Case Study: Eastern Kentucky University

Key Strategies

  • Meet enrollment targets for new online education offerings.
  • Recruit and enroll not only more students, but also more qualified students.
  • Effectively market and differentiate EKU in the online environment.

Persistence and partnership payoff for EKU with a high volume of quality enrollments.

After convincing EKU stakeholders that moving to an online delivery system was in the University’s best interests, Director of Distance Learning Tim Matthews and Dr. Tom Schneid, Director of Safety, Security and Emergency Management, found the University’s first online program falling short of enrollment goals. With the future of online learning at EKU on the line, Mr. Matthews and Dr. Schneid made the wise decision to partner with EmbanetCompass. Read this case study to find out how this online program went from strikeout to home run.


In 2006, Tim Matthews had been in his position at EKU for about a year. After listening to a colleague’s story about online classes at his university, Mr. Matthews discussed the idea of instituting online programs at EKU with Dean Ault who agreed it was time to take a chance on this new learning model.

Mr. Matthews was appointed Director of Distance Learning, and the first EKU online program, Loss Prevention and Safety, was launched with great enthusiasm. Unfortunately, only 6 or 7 students enrolled in the inaugural class, and only a disappointing 14 enrolled the next term. “You have to understand the consequences of this,” related Mr. Matthews. “There were tremendous hopes, and a lot of eyes on us. The President had used us in her speeches; we were the beacons.”

Obviously, enrollments needed to increase. What would be the best way to accomplish that goal? Mr. Matthews and Dr. Schneid made the decision to meet with EmbanetCompass to evaluate the situation.

“The EmbanetCompass team came prepared with reams of research they had done on our curriculum and the marketplace views of our program,” states Mr. Matthews. “I will never forget this meeting – we approached it with a real business mentality. We came to the conclusion the curriculum and the program title did not fit. We were not retail safety as the title implied. Rather, we were emergency management, homeland security and occupational safety. EmbanetCompass strongly recommended we change the name and implement a new marketing strategy. In that one day, EmbanetCompass helped us identify why things weren’t working the way we wanted and developed an action plan for improvement.”

Dr. Schneid added, “We would not have met those initial challenges without EmbanetCompass. The information provided by EmbanetCompass was invaluable in assisting our faculty in making this substantial change.”

One of the biggest challenges of beginning an online program is overcoming the skepticism that arises in many forms. Below are some of the issues EKU encountered when starting its first online program and how EmbanetCompass helped EKU solve them.

Joining the Online Arena
Many institutions have been reluctant to join the online revolution. EKU was no exception.

“None of this has been easy,” Mr. Matthews related. “In the beginning, we first sought approval from our Board of Regents. Because we had never done anything like this before, people were obviously reluctant. We also had to work with internal committees when we decided to change the name of our program. This, too, was a challenge. Had we tried to do this without the help of EmbanetCompass, we never would have gotten it done. Their methodical, data-driven and student-focused approach made huge contributions to our efforts.”

Following Marketing Advice
Once the University made the commitment to an online program, expectations were high. When enrollment numbers were nowhere near expectations, naturally enthusiasm waned. Mr. Matthews then faced perhaps an even higher hurdle: convincing everyone to follow EmbanetCompass’s recommendation to change the name of the program.

“After changing the program name to Safety, Security, and Emergency Management and reformulating the marketing accordingly, this online program at EKU has flourished,” reported Mr. Matthews. “Today, we are at our highest enrollment numbers in our history – and the great thing is it has been a steady growth.”

Dr. Schneid commented, “The marketing has been phenomenal. While the experiment is still ongoing, the results are evident; we have quadrupled in size. We’re emerging, not just nationally, but internationally, and we are still in the growth phase. (EmbanetCompass) has far exceeded my expectations.”

Enrolling Quantity and Quality
Meeting enrollment numbers is not the whole story, however. The quality, not just the quantity of students is important to institutions and is a primary focus of EmbanetCompass.

“They also bring us good, quality students that can do the work,” noted Mr. Matthews. “At the end of the day, their desire is to find students that are a good fit for our program. That makes us all successful.”

Partnering with a Business
In addition to being reluctant to begin online programs, many academic institutions are leery of partnering with a business to work with their programs. EKU was no exception. Apprehension about whether the university will lose control over its academic integrity is a legitimate concern.

Mr. Matthews explained how partnering with EmbanetCompass helped them to embrace operating the programs with more of a business focus.

“We operate our programs like a business, not because it’s about the bottom line, but because that philosophy helps us deliver our academic mission and get to the point of excellent student service. Approaching these programs like a business means we take care of the many details that would otherwise detract from the student experience. Our partnership with EmbanetCompass frees us up so our faculty can focus on great academics and our EmbanetCompass team takes care of student issues.”

“Our EmbanetCompass team understands university environments, and they are extremely respectful of our processes. They have been very patient – more so than even we would have been within our own systems…EmbanetCompass took the lead, as they had a vested interest in our success. It was problem solving in the most constructive way, and it was far beyond what we typically see in university settings.”

Read about the unexpected positive outcomes for EKU in working with EmbanetCompass. “The constant flow of pertinent information and metrics provided by EmbanetCompass has permitted our graduate faculty to constantly challenge themselves to improve their communication and the content provided in their classes,” says Scheid. “Additionally, the recruiting methodology utilized by EmbanetCompass provides a steady flow of very qualified candidates, many with years of experience in the field, which challenges our graduate faculty to be at the “top of their game” in each and every class.”

“The success of our new-found business approach has been a pleasant surprise,” says Matthews. “When I tell people we operate according to a business plan, I never apologize for that. For me and our Dean, this is a critically important philosophy… You have to pay attention to the things that matter most to the student, and a business approach actually ensures that will happen. With the help of EmbanetCompass, we are able to take care of all the details that otherwise could detract from their overall academic experience. Our faculty is able to focus on great academics, not fire fighting, even though we teach firefighting. Excuse the pun.”

“We also started a bachelor’s program, and there were many, many student service issues that we struggled to overcome,” says Matthews. “The devil really is in the details… from application procedures to graduation requirements. EmbanetCompass came in, got everyone into the same room, and together we addressed nearly every issue that was important to student success. We had maps and flowcharts that showed us where things were broken – it was an amazing process. EmbanetCompass really rolled up their sleeves and got down to business. So, in turn, we all looked around at each other, and then we rolled up our sleeves too. I was told by our Assistant Registrar at the time that it was the first time everyone had pooled resources in a way that not only solved issues for our online programs, but also revealed some potential solutions that had far reaching effects for the entire university.”

“We have daily interaction with the EmbanetCompass team, and it has been a great relationship”, says Dr. Scheid. “Our Enrollment Advisors do a great job working with candidates to prepare them for possible entry into the graduate program. In our experience, we have found a certain level of fear in adult students, and our Enrollment Advisors give them the confidence to overcome it. Overall, this has been so successful we want more. We are confident. Our model shows growth for the next ten years.”