Beyond the Noise: Is the SNHU-Kenzie deal the new “new thing”?

by: Gates Bryant, Kristen Fox, and Trace Urdan | Blog |Mar 31st, 2021

Spring has arrived and brought with it signs of progress that soon the pandemic will be behind us.  Like a tidal wave as it recedes, we expect to survey the landscape for indelible change it has left behind.  With Spring also comes our annual publishing season.  Across the next few months we will be releasing our annual studies Time for Class, Driving toward a Degree and Hitting Their Stride where we will explore in detail how interventions in digital learning, technology enabled advising and developmental education, respectively have been impacted by the trials of this past year. 

The higher education landscape is shifting in big and small ways.  On the one hand, the pandemic has accelerated seismic shifts in the needs of our workforce to be re-skilled and prepared. It created new urgency and interest from traditional higher education institutions in vendors in the delivery of short-form, skills-based credentials. On the other hand higher education institutions are undertaking initiatives that incrementally depart from the status quo.  SNHU’s acquisition of Kenzie Academy, a coding and UX design school based in Indianapolis, announced earlier this month is a case in point.

Bootcamps have been keen to partner with institutions.

The bootcamp market has long seen the higher education community as an important partner despite early aspirations that they could eventually render the institution irrelevant.  Many of the leading, full-service bootcamp providers have partnered in a variety of ways with institutions.  We estimate that 120 institutions have taken the more incremental step to partner with a coding bootcamp to “white-label” a skills-based credential program.  As described along the spectrum below, most bootcamps tend to focus on providing staffing solutions for employers with high demand for IT/coding skills.  As the bootcamp market has grown rapidly, the businesses have been acquired by established companies and institutions focused on the adult learner market.  In Kenzie, SNHU is following similar moves made by Strategic Education (Strayer/Capella), Zovio and Stride who acquired Hackbright, Devmountain, Fullstack, Galvanzie and TechElevator.  Under SNHU’s ownership Kenzie will operate autonomously from SNHU’s Global Campus operations.

Institutions must beware of the two-step adjacency

The acquisition strategy is not for everyone, however.  An important axiom of effective enterprise strategy is that an organization’s ability to successfully enter new markets goes down as the number of new adjacency parameters goes up.  The adjacency axiom can be applied to higher education institutions as they consider the alternative credentials market.  In Kenzie, SNHU acquires a new capability to serve students with a new learning offering but they’re focused primarily on the same kind of adult learner that they know very well already.  In sum, they’re acquiring the ability to do one new thing and they’re extending from their core strength of serving adult learners.  If Kenzie’s core model is healthy and scalable, SNHU’s entrance in the bootcamp market is relatively low risk. SNHU is accomplishing a new thing but not a new, new thing, so to speak.

For institutions looking at new market opportunities like the bootcamp market, they should consider the types of adjacency they are well positioned to capture.  Here are a few questions to consider when looking at the alternative credentials market in light of the adjacency axiom:

  • Will I serve a new segment of the learner population?
  • Will I need new capabilities to attract and serve the learner population?
  • Does my current cost structure of my core business model align well with the willingness to pay of the target learner population?
  • Do I need to create new channels and partnerships to deliver on the learning experience that is required?

If your answer is yes on 2 or more of these questions, beware of the two-step adjacency and let us know how we can help.

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