000 academic programs and millions of data points on student demand, employment opportunities, competition, and degree level. PES is unique. For example, PES is the only system that includes up-to-date information on the programs students are interested in, including current student inquiries and Google searches by program and campus. Further, for each client, PES uses customized market definitions (e.g., a 30-mile radius around a campus) so the data corresponds precisely to the geographies in which they compete. Program scoring and ranking is customized to align with institutional priorities and goals. Using PES, institutions can compare and contrast markets for over 1,000 programs to identify the best programs for their school.

S i m i l a r l y , clients can compare online or on-ground programs in a single market, across multiple markets, or nationwide. "The combination of precise market data on almost every program and objective scoring and ranking enables our clients to assess and improve the productivity of their program portfolio," explains Steve Probst, senior partner at Gray.
Bob Atkins, Founder & CEO and Mary Upchurch, Senior Partner
Building on the success of PES, Gray developed additional systems to support fully-integrated program portfolio analysis and review. Gray's Market Analysis Program (MAP) helps colleges and universities assess where to offer specific programs by identifying markets with high demand but limited competition. Gray's Program Economics Platform (PEP) calculates program cost, revenue, and contribution margin by course, program, and discipline. PEP helps institutions ensure they have enough high-contribution programs to help fund mission-critical programs that may lose money. PEP also uses national benchmarking studies to allow colleges to compare their program costs with similar institutions.

Interestingly, Gray has found that data and systems are only part of the solution. Making good program choices also requires the participation, knowledge, and judgment of leaders across the institution. To this end, Gray offers a collaborative workshop process where faculty and administrators share and interpret the data in real-time to jointly make program decisions.
As complex as their systems are, onboarding with Gray is a straight-forward process. "Getting our systems up and running requires a little bit of data and a couple of conference calls," explains Zach Paz, Gray's Director of Analytics and Product Development. "During the first call, we share a distance analysis based on student addresses to help clients define the market(s) they serve. Next, we pull the data, set up the system, and develop a draft scoring rubric. On the second call, we customize the scoring with the client. Then they are ready for the workshop."
Looking ahead, "Gray will continue developing the best available data and systems to help colleges and universities make better program decisions that improve outcomes for students, the school, and its constituencies." concludes Atkins.

Gray Associates

Concord, MA

Steve Probst, Senior Partner and Bob Atkins, Founder & CEO and Mary Upchurch, Senior Partner

Gray Associates is a strategy consulting firm focused on higher education. The organization helps education clients develop fact-based institutional and marketing strategies that maximize outcomes for students, the school, and its constituencies. To support its client work, Gray Associates has developed an industry-leading database that combines information on inquiry volumes, demographics, competition, and employment. Using this information and proprietary analytical techniques, the team works with faculty and school leadership to develop institutional strategies, select programs, pick locations, and prepare curricula. The services offered by the business include academic program portfolio analysis, market-entry, design and optimization, post-secondary education, campus site selection, corporate strategy, industry analysis, and program selection and assessment