Unbundled Education Isn’t Here to Kill Your Degree Program.


By: Emma Rose Jan 28, 2020

Unbundled Education Isn’t Here to Kill Your Degree Program.

Living In a World With Choices.

Unbundled education – The concept has circulated in higher education for over a decade. Some colleges and universities have tried to hide from it. Others have attempted to face it head-on. Both solutions have met with mixed results.

If your university is attempting to compete directly against unbundled education with your bundled degree programs, it may be time for a perspective shift. There’s room for both bundled and unbundled education, not just in the market as a whole, but in the lives of individual students, as well. Bundled programs offer unique advantages that unbundled education just can’t match. Highlighting and embracing these characteristics helps your program stay relevant amidst the unbundling chaos.

Yes, your administration can make adjustments to offerings, structures, or programs to compete against unbundled education. However, let’s focus on what marketing and recruitment teams can do within the structure your institution already has in place.

The Truth About Unbundling

Unbundling is the process of breaking an offering into component parts. For example, in a traditional university model, students complete a series of courses under the tutelage of several instructors within a framework designed by the university. The end result is a degree. In unbundled education, students take a single class or a series of classes to earn a badge, certification, or credit.

Online colleges are already a slightly less bundled version of the on-campus college experience. Students aren’t paying for housing, sports facilities, food service, or extracurricular activities when they choose to earn a degree online. The traditional college bundle is stripped down to what might be called the essential components: curriculum, support, instruction, and credential. Community is often part of this bundle, as well, although the social network exists online rather than in dorm rooms and dining halls.

In an attempt to offer students more of what they want and less of what they don’t, education is coming unbundled. Amidst all of this change, many students are still choosing to enroll in online and in-person and hybrid bundled programs. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the total undergraduate enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased by 27 percent between 2000 and fall 2017. The idea that all students want an unbundled education is one propped up by pundits, but not necessarily supported by enrollment statistics.

How to Stay Competitive

Critics of the bundled model have pointed to the music industry or newspapers to support their hypothesis that unbundling is inevitable. But bundles exist for a reason. In some cases, the customer wants everything in the bundle. Paying once to get everything is a great deal. Consider combo meals at your favorite fast food restaurant. If you only want the sandwich, you’ll just buy the sandwich, but if you want the whole meal, the bundle is an attractive idea. 

Some students are looking for a sandwich; others will eat the whole meal. They want to do more than learn a single skill or gain one focused credential. Instead, they want to expand their level of knowledge across a broad subject area. For that application, bundled education is still a great investment.

A bundled delivery method offers advantages over an unbundled degree. To keep your marketing and recruitment efforts competitive, you must understand what makes bundled education attractive to students. This includes: 

  • The credential – The most valuable thing that bundled education offers is the degree or certification. Until a universal badge system gains full adoption, a degree from an accredited institution will continue to be the most valuable and reputable way to prove understanding. While some organizations are working on standardized badging, no one method is universally recognized by employers. 
  • Support systems – Career and personal support are a vital part of the education bundle. Students pursuing unbundled education may be on their own when it comes to choosing the right constellation of courses to achieve their desired result. With bundled education, advisors help students choose classes and plan for future careers or advancement. 
  • Accountability – The structure of bundled education helps students stick with their education goals. They know exactly what they have to do to earn their credential and they have a clear timeline for achievement. Research shows that students who attend college full-time are more likely to graduate. When students stick to an established timeline and workload, they get results.
  • Prestige – Employers continue to use degrees and certifications to gauge the level of understanding and potential for promotion. Holding a degree from an accredited institution of higher education gives students a level of prestige that badges or microcredentials just don’t convey. This is especially true of master’s degrees and other advanced credentials.

Build your marketing messages, campaigns, and contact center scripts around these four advantages to attract students who are likely to embrace bundled education. Most importantly, include information on how your program will benefit students and what they learn by completing it. Including these expected results in your marketing messages helps students draw a straight line between the bundled education you’re offering and the achievement of their personal and professional goals.

The best way to compete against unbundled education is to stop worrying about the competition and start focusing on what students want. How can you make your bundle as attractive as possible to students who want the full package? Make sure your marketing messages and your enrollment team are aligned over the advantages that bundled education can offer.