Course Analysis – How Long is Your Tail?

Course Analysis – How Long is Your Tail?

We want to provide a series of articles explaining how you can actually use the outputs of the models to manage your universities. This article was written by Michelle Brooke and looks at the Whale Chart for courses as a starting point for analysis.
Every university will teach courses (subjects) that contribute positively to the university’s bottom line.  Framed in slightly more business-like language, they are the profitable courses.  It is these courses that allow the university to do a range of things that are not necessarily directly funded through external sources, some of which could be:

  • build new buildings;
  • upgrade technology and systems;
  • offer student scholarships and waivers;

And dare we say it…

  • subsidise unprofitable courses; and
  • enable internally funded research.

In a perfect world, the contribution that each course makes towards the university’s margin (in blue below) would be positive (green).

Sadly, this university utopia rarely exists, if ever….in fact, reality is more like this:

But hopefully not like this!!

Now margin is just one aspect of a course and it may not be the most important one for each course – there are many other aspects that could be just as important including quality related metrics such as pass rates, retention statistics, and student satisfaction survey results, etc.

But it can’t be ignored either.

So what does your university, faculty or school’s tail look like? 
Knowing the direct revenue and costs of each course isn’t enough to make smart decisions on the future of those courses.  To do this, you need to know if each course is covering all of its costs – for example:

  • Faculty support costs such as the Dean / General Manager / Finance Manager and so on?
  • The cost of the space utilised by each course?  Rooms aren’t free….there is depreciation, repairs and maintenance, and utility charges to cover.
  • What about the space that your academics and professional staff utilise…offices, conference rooms, kitchens, toilets?  Student spaces?  Libraries?  All of these need to be paid for.
  • What about recruitment?  Admissions?  Career advice? The myriad of other student services?
  • Who pays for payroll?  IT? Governance?  Finance? Marketing?
  • Who pays for the Vice Chancellor? The Senior Executive?

And then to make things even more complicated….is your course margin sufficient enough to contribute to the departmentally funded research that your school or faculty is undertaking (and all of the associated overheads that that research consumes)?

And is it helping to subsidise the loss of those strategically important but loss making courses that you must continue to teach?

Obtaining the data to allow you to understand your ‘tail’ is just the beginning of your analytical journey.

In the next newsletter we will look at how you can use this data to support a range of potentially difficult decisions:

  • course consolidation (by campus, delivery method, or session);
  • course breakeven analysis (and why a course making a loss can actually be a good thing); and
  • why teaching can’t be looked at in isolation without understanding the full cost of research.