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I met Bill Rieders at the recent Noodle Advisory Board meeting. Bill, chief of partner solutions, joined Noodle in 2023 after Noodle acquired Meteor Learning, a company that Bill co-founded. In speaking with Bill, I found his insights on where higher education is going to be valuable. I’m grateful to Bill for taking the time to participate in this Q&A.

Q: You’ve devoted a significant portion of your career to improving higher education. What are the reasons behind that?

A: There are many reasons I chose to focus on higher ed, but they certainly begin with the fact that my family placed an outsized value on completing a degree and learning certain basic core skills like communication, critical thinking and creativity. The example I had growing up was really both extremes: a mom who was at the top of her class and went on to become an educator and a dad who, after serving in the army, took advantage of the GI Bill to become an engineer at Boston University. But the emphasis they put on getting an education and degree was the same.

Like my parents, education was a game changer for my career. Attending Carnegie Mellon for a quantitative management MBA opened up a path in management consulting that I could never have accessed without it—it was just an outstanding ROI on that investment.

I enjoy solving big problems, and education definitely has its share of them! So early on in my career as a management consultant, I made the decision to dedicate myself to improving education—providing greater access, making it more convenient and less exclusive, and promoting skills that are the most in-demand among employers. Developing successful strategies and solutions requires understanding the whole system—for example, the flow of money, the reward system, the competitive market, the politics, etc.—and figuring out the best way to navigate toward a better result for everyone involved.

Q: Having been involved in education for so long gives you a unique perspective on the industry. Where do you see higher ed going from here—what’s its next act?

A: To know where it’s going, we have to look at where it’s been. For the last couple decades at least, it’s been about the move to online learning. Early entrants to online education benefited greatly, and in many cases were able to make large share gains just because they had the advantage of being the first in the market. Things have changed—online is now a mature and well-understood modality; simply moving online no longer guarantees success.

As we’re watching consumerism increase across higher ed, institutions must now understand and apply the classic “4 Ps”—price, place, positioning and product—that are fundamental to building any great business. Key to that is positioning includes developing a clear understanding of your customer and the segmentation of the market, and then responding with value propositions that resonate.

I envision the pressure placed on colleges’ bottom lines growing as the demographic shift plays out and there are fewer incoming freshmen. And there are cascading effects of that: the price of an education will face more scrutiny, and institutions without a solid brand promise or value propositions will falter unless they ruthlessly adapt. We’ll see more mergers and acquisitions among schools, and likely more closures.

Online and onground learning will blend into an omni-channel strategy, allowing students to flexibly choose between the two. There are already examples of this happening and, just like the early days of online learning, the first movers to shift into the market will win the greatest share. Eventually that strategy offering choice and flexibility will become the market standard—just as it already is with most other consumer businesses today.

In short, higher ed is going to need to develop new business models to improve the return on students’ investment. For example, the 3-year degree will become a reality. Community college to 4-year pathways will expand to lower the cost of education. The focus on outcomes—this ultimately means jobs—will force stronger alignment with employers, which may take a number of different forms. One way Noodle is on the cutting edge of this is by delivering programs that reduce friction between higher ed and employers’ talent acquisition groups, offering benefits to both employers and students.

Q: That’s a good segue into how your company operates in this changing landscape. How does Noodle engage with its partners to help them respond to these new challenges?

A: Our goal is to become a trusted adviser for each of our university partners. Noodle understands the higher ed market—who our partners are competing against, how they’re positioned and the trends on both the demand and supply sides. But it’s not just about understanding the market, it’s about understanding and cultivating strong personal relationships with the leadership of our partner schools and institutions. We focus on developing a deep understanding of a school’s unique context, and then creating strategies and implementation tactics that are tailored specifically to their needs and challenges.

One of our biggest investment areas internally is strong account management, which allows us to combine information and ideas from across our service lines to provide partners a cohesive plan. We’re not only data-driven but also performance-driven as a company, so we bring data into these partner conversations and really confront the hard facts head-on to drive change management and chart pathways to improvement. This requires digging into the drivers of their performance at all levels, synthesizing those findings, and then developing and implementing customized solutions.

Throughout the process, we’re completely transparent and oriented toward sustainable, profitable growth for our partners—not only by helping them increase program enrollments but also minimizing student stop-outs and attrition, which benefits both the institutions and their learners.

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